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Written by Constantine P Cavafy | Create an image from this poem

Ithaka

 As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, 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, 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 your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when, with what pleasure, what joy, you enter harbors you're seeing 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 learn and go on learning from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years, so you're old by the time you reach the island, wealthy with all you've gained on the way, not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn't 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'll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
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Exiles

 It goes on being Alexandria still.
Just walk a bit along the straight road that ends at the Hippodrome and you'll see palaces and monuments that will amaze you.
Whatever war-damage it's suffered, however much smaller it's become, it's still a wonderful city.
And then, what with excursions and books and various kinds of study, time does go by.
In the evenings we meet on the sea front, the five of us (all, naturally, under fictitious names) and some of the few other Greeks still left in the city.
Sometimes we discuss church affairs (the people here seem to lean toward Rome) and sometimes literature.
The other day we read some lines by Nonnos: what imagery, what rhythm, what diction and harmony! All enthusiasm, how we admired the Panopolitan.
So the days go by, and our stay here isn't unpleasant because, naturally, it's not going to last forever.
We've had good news: if something doesn't come of what's now afoot in Smyrna, then in April our friends are sure to move from Epiros, so one way or another, our plans are definitely working out, and we'll easily overthrow Basil.
And when we do, at last our turn will come.
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Darius

 The poet Phernazis is composing
the important part of his epic poem.
How Darius, son of Hystaspes, assumed the kingdom of the Persians.
(From him is descended our glorious king Mithridates, Dionysus and Eupator).
But here philosophy is needed; he must analyze the sentiments that Darius must have had: maybe arrogance and drunkenness; but no -- rather like an understanding of the vanity of grandeurs.
The poet contemplates the matter deeply.
But he is interrupted by his servant who enters running, and announces the portendous news.
The war with the Romans has begun.
The bulk of our army has crossed the borders.
The poet is speechless.
What a disaster! No time now for our glorious king Mithridates, Dionysus and Eupator, to occupy himself with greek poems.
In the midst of a war -- imagine, greek poems.
Phernazis is impatient.
Misfortune! Just when he was positive that with "Darius" he would distinguish himself, and shut the mouths of his critics, the envious ones, for good.
What a delay, what a delay to his plans.
And if it were only a delay, it would still be all right.
But it yet remains to be seen if we have any security at Amisus.
It is not a strongly fortified city.
The Romans are the most horrible enemies.
Can we hold against them we Cappadocians? It is possible at all? It is possible to pit ourselves against the legions? Mighty Gods, protectors of Asia, help us.
-- But in all his turmoil and trouble, the poetic idea too comes and goes persistently-- the most probable, surely, is arrogance and drunkenness; Darius must have felt arrogance and drunkenness.
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The First Step

 The young poet Evmenis
complained one day to Theocritus:
"I've been writing for two years now
and I've composed only one idyll.
It's my single completed work.
I see, sadly, that the ladder of Poetry is tall, extremely tall; and from this first step I'm standing on now I'll never climb any higher.
" Theocritus retorted: "Words like that are improper, blasphemous.
Just to be on the first step should make you happy and proud.
To have reached this point is no small achievement: what you've done already is a wonderful thing.
Even this first step is a long way above the ordinary world.
To stand on this step you must be in your own right a member of the city of ideas.
And it's a hard, unusual thing to be enrolled as a citizen of that city.
Its councils are full of Legislators no charlatan can fool.
To have reached this point is no small achievement: what you've done already is a wonderful thing.
"
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Half An Hour

 I never had you, nor will I ever have you
I suppose.
A few words, an approach as in the bar yesterday, and nothing more.
It is, undeniably, a pity.
But we who serve Art sometimes with intensity of mind, and of course only for a short while, we create pleasure which almost seems real.
So in the bar the day before yesterday -- the merciful alcohol was also helping much -- I had a perfectly erotic half-hour.
And it seems to me that you understood, and stayed somewhat longer on purpose.
This was very necessary.
Because for all the imagination and the wizard alcohol, I needed to see your lips as well, I needed to have your body close.
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Very Seldom

