Ithaka Poem Interpretation Essay

Constantine P. Cavafy was a renowned Greek poet, who worked as a civil servant and journalist. He has published more than 154 poems in which the most important ones were written after he turning forty. He started his career as a journalist. He published his first poetry from 1891–1904 in the form of broadsheets and those were mainly for his friends. He is currently considered as one among the finest Greek poets and his poems are being taught in schools in Greece.

Cavafy was a perfectionist and so he was very careful in doing his work with every single line of his poetry. He did not follow the rhyme pattern and by any chance his poems had, then it was mainly used to show the irony of the context he wrote. His poems were mainly from his own experience along with a wide and deep knowledge of history. He is known for his brilliant usage of historical imaginary.

“Ithaca” is one among his most important works which was inspired by the Homeric return journey of Odysseus to his home island. The theme of the poem is the happiness found in one’s journey of life and how the maturity of the soul increases over a period of time, still the journey continues and that is all a traveler could ask for.

This poem has a great deeper meaning that how it is. This poem when read for the first time may feel like it shows the voyage of a guy, overcoming some imaginary difficulties. However in the Greek point of view, it shows an inner self quest for rediscovering who you really are. It also depicts the celebration of human nature and achievement of one’s goal, no matter whatever hurdles you may have to go pass through.

Ithaca is a depiction of one’s destination in life. Here, in the poem it says that once a destination is visualized, then no obstacles could defeat you on the journey to reach it.

Everyone sets a goal in life, no matter whether it is big or small. The question comes, when there are many difficulties that one has to cross through to reach the goal, whether one maintains the patience and strength and remains focused to achieve the goal when we face the extremities of difficulties in life.

However, what happens in spite striving to achieve the goal, if we have not achieved the goal, then should w consider ourselves to be failures? The poem says that even we do not reach our goal; we should not consider ourselves as failures as the first step to success is to start the voyage to the destination. As during the journey, each stage offer you an experience that cannot be obtained from elsewhere, each hurdle is a lesson to be learnt, so that by the time you reach a place, valuable lessons in life would have been learnt, which is more important.

A great poem, which leaves the reader initially confused, yet with understanding the inner depth, it make us realize how important it is to see ourselves focused and inspires us to remain calm and focused, no matter however difficult and challenging the situation may be.

“Ithaca” is a great poem, with a great lesson.


Life as a Journey - Ithaca by Constantine P. Cavafy

The Return of Odysseus, Claude Lorrain, 1644. From
Some time ago, a reader of my blog called Rafael recommended me the poem "Ithaca" by Constantine P. Cavafy. I'd never come across it before, but I'm so glad that I read it.

"Ithaca" is based on Homer's account of Odysseus's journey home. As you may expect from this influence, the poem has so much to say about life in all its complexity, with both the setbacks and the positive memories that become inevitable. Like so many self-help books advise, the poem urges you to live for the journey rather than the expected end-point, in order to have a flourishing and fulfilling life.

As "Ithaca" suggests, we should not wish away our time, but "ask that [our] way be long". We may have problems at work, financial worries, or have lost a loved one, but when we eventually, and inevitably, overcome these troubles (or when we reach our own metaphorical Ithaca) we will be so much the stronger. Moreover, if the same challenges reoccur - which is likely - we will be able to deal with them in a much stronger and more experienced way.

Be aware of how life is for you now, and ensure to be appreciative of all the art, culture, and beauty that you could quite easily have never seen. I often think in this way when times are hard, and it really helps lift my mood. It's so easy just to spend time looking at a beautiful painting, listening to a timeless piece of music, or reading a classic. Or, quite simply, dwell on what you're learning from your current hardship. After a bad relationship and breakup some years back, I learned not to depend on others for my own happiness and wellbeing. Similarly, spending time away from home has helped me be grateful for my family and home when they are accessible.

Because of the experiences that I found difficult to deal with, I now feel more prepared to deal with my future, and I'm excited at what's to come. Also, I can of course write about my memories and my journey forwards! I hope that you enjoy this poem:


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.
Ithaka gave you a splendid journey.
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

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