By  C. P. Cavafy

Translated by Edmund Keeley

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.

Summary of Ithaka

  • Popularity of “Ithaka”: Written by a Grecian poet, C. P. Cavafy, who was brought up in Egypt and moved to the United Kingdom, this beautiful poem “Ithaka” presents his concept of the city of Ithaka in its entirety, including its classical civilization and mythical status. The poem first appeared in English in the translated versions of Cavafy’s poems published back in 1975. Since then, it has achieved the status of his representative poem in the English language. This poem shows how the poet feels about Ithaka city and every other city, which has its own status, experience, and culture that a person has to imbibe first and visit the city later. The popularity of the poem lies in this beautiful presentation of the city and its past.
  • “Ithaka” As a Representative of Manly Advice: The poet presents himself as the speaker of the poem, advising Odysseus, the prince, and ruler of Ithaka, a Grecian island and the cradle of civilization. The poet asks him when he is going on his homeward journey, and he will be heading to the land of gods after having faced adventures, gods, demons, the rage of gods, foreign lands, and various other things. Therefore, he must be ready for a long haul, involving various seasons, several things, places, and people. But he must not go astray with diversions and keep Ithaka in mind that he has to reach there. The final comment of the poet is that Odysseus or even the modern-day traveler well-understands the importance of such Ithakas by which he means that the place of birth always becomes the destination of a person in his life.
  • Major Themes in “Ithaka”: Homeward journey, Grecian civilization, and travel as an experience are three major themes of this poem. Although the poem presents Odysseus on his homeward journey, its tone becomes didactic. It continues suggesting what he should do, how he should go, and what things he should keep in mind. These are the specifics of the Grecian civilization that the Grecians used to keep such minor suggestions in mind to reach their goals. However, in the middle of these two themes lies the major theme that traveling is a rich source of experience. A person goes through several trials and difficulties to reach his/her destination. Therefore, this experience makes a person hard and tough not to be beaten easily. Hence, the significance of such Ithakas in the life of a person becomes an integral part of the experience.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Ithaka

  1. P. Cavafy uses various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of his poem. Some of the major literary devices he uses in this poem are as follows.
  2. Allusion: It means to cite references from history, literature, or culture. The poet alluded to Ithaka, Odysseus, Poseidon, Cyclops, and several other things and creatures, such as Egypt.
  3. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /a/ in “as many sensual perfumes as you can” and the sound of /o/ in “hope your road is a long one.”
  4. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick successions, such as the sound of /w/ in “wealthy with.”
  5. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /m/ in “May there be many summer mornings when” and the sound of /s/ in “as many sensual perfumes as you can.”
  6. Generalization: It means to make some specific things general for universality. The poem generalized the city of Ithaka, turning it into a plural, Ithakas.
  7. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. P. Cavafy used imagery in this poem such as “Keep Ithaka always in your mind”, “Arriving there is what you’re destined for” and “wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way.”
  8. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poet has used Ithaka and traveling as ways to set goals and gain experience. Therefore, both are good metaphors. He has even compared Ithaka to a woman having richness and wealth but now turned very poor.
  9. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as roads, journeys, adventures, and encounters to show the homeward journey of the hero.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Ithaka

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows very good use of formal and poetic diction.
  2. Free Verse: It means to use verses without any pattern of rhyme scheme or meter. This poem is a free verse poem.
  3. Repetition: It means to repeat certain words or phrases for impact. The poem shows the use of repetition, such as “Hope your road is a long one” and “sensual perfumes.”
  4. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem, with each comprising a different number of poems, such as the last one having just three verses, also known as tercet.
  5. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows a didactic, moralistic, and nostalgic tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote about the places of birth.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.