I thought I would write about university open days today as that’s basically all I’ve been doing recently, but that’s boring and seeing as I tortured you with my own writing a few days ago I thought I’d make up for it with someone else’s excellent poetry.
If you know me, then you probably know that I’m a Classics student and am just as obsessed with ancient literature as I am with modern. This poem itself was only written in 1911 by the Greek poet Constantine Cavafy who lived between 1863 and 1933 and spent much of his working life in Alexandria. However, it was inspired by Homer’s epic poem, the Odyssey (if you haven’t read it I really recommend it – it’s fabulously exciting and the Penguin translation isn’t tricky to get through), and the theme of return and voyaging that reoccurs throughout. I love this poem because of the morals it represents: living to enjoy life, living to learn and discover, and defeating one’s inner monsters to become a better person. This is my favourite translation from the original Greek, and it is by one of my most beloved childhood authors, Caroline Lawrence, the genius who taught me that Classics is brilliant through her seventeen hilarious and gripping novels called The Roman Mysteries.
When you set sail for Ithaca
Pray that the journey will be long
Full of adventure, full of discovery.
Don’t be afraid of Scylla and Charybdis.
The sirens and the harpies
And even the Cyclops hold no danger for you.
You won’t find such creatures on your journey
If your thoughts are high and you have a noble motive.
You won’t find such creatures
Unless you erect altars to them in your heart.
Pray that the voyage will be a long one
With many a summer’s evening when,
With such pleasure, such joy,
You enter harbours you have never seen before.
May you visit Phoenician markets and Egyptian ports
To buy pearls, coral, amber, ebony and gems of wisdom.
As you sip heady wines from the west
And inhale sensual perfumes from the east
Always keep Ithaca in mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
Better if the journey lasts for years
So that you are old by the time you drop anchor there,
Wealthy with all that you have learned on the way.
Ithaca will not make you rich.
She gave you your marvellous journey.
She has nothing more to give you.
Without her you would not have set out.
So if you find her poor, it’s not because she fooled you.
You will be so rich with experience
That you will finally understand
What Ithaca really means.