Journey begins… Cavafy

I haven’t set upon just the right title for these Sunday posts that look at poets present and past, near and far, familiar and wildly unfamiliar. I suppose we actually started in Japan since I’ve already posted Haiku by Basho and we’ve been to Russia which is where Yevgeny Yevtushenko wrote Prologue, last week’s post. But maybe this week is the official opening for other poets on Sunday. And since we’re beginning maybe it’s nice to start with a poet from Greece, where Western civilization (that’s too big a question to debate or even discuss here) began.

Cavafy (Constantine Cavafy) is one of those whose lives were destined to last for a set number of decades, being born on April 29, 1863 in Alexandria Egypt and dying there exactly 70 years later. His published poems only numbered 154 although dozen more were left unpublished or sketched out. Searching for “Cavafy” on the web will produce more information for the curious.

My first experience of Cavafy was in a slim paperback anthology published by Dell under their Laurel Leaf imprint in 1964 and edited by Richard Niebling. (There’s no note on who translated the included works, see my note on Prologue in last Sunday’s post on why this is important.) So I’m using the translation I first read this poem to inaugurate this yet unnamed Sunday feature.


When you set out for Ithaca
ask that your way be long,
full of adventure, full of instruction.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
such as these you will never find
as long as your thought is lofty, as long as a rare
emotion touch your spirit and your body.
The Laistrygonians and the Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – you will not meet them
unless you carry them in your soul,
unless your soul raise them up before you.

Ask that your way be long.
At many a summer dawn to enter
– with what gratitude, what joy –
porst seen for the first time;
to stop at Phoenician trading centres,
and to buy good merchandise,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and sensuous perfumes of every kind,
sensuous perfumes as lavishly as you can;
to visit many Egyptian cities,
to gather stores of knowledge from the learned.

Have Ithaca always in your mind.
Your arrival there is what you are destined for.
But do not in the least hurry the journey.
Better that it last for years,
so that when you reach the island you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to give you wealth.

Ithaka gave you the splendid journey.
Without her you would not have set out.
She hasn’t anything else to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaka has not deceived you.
So wise have you become, of such experience,
that already you will have understood what these Ithakas mean.


Cavafy spent some of his early school years in Liverpool, England, where he developed an affection for Shakespeare and English poets. Cavafy, based on his time in England and the fact that Egypt was a British protectorate with an English run bureacracy when he worked as a civil servant in Egypt, was able to compose in English he seems to have always written his poetry in his native Greek. One of his poems inscribed on the wall of a public building in the Netherlands is in Greek. While writing poems of all lengths many of the Cavafy poems I’ve read have all tended to the shorter, almost Tanka or Haiku, style. Cavafy is well worth reading today.

Cry out!

Why must These tears fall,
crying, crying, into the night –
missing… missing… we have lost them,
lost them all.

Wheel of time,
you’ve hardly turned before they’re gone.
Turn back, turn back and restore,
restore to me mine!

I will hold you, hold you ever,
in thought, in prayer, in sighing breath,
my child, my sister, father, mother, brother, lover —
here, here in my heart living ever.
Here in my heart,
live forever.
And still I cry!

Immortal Beauty

So much unfathomable loss, of youth, beauty, life…

Wind Against Current

By Johna Till Johnson

Maria Radner Maria Radner, 1981-Eternity

Among the victims of Germanwings Flight 9525 was Maria Radner, a German opera singer. She was a 33-year old contralto who specialized in Wagner.  I hadn’t heard of her before—no surprise since I’m new to opera, and have yet to warm to Wagner’s music.

But a commentator on one of the news stories posted the video below. Maria Radner sings “Urlicht” (“Primeval Light”) from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 2, the Resurrection Symphony.

It’s just under five minutes. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything quite so lovely. Looking into her serene blue-gray eyes and insouciant half smile, and listening to that soaring voice, all I can think of is that although a deranged man was able to take away her life, the beauty she brought into this world is immortal.

The lyrics translate as follows:

I am from God and want to return…

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Beauty (Hózhó)

Beauty, I’ve been meaning to explain my frequent use of “beauty” as a category or tag in my posts. I knew I needed to do this almost as soon as I started posting more frequently. Why? you ask. Because I just as quickly began to have a number of young women view, like my posts and begin following me. I AM NOT complaining.

I just couldn’t figure out why. Until I would get a enough time to visit their blogs, many of which were focused on beauty as well. Except it was beauty in a different, certainly more common, sense. They were interested in, blogging about, beauty, cosmetics, fashion, etc.

Before I go any further I need to tell you that I am not Dineh (Navajo), I was not raised by the people, not have I been schooled or trained in their ways or customs. My understanding, what I am about to say, is solely my own interpretation of my readings in English about the Dineh concept and practice of walking in beauty. Any errors are mine and I would appreciate feedback/correction from those who wish to provide it.

Beauty, when I use it as a category or tag, is in the Dineh sense of hózhó náhásdlii (to walk in beauty). That sense, quite literally, that all around us and about us is in harmony. That nature, my person, my spirit, are all vibrating to the same harmonic. Let me give you an example.

It was a hike a few years ago. A day hike of about 10 or 12 miles along a blazed trail through one of the state forests where I live. I’d been on the trail about an hour, a little more maybe, working along one ridge line that was slightly lower than the one to the west which I was paralleling. The trail turned west and then back to the north and suddenly I was in a little glade, a stream burbling through it, the tempeture dropped 10 degrees, there was a massive yew streamside in the middle of the glade, and I cannot describe adequately the complete sense of peace, tranquility, rightness… My Irish self would probably call it a thin place, those secret spots where the barrier between worlds is nearly non-existent. I spent an hour in that place, in hózhó.

I’ve hiked that trail twice since. It’s not been the same in the glade. Me, or the universe, one of us was out of synch those days, not hózhó náhásdlii.

Fridays Art: Winter Pool

Winter painting is always a challenge so most of this was done back in the studio. Colors can be a surprising thing in nature. The black roof that’s white in bright sunlight, this pool of water that is so cold it’s black. Sketch book and camera, back to warm truck, finish in studio. And here we are the end of March, into Spring, and the weather peeps are predicting snow.

Winter Pool © Ray Hasson
Winter Pool © Ray Hasson