Who is on the plum tree?
Introducing another sparkling new voice to Plum Tree Books. Welcome Kiki Rosette to The Wednesday Poetry Corner. Constantinos Cavafis is the author of Ithaca. In her post, Kiki brings the poet to our attention through her passion for his words and respect for his spiritual message. It is, I think, a particularly fine poem with a message that sings out loud and clear to all of us, particularly when the soul is in danger of drifting or being captured by despair. Kiki gives us the poem in its translation. And you can also listen to Sean Connery reading it! I added this picture because I think it suitably dramatic and filled with a poet’s soul.
When writing poetry, my primary concern is to express myself. I see poetry as a trip into my deeper self. I plunge in my mind in an effort to discover hidden interpretations about objects and people I see, feelings I have , my fears, my worries. I seek for images hidden in its corners, concerning the universe around me and in me, while keeping the doors of expression open. I believe this is done my own way, often simplistic but allowing me to give my soul a voice. Same time, my readings – past or present, are always in me,emerging here and there without even taking notice.
This is the case with one of the poets I really love: Constantinos Cavafis (Greek poet born in Alexandria- Egypt in 1863)
He is the first poet who touched my heart. I met him during my school years when I was the least interested in poetry, when like most of my classmates I only knew the “dull” poems taught in the school program.
In Cavafis, I saw a poet of the world. In the eyes of my adolescence, he has been a man who has travelled a lot, seen a lot, lived a lot. Although Cavafis lived long before I was born, I felt this fact like some kind of magic one could discover in his poetry. My juvenile poetic self found in his poems the smell of cosmopolitan Alexandrian air- a fine mixture of odors combining European finesse and the aura of the flourishing Greek Alexandrian community shining through the heavy air of Egyptian markets and the feel of desert. By following his trip to the roots, to history and philosophy, I was able to see how passionate he is with life, in all it’s nuances. In some points I’ve felt him inspire me by the way he views the world.
I’ve been particularly tuned to his philosophical poems that I often consider as a lighthouse in the chaotic sea of everyday routine. Among those poems, there’s the one which I’d dare say, brought my attention to poetry, the poem which energized my thinking and helped me form an embryo of my personal philosophy: Ithaca…
In Ithaca, Cavafis appears giving life directions in his own unique way. As a matter of fact, what we find in this poem it’s a common sense wisdom given by means of ideally chosen words and images. A wisdom that becomes alive, goes and returns more vivid. It has followed me all the way from my youth to years of maturity, and I would dare say one could find it hidden even in dark poems of mine. Somehow inner strength and hope can be often found behind the words. It could be the knowledge I got from Ithaca: “we are the ones who create our own monsters”, “what’s important in life it’s not the destination, but the journey there”, “we must enjoy the journey of life, because it can be more important and can bring more joy than the destination itself”. Those are meanings and words that have been imprinted in my memory, words that I still recall when in front of important decisions or after certain life experiences.
The English translation cannot give the taste of the original poem in Greek language, but Cavafi’s word and thought is always appealing to the reader.
When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures,
full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
an angry Poseidon — do not fear.
You will never find such on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, and your spirit
and body are touched by a fine emotion.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
a savage Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not carry them within your spirit,
if your spirit does not place them before you.
Wish for the road to be long.
Many the summer mornings to be when
with what pleasure, what joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time.
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase the fine goods,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and exquisite perfumes of all sorts,
the most delicate fragrances you can find.
To many Egyptian cities you must go,
to learn and learn from the cultivated.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more does she have 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 Ithacas mean.