Thursday, April 29, 2010

The oasis in my day

It has been a long time, as usual. The end of the semester means lots of things to be read and written, but hopefully also some things emerging that might not be out of place in this forum. A very dear friend just sent me this poem entitled "Ithaca," and it was for me this afternoon a small oasis of reading and rereading and letting the words play on my tongue, with the attentiveness and care of a wine tasting. (*The fact that Ithaca is only about an hour down the road from Syracuse made it all the more relevant for me as I am looking ahead to the chance to get out on the road a bit soon.*) Simone Weil said, prophetically for our sound-bite era, "Absolutely unmingled attentiveness is prayer." I hope these words might be a small oasis of attentiveness for you as well...


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon---do not fear them;
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.

Pray that the road is long,
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what these Ithacas mean.

---Constantine Cuvafy


Anonymous said...

Thanks for this--'oasis' is the right word. I remember reading this some time ago, but it's one that's worth repeating and repeating.

Reading it again, I'm reminded of a Mark Strand poem you might enjoy:

The Idea

For us, too, there was a wish to possess
Something beyond the world we knew, beyond ourselves,
Beyond our power to imagine, something nevertheless
In which we might see ourselves; and this desire
Came always in passing, in waning light, and in such cold
That ice on the valley’s lakes cracked and rolled,
And blowing snow covered what earth we saw,
And scenes from the past, when they surfaced again,
Looked not as they had, but ghostly and white
Among false curves and hidden erasures;
And never once did we feel we were close
Until the night wind said, “Why do this,
Especially now? Go back to the place you belong”;
And there appeared, with its windows glowing, small,
In the distance, in the frozen reaches, a cabin;
And we stood before it, amazed at its being there,
And would have gone forward and opened the door,
And stepped into the glow and warmed ourselves there,
But that it was ours by not being ours,
And should remain empty. That was the idea.

Br. Patrick said...

Thank you very much - I lament I have come so late to even the small bit of poetry I have read here and there.