Friday, 30 August 2013

It's all about the journey...not the destination

I've just come across a lovely poem called Ithaka by Constantine P. Cavafy.

It focus on the importance of being "mindful" when you travel, fully inhabiting the given moment and experiencing everything around you to the full. It encourages us to be endlessly curious and grateful for the wonderful things we encounter along the way. Most importantly, it celebrates the joy of coming home.

The word "d├ępaysement" springs to mind. It means to "decountrify oneself". When you return home from exploring a different country and culture, you see it with a fresh pair of eyes. You have a new perspective on the world you live in and your place in it.

Some of the lyricism and rhyme of the original is probably lost in translation from the Greek, but it's still a powerful piece that speaks to the reader in any language.

* * *


When you set out for Ithaka
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon - you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.
Ask that your way be long.
At many a Summer dawn to enter
with what gratitude, what joy -
ports seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaka always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But don't in the least hurry the journey.
Better it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn't anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka hasn't deceived you.
So wise you have become, of such experience,
that already you'll have understood what these Ithakas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy

* * *

The poet's wise words are draw inspiration from Odysseus’ ten year voyage home from the Trojan war. The twists, turns and adventures Odysseus encounters are used as a metaphor for a fulfilling life by Cavafy, just as they were by Homer in the original epic poems.

Cavafy is saying that the things that really matter in life in the end are experiences and memories. Some people always find the straight and easy path, avoiding distractions and detours. When they reach the end, what do they have to show for it?

We're told not to be worried about scary monsters like the Cyclops (there's no such thing). Equally a person without internal strife is less likely to encounter external strife.

The harbours are happy times and places in the life of the reader where pleasure, knowledge and experience are gained. The Phoenician trading stations symbolize times in life when one is exposed to art and beauty and culture. The poet urges us to enjoy luxury and beauty when the chance arises. One should appreciate the fine things that come into one’s path for the sake of the experience and not to amass treasures.

He suggests we visit Egyptian cities often, which symbolise times of knowledge and education. Education is not something that is sought once in life. Rather, we should be endlessly curious and enjoy life-long learning.

Ithaka, Odysseus’ island kingdom, is both the starting and ending place. The place we come from shape us and make us what we are. Ironically, the farther people get from home (physically, temporally, and ideologically) the more they want to return.

So, take your time on your journey through life, stopping to obtain wisdom, pleasure and experience. Happy travels folks and a happy homecoming too!

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