POEM: "Ithaca" by Konstantinos Kavafis

photo from the ferry ride to Iona, Scotland

photo from the ferry ride to Iona, Scotland

Before I left on my trip, a friend gave me this poem. At first I didn't really get it. But, for some reason, I folded it up and tucked it away in my passport. There it remained throughout my entire trip, forgotten until the next time I needed my passport and re-discovered the poem—usually waiting in some airport line.

Inevitably, it would be in a time of transition—leaving one place and moving towards the next unknown.

Slowly, I began to appreciate this poem. Gradually, I came to have a context to understand what it describes. Reading it became a small travel liturgy of sorts. After each stage of my journey I would re-read it, and new things would make sense, things I hadn't understood before. It became a tangible external marker of the internal changes I was experiencing. The words of the poem remained static, but my understanding of them grew as I changed.

Now it's one of my favorite travel-related poems—and to this day it remains folded there in my passport.

* * *

Whether your journey takes you far from home, or you're just seeking a deeper understanding of what everyday life is about, carry this poem around with you for a while and I bet it will soon be speaking to you too.

Ithaca by Konstantinos Kavafis (1911)

As you set out for Ithaca hope your road is a long one, full of adventure, full of discovery.

Laistrygonians, Cyclops, angry Poseidon - don't be afraid of them: you'll never find things like that on your way as long as you keep your thoughts raised high, as long as your rare excitement stirs your spirit and your body.

Laistrygonians, Clyclops, wild Poseidon - you won't encounter them unless you bring them along inside your soul, unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.

May there be many summer mornings when, with what pleasure, what joy, you enter harbours you're seeing for the first time; may you stop at Phoenician trading stations to buy fine things, mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony, sensual perfumes of every kind--as many sensual perfumes as you can; and may you visit many Egyptian cities to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaca always in your mind.

Arriving there is what you're destined for.

But don't hurry the journey at all.

Better if it lasts for years, so you're old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you've gained on the way, not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.

Without her you wouldn't have set out.

She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.

Wise as you will have become, so full of experience, you'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

pilgrimage, poem, travelRyan Moore