So honestly I didn’t even know it was National Poetry Day. I happened to read part of this poem on Terri Windling’s blog and needed to read it all. A quick Google search and I found it. It’s written by Greek poet C. P. Cavafy (1863-1933.) Later, I saw something on social media about National Poetry Day (it’s a U.K. holiday, it turns out) so I thought I ought to participate, since I had a moment with a poem today.
What struck me in this poem was the part about remembering that, while your destination is the goal, if you arrive too quickly, you will not be rich with the gifts your destination has to offer. Better to take your time getting there, having become old and wise and rich along the way. The experience in getting there is what makes the destination valuable.
This was helpful to hear today because there are so many things I want to be good at, right now. I don’t like looking like a fool. I’ve spent my life trying to maintain my image as a smart, talented person. But it turns out I’m not that good at a lot of the things I do, and I’m scared that people will find out. I suppose it’s Imposter Syndrome. Anyway, Ithaka helped me remember that the destination is actually the end, as in, nothing left. The fun and interesting part is the journey.
Case in point: this summer I made three pairs of jeans. (OK, the third one is almost done.) They are tight, flared, high waisted jeans, so it can take some tweaking to get the fit just right without being uncomfortably tight, or baggy. The first pair barely fit me. Jeans do stretch out with time, so I thought they would be ok. But no. They are painful to wear. I altered the pattern and sewed a second pair. They were better, and I wore them many times to see if I could break them in. But in the end they were still painful to wear in one area (the crotch.) Was I having fun? Yes, actually. I did a lot of research at this point to figure out how to fix the pattern. I fixed it a third time, and basted together a third pair. They were too big! But I was able to fit them to myself with pins, unpick the basting stitches, and re-sew them. I also made sure to adjust the paper pattern to match. Finally, they fit just right! (It’s truly magical what well-fitting clothes feel like. And I don’t mean stretchy clothes! I mean clothes that have been tailored fit and flatter you and you alone. ) It only took six yards of denim and hours of work to get there. But it was fun. And I learned a lot. And now I have a jeans pattern that fits me really well, so I can make more. No doubt my fourth pair will teach me something else. So it’s not really the end yet!
I wish I could lift this experience and plop it onto some of my other goals and hobbies. There are some I take too seriously, and worry too much about my “audience” (PIANO, and others.) They are not fun. There are times when I want to share my knowledge or thoughts with people, but stop myself because I’m afraid they will find out how little I know, or what I got wrong. If I just work on my goals and hobbies alone, I don’t have to worry about what other people think. It’s nice for a while. The judgmental voices in my head go away. I reach new levels of productivity. But eventually it feels like I am hiding most of myself from the world, and not connecting meaningfully with others. And, introverted as I am, that makes me sad.
This has all been on my mind the past few days, and when I read Ithaka, I had an “aha” moment. I love it when a poem speaks to my heart like that. So thank you, Ithaka, for reminding me that it’s ok to be an ignorant fool, even if the people around me do see it. It’s ok to not be “there” yet. Enjoy it! If I admit I’m not an expert, the pressure is off, and I can move forward (or sideways) with joy and curiosity. Stay curious, seek, discover, and don’t worry so much. The journey is the goal.
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.
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.
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.