Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Journeys, Ithaka - Inside the Wave part 2

(follows on from my posting 10th June of Helen Dunmore's wonderful poem "Inside the Wave.")                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 So Odysseus' wanderings over ten years, on the way home from the Trojan War, take him into enchantment, imprisonment, danger, and suffering, through all of which he keeps his destination firmly in mind: his wife and son Penelope and Telemachus, and his own realm, the island of Ithaca.

In discussion recently, a close friend said I seemed to be much interested in journeys. That got me thinking.

Odysseus gets home to find his wife besieged by suitors who have told her that the old boy must be dead by now; they want to marry his wife and take over his lands. They have been eating greedily and boozing and behaving really very badly, exploiting the code of hospitality, which is at the roots of civilization. Penelope has remained true to Odysseus. Just. She's had to be crafty about it. But Homer was a realist, and there are suggestions she enjoys the flattery just a bit. Well, who wouldn't? And maybe the old boy is dead?

Well he isn't. He draws his mighty bow - no-one else can - and he and Telemachus slaughter the lot. (This was an age of warrior-heroes, not gentle the moral code of the time, they had it coming.) 

But travelling changes us, journeys move us along, not just physically.

"At nightfall, in the rigging and the aerial,
Is a voice descanting (though not to the ear,
The murmuring shell of time, and not in any language)
"Fare forward, you who think that you are voyaging;
You are not those who saw the harbour
Receding, or those who will disembark.
Here between the hither and the farther shore."

                                                 "The Dry Salvages," TS Eliot

There is only the journey. Everything changes, always - and maybe accepting that, living in that state of being, helps us live better, eases some of life's pains. Stasis can only be relative. (I'm almost tempted to refer to a recent political slogan about stability..) We're always travelling, it only looks as though we've "settled down." The great children's author Arthur Ransome wrote that a house is just a boat that's been moored rather too long.

As for Ithaka - Cavafy tells us it's the journey that matters more than the destination, so we should value it. Embrace the change fully.

 "As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with understanding.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you’ll never come across them on your way
as long as your mind stays aloft, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you’ll not encounter them
unless you carry them within your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire fine goods:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
To many Egyptian cities may you go
so you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always keep Ithaca in your mind;
to reach her is your destiny.
But do not rush your journey in the least.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave to you the beautiful journey;
without her you’d not have set upon the road.
But she has nothing left to give you any more.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca did not deceive you.
As wise as you’ll have become, with so much experience,
you’ll have understood, by then, what these Ithacas mean."

                                                                                  "Ithaka," CP Cavafy

"These Ithakas." We need them, but they are not ultimate realityThat's only to be found 

Dunmore's Penelope won't touch her hero; Odysseus is left gazing into,  meditating on,  the inside of the wave:

"And so he lay down
To watch it at eye-level,
About to topple
About to be whole."


Helen Dunmore - such a loss, such gifts she leaves with us.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and 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 and 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 the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen 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 gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not 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 will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

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