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Ithaca, C. P. Cavafy (1911)
When you start on your journey to Ithaca, then pray that the road is long, full of adventure, full of knowledge. Do not fear the Lestrygonians and the Cyclops and the angry Poseidon. You will never meet such as these on your path, if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine emotion touches your body and your spirit. You will never meet the Lestrygonians, the Cyclops and the fierce Poseidon, if you do not carry them within your soul, if your soul does not raise them up before you.
Then pray that the road is long. That the summer mornings are many, that you will enter ports seen for the first time with such pleasure, with such joy! Stop at Phoenician markets, and purchase fine merchandise, mother-of-pearl and corals, amber and ebony, and pleasurable perfumes of all kinds, buy as many pleasurable perfumes as you can; visit hosts of Egyptian cities, to learn and learn from those who have knowledge.
Always keep Ithaca fixed 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 long years; and even to anchor at the isle when you are old, rich with all that 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 never have taken the road. But she has nothing more to give you. And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not defrauded you. With the great wisdom you have gained, with so much experience, you must surely have understood by then what Ithacas mean.
1. The poem is a metaphor for
- A trip to the Middle East
- Young love
- The passage of adolescence
- The journey of life
- Courage in battle
2. The poem draws on many allusions from which famous work?
- The Bible
- Homer’s The Odyssey
- Aeschylus’ Oresteia
- Xenophon’s Anabasis
- Sophocles’ Oedipus the King
3. “Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage. Without her you would never have taken the road. But she has nothing more to give you.”
What message does this passage imply?
- People will always disappoint you.
- Trips are not worth the trouble.
- You will meet with many obstacles in life.
- You should make your travel plans early.
- It’s about the journey, not the destination.
4. The poem is written in
- Second-person imperative
- First person
- Third person
- First-person plural
- Second-person plural
5. The message of the second stanza of the poem is to
- Enjoy the fruits of your labor
- Enjoy family and friendships
- Enjoy beauty, culture, knowledge, and education
- Enjoy an accumulation of gifts
- Enjoy trips to other cities
6. “Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage. Without her you would never have taken the road. But she has nothing more to give you.”
What does “her” in line 2 refer to?
- The voyage
- Your partner
- Your mother
- Your life
Answers & Explanations
1. D: The entire poem is a metaphor for the journey of life. We are born and hope for a long life, meet with obstacles, hope for the best, and enjoy our experiences along the way. The Middle East is too specific to be a metaphor in the poem. The poem describes an experience broader and more long-range than young love, adolescence, or a battle.
2. B: Several mentions are made of characters from Homer’s The Odyssey. Among them are the Lestrygonians, the Cyclops, and angry Poseidon, all enemies of Odysseus. Ithaca itself was inspired by Odysseus’ island kingdom.
3. E: The voyage to Ithaca is symbolic of our life’s journey. The journey is what we should savor, but at the same time we shouldn’t expect too much from the destination. Our starting and ending points are not as important as the journey.
4. A: The poem is written in second-person imperative, meaning it is addressed to the reader (“you”), and is instructing the reader what to do. Second-person imperative is rarely seen in narrative works, but it can be effective in poetic works such as this.
5. C: This stanza refers to stopping at ports in Phoenician markets to buy fine things and perfumes. This is advising the reader to enjoy the fine things in life when they are available. The Egyptian cities mentioned symbolize knowledge and education, and the reader is urged to visit these ports (not once, but throughout life) and to take advantage of their offerings.
6. D: “Her” in this case refers to Ithaca, the beginning and ending point of the journey detailed in the poem. The desire to return to Ithaca has inspired the journey and has led to all of its beauty and challenges.
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by Enoch Morrison | Last Updated: January 17, 2019