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Falling into PlacePoems

ithaca after c p cavafy

for Panos and Haris Hartiotis

just before setting out for ithaca
look to make it a long voyage
eventful and useful too

the laestrygonians and the cyclops
angry poseidon – there’s no call
to fear them or their likes
as long as you aim high
and as long as you’re ready
to be moved body and soul

you’ll not come across
the laestrygonians and the cyclops
the angry poseidon
unless you carry them inside you
or summon them up before you

and hope for a long way round
and for lots of those summer mornings
imagine the pleasure and the joy
each time you sail into a new harbour
to sample those phoenician emporiums
to buy up fine goods
mother of pearl and coral
amber and ebony
potent perfumes of every kind
perfumes enough to please your senses
then move on to different egyptian cities
to take in all the learning they have to offer

all the while have ithaca in mind knowing
that getting back is not always on the cards
but take care not to rush the journey
better to take your time over it
to be old when you get back to the island
rich with all you’ve gleaned on the road
and don’t expect ithaca to give you wealth

for ithaca gave you the great voyage
without her you wouldn’t have taken to the road
she has nothing else to offer you now

and if you find her poor ithaca hasn’t cheated you
as you have become so wise with your experience
you will have realised by now what these ithacas mean

Undated working manuscript of ‘Ithaca’ in Cavafy’s hand.