by Constantine P. Cavafy

English version by Ivan M. Granger
Original Language Greek

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray the road is long,
filled with adventure and discovery.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
and raging Poseidon himself, fear them not,
for you need not face them on your way
so long as your soul is uplifted, and a rare sense
stirs your spirit and quickens your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
and storming Poseidon himself, you need not confront them,
so long as they do not dwell in your soul,
so long as your mind does not set them before you.

Pray the road is long.
Many will be the summer dawns
when, with what pleasure, what joy,
you will sail into ports unknown;
to stop at Phoenician markets
and buy fine things:
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
heady spices of every kind,
as many sensual spices as you can.
To many an Egyptian city will you go
to learn, and learn more, from seekers who know.

Always do you hold Ithaca in your mind.
Arriving is your destiny.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better to let it last many long years
that you may set foot on the island an old man,
rich with wealth gained along the way,
expecting no treasures from Ithaca.

Ithaca has given you a wondrous journey.
Without her you'd never have set forth.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her insufficient, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you'll have become, rich with experience,
you will already know what these Ithacas mean.

-- from This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World, Edited by Ivan M. Granger

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

A little motivation to take down that old copy of Homer's Odyssey, dust it off, and crack it open once again. It was a favorite of mine when I was a teenager, with gods, monsters, heroes, adventure... and a reminder of my Greek heritage.

In the Odyssey, the hero Odysseus was returning home from the Trojan War to his island kingdom of Ithaca, but conflicts with gods and monsters and weather kept leading him off course into new adventures. It took him twenty years to finally return home!

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.

Cavafy's poem reminds us of the Odyssey's hidden truth, that the hero's journey to Ithaca is the soul's journey home.

Ancient tradition says that Homer's epics, the Illiad and the Odyssey, combine into a grand mystery tale, understood by initiates as describing the stages and struggles of the soul's inner journey.

pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge...

Too often seekers disparage the road, its bumps and turns, impatient for the destination.

To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.

But the stops along the journey are not roadblocks, they are stepping stones. Actually, even that's not true. Seen clearly, the journey and the destination are a single continuum. The river pours into the sea, and they are one. Resting on the slow-moving river, we already touch the sea.

...and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can...

Cavafy suggests that worldly experience, the senses, a certain amount of materialism, these too are part of the journey. The physical world is the realm through which the soul journeys. Encountering marvels and terrors the soul strengthens and comes to know itself. Knowing itself in victory and adversity, the soul is finally ready to return.

But to navigate through such bewildering, overwhelming experiences, the destination must never be forgotten:

Always keep Ithaca on your mind.

Don't rush through the journey, impatient only for its end. The adventure is our soul's story.

Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

The wisdom you attain with each step reveals the destination's true meaning.

And it is just as true to say that the destination's gift is contained in the journey itself:

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.

Recommended Books: Constantine P. Cavafy

This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World C. P. Cavafy: Collected Poems The Complete Poems of Cavafy: Expanded Edition Cavafy's Alexandria Cavafy: A Biography