02 December 2009

'Always Keep Ithaca in Your Mind'

A wonderful old Greek lady in our parish fell asleep in the Lord on Friday. I had known Vasiliki Mitrovgenis since I first became Orthodox, when she and her son attended the Greek parish in town, and we joined the local ROCOR parish at the same time. When we were talking about her passing, my daughter said, ‘I’m gonna miss that old lady who used to sit in the back of the church and smile at me.’

At the funeral today, I discovered the following poem—with which I was not previously familiar—printed on the back of the program:


When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road may be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
Læstrygonians and Cycopes,
angry Poseidon—do not fear them,
for such things you will never encounter on your way
if your thought remains lofty, if a noble
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Læstrygonians and Cyclopes,
fierce Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not harbor them within your soul,
if your soul does not raise them up before you.

Pray that the road may be long.
May the summer mornings be many
when with intense pleasure and joy
you will enter harbors seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician market place,
and buy good merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and pleasurable perfumes of every kind
abundant pleasurable perfumes, as many as you can;
travel to Egyptian cities
to learn endlessly from the learned.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
Arriving there is your ultimate purpose.
But do not hurry the journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years,
and that finally you anchor at your island old,
blessed with all that you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to give you riches.

Ithaca gave you the splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She has nothing more 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 have understood already what Ithacas mean.

Constantine P. Cavafy (1911)
Trans. Theofanis G. Stavrou

After the funeral, when I asked Mrs Mitrovgenis’s son, Reader Demetrios, whether he had chosen this poem, he said, ‘No, mom picked that herself. In fact, she arranged almost everything herself. After she passed away, I wrote an obituary, but it turned out she’d already written one.’

Αιωνία η μνήμη!


Gentle heart said...

May the memory of Vasiliki be eternal and the Lord give her rest and forgiveness of sins.

Kevin P. Edgecomb said...

Ah! A lovely choice by a lovely lady.

May her rest be resplendent in the light of Christ!

Felipe Ortiz said...

This is my favorite poem.

May the Lord receive Vasiliki in His Kingdom.