Sunday, September 18, 2011

Today's Lesson


As you set out for Ithaka
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 a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, 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 your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbors 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 perfume 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 Ithaka 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 Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka 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, Ithaka 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.
                                     C.P. Cavafy

I'm sharing this poem today because I love it.  One of the joys of teaching English is that I get to share my favorite literature with my classes.  The sophomores and I discussed this poem last week. With about 40 years difference in age, they always have an interesting take on things.

After we discussed the poem and all the allusions, the students brought in songs that had a similar meaning or theme to "Ithaka."  We listened to songs about overcoming obstacles, making the most of opportunities, not taking time for granted, and going home.  They brought in songs from almost every genre of music, and they could tie every one of the songs into the meaning of the poem.

Have I mentioned lately that I love my job?

PS.  You can feel free to read that poem at my funeral some day. (And that's after the margaritas, but before the champagne!)

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