Poetic Interlude #2: C.P. Cavafy’s “Ithaka”

Right now I am working on a feature for a new magazine called Eighteen Bridges. The story is a profile on Ron Murdock, a career hobo who spent most of his like hitching around Western Canada and living in men’s shelters and dive hotels.

I had the great pleasure of spending a few days with Murdock in the Kootenays a couple of weeks ago.  I never met a ‘real hobo’ before. We hitched a ride to Kaslo, drank too much coffee and Kokanee Gold, and talked about what it means to live an untethered life.

Murdock is a man in perpetual motion.  If Buddhists teach that  the journey is more important than the destination, Murdock goes one better. For him, sometimes there is no destination at all. The moving itself is only the thing.

I will write more about my time with Murdock in a later post. In the meantime here is a poem speaks to the idea of travel that Murdock embodies.  The poem is “Ithaka” by C. P. Cavafy. (The  following translation is by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard)


As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and 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 a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians and Cyclops,
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 the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfume of every kind—
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.