 He's an old man.
Used up and bent, crippled by time and indulgence, he slowly walks along the narrow street.
But when he goes inside his house to hide the shambles of his old age, his mind turns to the share in youth that still belongs to him.
His verse is now recited by young men.
His visions come before their lively eyes.
Their healthy sensual minds, their shapely taut bodies stir to his perception of the beautiful.
Trans.
by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
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Dangerous Things

 Said Myrtias (a Syrian student
in Alexandria; in the reign of
Augustus Constans and Augustus Constantius;
in part a pagan, and in part a christian);
"Fortified by theory and study,
I shall not fear my passions like a coward.
I shall give my body to sensual delights, to enjoyments dreamt-of, to the most daring amorous desires, to the lustful impulses of my blood, without any fear, for whenever I want -- and I shall have the will, fortified as I shall be by theory and study -- at moments of crisis I shall find again my spirit, as before, ascetic.
"
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They Should Have Provided

 I have almost been reduced to a homeless pauper.
This fatal city, Antioch, has consumed all my money; this fatal city with its expensive life.
But I am young and in excellent health.
My command of Greek is superb (I know all there is about Aristotle, Plato; orators, poets, you name it.
) I have an idea of military affairs, and have friends among the mercenary chiefs.
I am on the inside of administration as well.
Last year I spent six months in Alexandria; I have some knowledge (and this is useful) of affairs there: intentions of the Malefactor, and villainies, et cetera.
Therefore I believe that I am fully qualified to serve this country, my beloved homeland Syria.
In whatever capacity they place me I shall strive to be useful to the country.
This is my intent.
Then again, if they thwart me with their methods -- we know those able people: need we talk about it now? if they thwart me, I am not to blame.
First, I shall apply to Zabinas, and if this moron does not appreciate me, I shall go to his rival Grypos.
And if this idiot does not hire me, I shall go straight to Hyrcanos.
One of the three will want me however.
And my conscience is not troubled about not worrying about my choice.
All three harm Syria equally.
But, a ruined man, why is it my fault.
Wretched man, I am trying to make ends meet.
The almighty gods should have provided and created a fourth, good man.
Gladly would I have joined him.
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Desires

 Like beautiful bodies of the dead who had not grown old
and they shut them, with tears, in a magnificent mausoleum,
with roses at the head and jasmine at the feet --
this is what desires resemble that have passed
without fulfillment; with none of them having achieved
a night of sensual delight, or a bright morning.
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Understanding

 The years of my youth, my sensual life --
how clearly I see their meaning now.
What needless repentances, how futile.
.
.
.
But I did not understand the meaning then.
In the dissolute life of my youth the desires of my poetry were being formed, the scope of my art was being plotted.
This is why my repentances were never stable.
And my resolutions to control myself, to change lasted for two weeks at the very most.
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Waiting For The Barbarians

 What are we waiting for, assembled in the forum?

 The barbarians are due here today.
Why isn't anything happening in the senate? Why do the senators sit there without legislating? Because the barbarians are coming today.
What laws can the senators make now? Once the barbarians are here, they'll do the legislating.
Why did our emperor get up so early, and why is he sitting at the city's main gate on his throne, in state, wearing the crown? Because the barbarians are coming today and the emperor is waiting to receive their leader.
He has even prepared a scroll to give him, replete with titles, with imposing names.
Why have our two consuls and praetors come out today wearing their embroidered, their scarlet togas? Why have they put on bracelets with so many amethysts, and rings sparkling with magnificent emeralds? Why are they carrying elegant canes beautifully worked in silver and gold? Because the barbarians are coming today and things like that dazzle the barbarians.
Why don't our distinguished orators come forward as usual to make their speeches, say what they have to say? Because the barbarians are coming today and they're bored by rhetoric and public speaking.
Why this sudden restlessness, this confusion? (How serious people's faces have become.
) Why are the streets and squares emptying so rapidly, everyone going home so lost in thought? Because night has fallen and the barbarians have not come.
And some who have just returned from the border say there are no barbarians any longer.
And now, what's going to happen to us without barbarians? They were, those people, a kind of solution.
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Since Nine OClock

