Hope the voyage is a long one

 

06.11.2018 Saillans (5)
I can’t resist cats, pretty tea-towels and net curtains

I heard the author Louis de Bernieres talking on the radio and {as so often happens with radio programmes] he took me to a new place – Ithaka by Constantine Cavafy.  He was sharing a poem that had changed his life and it resonated with me too.  The Greek island of Ithaca or Ithaka identifies with Homer’s Ithaca, home of Odysseus and his odyssey to return there.  Ithaka is our goal, the thing we get up for every morning or our own quest.  But like Odysseus, it is the adventures and discoveries along the way to our quest that are important and there are good reasons why we shouldn’t rush the journey just to get to the end of our odyssey.  Constantine Cavafy speaks of the importance of enjoying the road to our own Ithaka, pausing to appreciate the route but keeping ‘Ithaka always in your mind’.  We can then hope to arrive at our Ithaka older and wiser after years of learning on the way.  ‘Without her you wouldn’t have set out’, Constantine Cavafy reminds us.

Louis de Bernieres interprets Ithaka and ‘what you’re destined for’ as every human’s inevitable journey to death.  We take the first steps on this journey as soon as we are born and we all hope that this is a long and interesting journey.  ‘Ithaka’ and Louis de Bernieres’ response, ‘When the Time Comes,’ are poems that intimate that we would do best to enjoy whatever life throws at us and hope that we don’t reach the end of our journey until we are old.  Louis de Bernieres poem has become popular as a reading at funerals and I can see why.

To someone who adores to travel those words, ‘And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas, And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them’, make me smile.  Even if my own Ithaka comes tomorrow, I have been lucky enough to have found those and other treasured places … but hopefully my journey will continue a little longer. 

Ithaka, Constantine Cavafy
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. 

When the Time Comes, Louis de Bernieres

When the time comes, it is better that death be welcome,
As an old friend who embraces and forgives.
Sieze advantage of what little time is left,
And if imagination serves, if strength endures, if memory lives,
Ponder on those vanished loves, those jesting faces.
Take once more their hands and press them to your cheek,
Think of you and them as young again, and running in the fields,
As drinking wine and laughing.
And if you wish, let there be Spanish music, Greek seas
And French sun, the hills of Ireland if you loved them,
Some other place if that should please, some other music
More suited to your taste.
Consider, if you can, that
Soon you’ll shed this weariness, this pain,
The heaped-upon indignities, and afterwards — who knows? —
Perhaps you’ll walk with angels, should angels be ,
By fresher meadows, unfamiliar streams.
You may find that those who did not love you do so now,
That those who loved you did so more than you believed.
You may go on to better lives and other worlds.
You may meet God, directly or disguised.
You may, on the other hand — who knows? — just wander off
To sleep that seamless, darkest, dreamless, unimaginable sleep.
Do not be bitter, no world lasts forever.
You who travelled like Odysseus,
This is Ithaca, this is your destination.
This is your last adventure. Here is my hand,
The living to the dying;
Yours will grow cold in mine, when the time comes.

Author: memorialbenchstories

I am interested in the stories behind the people commemorated in memorial benches. I come across these benches in different places and they always make me wonder. Do get in touch if you have any stories.

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