Monday, June 18, 2007

Shout out to Egyptian cities and her scholars, yo

Cavafy demonstrating that the legendary good taste in clothes possessed by gentlemen of a gay inclination does not extend to spectacles: an occurrence subsequently confirmed by Elton John and Yves Saint Laurent

I am a complete philistine when it comes to most poetry, possibly because of having developed an aversion to Seamus Heaney poems about turf in 6th form college, and also because I usually fail to understand

how something

entirely pedestrian

can suddenly be infused with depth


hidden meanings

when the words are arranged oddly,


However, the beauty of certain verses does occasionally penetrate my thick skull, as was the case yesterday when I watched a fantastic film by Ibrahim el Batout called Ithaki during an independent films screening which I will tell you about in my article later this week if you can bear waiting that long without the excitement inducing a mild stroke. The film uses Cavafy's poem of the same name. I vaguely remember it (the film) saying that the poem is about a Trojan warrior who instead of taking days to reach his home (the island of Ithaca) takes years, possibly because he was travelling on the London Underground. The poem itself raises a glass to the wondrous journey which is life, and if a morose cow like me is attempting to sell you a poem by combining the words wondrous and life in the same sentence then you know it must be good.

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 one 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 harbours 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 perfumes 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 marvellous 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