 Half past twelve.
Time has gone by quickly since nine o'clock when I lit the lamp and sat down here.
I've been sitting without reading, without speaking.
Completely alone in the house, whom could I talk to? Since nine o'clock when I lit the lamp the shade of my young body has come to haunt me, to remind me of shut scented rooms, of past sensual pleasure - what daring pleasure.
And it's also brought back to me streets now unrecognizable, bustling night clubs now closed, theatres and cafes no longer here.
The shade of my young body also brought back the things that make us sad: family grief, separations, the feelings of my own people, feelings of the dead so little acknowledged.
Half past twelve.
How the time has gone by.
Half past twelve.
How the years have gone by.
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Morning Sea

 Let me stop here.
Let me, too, look at nature awhile.
The brilliant blue of the morning sea, of the cloudless sky, the yellow shore; all lovely, all bathed in light.
Let me stand here.
And let me pretend I see all this (I really did see it for a minute when I first stopped) and not my usual day-dreams here too, my memories, those images of sensual pleasure.
trans.
by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard
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The City

 WHAT domination of what darkness dies this hour,
And through what new, rejoicing, winged, ethereal power
O’erthrown, the cells opened, the heart released from fear?
Gay twilight and grave twilight pass.
The stars appear O’er the prodigious, smouldering, dusky, city flare.
The hanging gardens of Babylon were not more fair Than these blue flickering glades, where childhood in its glee Re-echoes with fresh voice the heaven-lit ecstasy.
Yon girl whirls like an eastern dervish.
Her dance is No less a god-intoxicated dance than his, Though all unknowing the arcane fire that lights her feet, What motions of what starry tribes her limbs repeat.
I, too, firesmitten, cannot linger: I know there lies Open somewhere this hour a gate to Paradise, Its blazing battlements with watchers thronged, O where? I know not, but my flame-winged feet shall lead me there.
O, hurry, hurry, unknown shepherd of desires, And with thy flock of bright imperishable fires Pen me within the starry fold, ere the night falls And I am left alone below immutable walls.
Or am I there already, and is it Paradise To look on mortal things with an immortal’s eyes? Above the misty brilliance the streets assume A night-dilated blue magnificence of gloom Like many-templed Nineveh tower beyond tower; And I am hurried on in this immortal hour.
Mine eyes beget new majesties: my spirit greets The trams, the high-built glittering galleons of the streets That float through twilight rivers from galaxies of light.
Nay, in the Fount of Days they rise, they take their flight, And wend to the great deep, the Holy Sepulchre.
Those dark misshapen folk to be made lovely there Hurry with me, not all ignoble as we seem, Lured by some inexpressible and gorgeous dream.
The earth melts in my blood.
The air that I inhale Is like enchanted wine poured from the Holy Grail.
What was that glimmer then? Was it the flash of wings As through the blinded mart rode on the King of Kings? O stay, departing glory, stay with us but a day, And burning seraphim shall leap from out our clay, And plumed and crested hosts shall shine where men have been, Heaven hold no lordlier court than earth at College Green.
Ah, no, the wizardy is over; the magic flame That might have melted all in beauty fades as it came.
The stars are far and faint and strange.
The night draws down.
Exiled from light, forlorn, I walk in Dublin Town.
Yet had I might to lift the veil, the will to dare, The fiery rushing chariots of the Lord are there, The whirlwind path, the blazing gates, the trumpets blown, The halls of heaven, the majesty of throne by throne, Enraptured faces, hands uplifted, welcome sung By the thronged gods, tall, golden-coloured, joyful, young.
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The Windows

 In these darkened rooms, where I spend
oppresive days, I pace to and fro
to find the windows.
-- When a window opens, it will be a consolation.
-- But the windows cannot be found, or I cannot find them.
And maybe it is best that I do not find them.
Maybe the light will be a new tyranny.
Who knows what new things it will reveal.