There have been a few. Always hard to live with. On occasion, totally worth it. Sometimes, not:
You said: “I’ll go to another country, go to another shore,
find another city better than this one.
Whatever I try to do is fated to turn out wrong
and my heart lies buried like something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I look,
I see the black ruins of my life, here,
where I’ve spent so many years, wasted them, destroyed them totally.”
You won’t find a new country, won’t find another shore.
This city will always pursue you.
You’ll walk the same streets, grow old
in the same neighborhoods, turn gray in these same houses.
You’ll always end up in this city. Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there’s no ship for you, there’s no road.
Now that you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere in the world–Constantine Cavafy
This is what Murray has to say about the poem:
The City describes someone who has destroyed their life and who sets out from the metropolis where the ruin happened for another shore, confident that if they can be in a different place, they can start again.
On that occasion, Cavafy has a final stanza that packs a real kick in the guts. Because there is a type of person—not everyone, but a type—who will find that the city follows them. And though they think they have ruined their life in just one city, it turns out they have ruined it in the world entire. That short poem is a good life lesson, or at least a good life warning.
And so it is.
As it turns out, though, The City isn’t the main subject of Murray’s post on Cavafy’s poetry, which focuses more on his work from 1911, Ithaca, one Murray compares to Tennyson’s Ulysses, and which leads to his meditations on the journey, as it compares to the arrival.
I’m all about the journey, myself. Perhaps in a far less rational way than Murray. But, honestly, if you can’t enjoy the journey–messy, inchoate, and mixed-up as it sometimes is, what–really–is the point? Life, after all, spends a lot more time on the “getting,” than it does on the “there,” so you might as well have fun along the way.
As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with discoveries.
And so I do. And so it has often proven.
And so, more often than not, it has been.
Ithaca gave you the beautiful journey;
Without her you wouldn’t have set upon the road.
But now she has nothing left to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca didn’t deceive you.
As wise as you will have become, with so much experience,
You will understand, by then, these Ithacas; what they mean.
Sometimes, all that really matters in life is the journey, the people we meet along the way, and the understanding and the experience they–and we–engender between us.
Sometimes, we miss these “Ithacas,” how they matter, and “what they mean.”
Here’s to the journey. And–even–to the dragons:
And here is Ithaca, read by Sean Connery. Music by Vangelis: