A Poem for National Poetry Day

AegeanToday is National Poetry Day. It’s come around so quickly I can’t believe it’s been a year since my last post on the subject. I notice my previous two choices were poems written by men and part of me feels compelled to redress the balance. However, I always feel you should read what you’re moved to pick up and the poem that I’ve been thinking about recently is Cavafy’s Ithaka.

One of the best things about being a teacher, as well as a writer, is how much you can learn from your students. This poem was ‘given’ to me by a Greek cardiologist who was learning English and discovered, in the course of our discussions, that I liked poetry. I had recently arrived in Greece and it had a profound effect on me. I’ve since passed it on to other people and I think its time it made an appearance on Crimepieces.

I’m not going to say any more about the poem. If you like it, there are plenty more on the Cavafy archive here. But I’d love to hear what poem you’ve been thinking about recently. And, on that note, Happy National Poetry Day.



by CP Cavafy

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.

16 thoughts on “A Poem for National Poetry Day

  1. Anwen

    One of my favourites, Sarah. I love the way it changes as I also change and grow. It remains evergreen for me. As to the poem I have in my mind today, it is RS Thomas’ Cynddylan on a Tractor. Deceptively simple, and one I hated for years; not any more.


  2. Sarah I love this poem so much, so glad you featured it. When my daughter was going to university I did a copy of it for her new pinboard – I think it is a perfect poem for everyone as they go through life, we’re all on the way to our Ithakas, no matter what our age, and the advice is good for everyone. Cavafy is a wonderful poet, I am forever grateful to an obscure radio programme that introduced him to me many years ago.


  3. Indeed one of my favourite poems, and Cavafy one of my favourite poets.
    The poem I am thinking of today is Robert Lowell’s Epilogue – about the difficulties of writing, of rendering both reality and the imaginary:

    Those blessed structures, plot and rhyme –
    why are they no help to me now
    I want to make
    something imagined, not recalled?
    I hear the noise of my own voice…


  4. Margot Kinberg

    Sarah – This is a marvellous poem, with so many layers to it isn’t it? I’m not surprised it’s had the profound effect on you that it has. There’s so much in it…


  5. Pingback: Poem / Poetry (National Poetry Writing Day) – “Ambrosial Moments” | toofulltowrite (I've started so I'll finish)

  6. Just what I needed to read today! And with more than a bit of synchronicity. I use a line from Cavafy in my book: “Come back often, hold me in the night when lips and skin remember.” Looking forward to our panel in Iceland!


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