“Ithaca” by C.P. Cavafy Essay
“Ithaca” by C.P. Cavafy
Everyone is given the opportunity to take the odyssey that is “life, however it is important to make the journey as memorable as one possibly can. The poem “Ithaca” by C.P. Cavafy suggests that what is most important in life is the experience that is incorporated with the journey, not necessarily just reaching the ultimate goal. It is the quest, not the destination which matters most. This message is conveyed through the poem through the use of allusion, myth and symbolism.
The poem, “Ithaca”, is based loosely around the great epic the Odyssey by ancient Greek poet Homer. In the Odyssey the character Odysseus trying to make his way home to his kingdom, Ithaca. The character faces many vicious creatures and other challenges he must endure in order to make it to the final goal. This is alluded to in the poem, by making reference to one of the characters starting out on “[his] journey to Ithaca” (line 1). C.P. Cavafy also refers to mythological creatures such as “the Cyclopes and the fierce Poseidon” (line 5), as well as “the Lestrygonians” (line 6) posing as obstacles during the journey, just as they did in the Odyssey. The allusion to the myth of the Odyssey is appropriate for the meaning the poet is trying to convey.
References to the Odyssey evoke thoughts of going on a journey, which may include obstacles, new experiences and the opportunity to gain a wealth of knowledge. This is central to what the poem “Ithaca” is suggesting about the journey of life. The journey of life is all about the experiences that one encounters, the knowledge that is gained, and the deeper appreciation for the journey, not just for attaining the goal. The poem is somewhat faithful to the myth of the Odyssey. C.P. Cavafy does not distort the myth in any way, but rather leaves out many of the events that occurred in the Odyssey that perhaps were not relevant to the central theme being portrayed. The general idea of the journey to Ithaca is kept intact throughout the poem.
The central theme of the poem “Ithaca” is based on the meaning of life, and the journey that one takes through life. The importance of “[praying] that the road is long” (line 10) is stressed continually throughout the poem. The poet emphasizes the idea that one should not “hurry the voyage at all” (line 23). Experience and wisdom are gained throughout time and the aging process. It is also learned through the poem that it is important to take time for things that one finds enjoyable. Such things as “mother-of-pearl and corals” (line 16) represent those things which make us joyful. It is suggested that one is supposed to enjoy and obtain these niceties while they last. The journey of life is something that a person only gets to encounter once, so experiencing things which bring joy to a person are important.
In the poem the speaker advises those embarking on the journey to “visit hosts of Egyptian cities” (line 19) to “learn from those who have knowledge” (line 20). Learning from those who are wise and intelligent can prove beneficial for carrying on with the journey. C.P. Cavafy also mentions that the elements that make a person rich in life, are the experiences and “the great wisdom [he/she has] gained” (line 23) along the way. If a person finds himself at the end of the journey, and sees nothing of value around him, “Ithaca has not defrauded [him]” (line 31) for Ithaca is not the final destination but the passage one takes and the wisdom one obtains. If a person can recognize that the journey, and what the journey brings, is more important than the final destination or goal, then that person has understood the true meaning of life and “what Ithaca means”.
As humans we are all given the chance to embark on a wonderful journey through life. Some choose to focus on the final goal and choose to dedicate their lives for the end destination. The poem “Ithaca” by C.P. Cavafy suggests that one should not focus ones entire life on the end goal but instead enjoy the journey, and take as much as one possibly can from it. The author uses Ithaca as a metaphor for life in the poem. It can be understood from this poem that Ithaca represents the journey of life; the beginning, the end and everything in between.