Haiku Journey

Short, long, summary of a life


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Waiting…

In the shadow

Light of night, waiting on

The coming dawn.

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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 His published poems only numbered 154 although dozen more were left unpublished or sketched out.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.

ITHAKA

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

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.


1 Comment

Off course…

Once in a while I’ll diverge, gently or enormously, from the haiku path. I’ve done that at least once before when my friend Anthony Demangone from NAFCU posts something especially interesting, important, spot on… Well, all his posts are but many are more business focused.

This post, Are you too busy? – Musings from the NAFCU CU Suite on the other hand is about life. The very thing Haiku attempts to capture in seventeen syllables.

So here’re some great ideas to apply to your journey