“Ithaka” by Greek poet Constantine Cavafy and share your thoughts with your classmates

Read the poem, “Ithaka” by Greek poet Constantine Cavafy and share your thoughts with your classmates about what you think the poem is saying (ideas) and how it is being said (form, the way the words look on each line, etc.).

Here are some notes to consider as you discuss:

Ideas

Perhaps you will find that you need to read the poem several times in order to begin to grasp its meaning. It is easy to become frustrated by reading poetry because it is not always straightforward and easily understood. It is certainly not like what you are used to reading: stories, newspaper articles, an agenda of a meeting, grocery lists, etc. Ask yourself this: if the words in this poem don’t literally mean what they mean, then how do I figure out its overall meaning? You might begin by looking for clues, and once you do this, you’ve begun to think like a literary critic. For example, look at the title; does the word anecdote tell you anything? Explain what it might be. Think about your own past experience and the poems you’ve read.

Form

Does this poem look like one you are used to reading? Isn’t poetry supposed to rhyme? Does this poem rhyme? How is the fact that the poem doesn’t rhyme important to your understanding of it? Before you answer, think about what you read and know about modernism.

a Poem

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.

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