A Poem for National Poetry Day

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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.

 

ITHAKA

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.

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A Poem for National Poetry Day

Reviews

Nothing to do with crime. I did consider Browning’s My Last Duchess which would have at least contained the hint of a murder but occasionally it’s nice to go off piste. So here’s a section from my favourite poem ever, TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. It’s taken from the final section of the last Quartet, Little Gidding. I hope you enjoy it and feel inspired to post a poem of your own. Happy National Poetry Day!Little Gidding

From Little Gidding

V

What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make and end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from. And every phrase
And sentence that is right (where every word is at home,
Taking its place to support the others,
The word neither diffident nor ostentatious,
An easy commerce of the old and the new,
The common word exact without vulgarity,
The formal word precise but not pedantic,
The complete consort dancing together)
Every phrase and every sentence is an end and a beginning,
Every poem an epitaph. And any action
Is a step to the block, to the fire, down the sea’s throat
Or to an illegible stone: and that is where we start.
We die with the dying:
See, they depart, and we go with them.
We are born with the dead:
See, they return, and bring us with them.
The moment of the rose and the moment of the yew-tree
Are of equal duration. A people without history
Is not redeemed from time, for history is a pattern
Of timeless moments. So, while the light fails
On a winter’s afternoon, in a secluded chapel
History is now and England.

With the drawing of this Love and the voice of this Calling

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Through the unknown, unremembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning;
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half-heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
Quick now, here, now, always—
A condition of complete simplicity
Costing not less than everything)
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
When the tongues of flame are in-folded
Into the crowned knot of fire
And the fire and the rose are one.