Thursday, December 6, 2012

What is your Ithaca?

I was introduced to the poem Ithaca at the Red Dirt Book Festival in Oklahoma a few years ago. I was sitting at a signing table, and the man next to me (a fellow author) struck up conversation. When I mentioned I wrote books with mythology in them, he told me about a poem. I didn't think much about it at the time. In fact, I wasn't really sure what he was talking about.

A poem about Ithaca? Just another story of Odysseus?

I wasn't really sure what was to be gained. But when I got back home, I received a nice email along with a link to said poem. And I've loved the poem so much that I now have it printed and hanging above my desk in my office.

It's by poet Constantine P. Cavafy, and seeing as how he is long since dead, I am safe in placing it below.

When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
an angry Poseidon — do not fear.
You will never find such on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, and your spirit
and body are touched by a fine emotion.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
a savage Poseidon you will not encounter,
if you do not carry them within your spirit,
if your spirit does not place them before you.
Wish for the road to be long.
Many the summer mornings to be when
with what pleasure, what joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time.
Stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase the fine goods,
nacre and coral, amber and ebony,
and exquisite perfumes of all sorts,
the most delicate fragrances you can find.
To many Egyptian cities you must go,
to learn and learn from the cultivated.
Always keep Ithaca in your mind.
To arrive there is your final destination.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better for it to last many years,
and when old to rest in the island,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to offer you wealth.
Ithaca has given you the beautiful journey.
Without her you would not have set out on the road.
Nothing more does she have to give you.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca has not deceived you.
Wise as you have become, with so much experience,
you must already have understood what Ithaca means.

There are tons of translations of this poem (seeing as how it was originally written in Greek). Translations aside, here is what the poem means to me. Here's what I need to remind myself of constantly.

Goals are great and all, but it's not about the destination. It's all about the journey.

Things like getting a book published take a long time. The journey to get a book published can take forever. It's filled with things like first drafts, revisions, edit letters, and queries. There are submissions and marketing plans and interview and copyedits. There are agents and editors and librarians and booksellers. And finally, just maybe if you've worked and worked and worked, the publication goal that you've been seeking for so long will finally come to pass. Your destination will be reached. But with all the time it took to get there, it's important above all else to enjoy the journey.

Buddha* says it well. "It is better to travel well than to arrive."

How is your journey to Ithaca going?

*Or maybe this is a fake Buddha quote. One cannot be sure.


P. J. Hoover is the author of the upcoming dystopia/mythology YA book, SOLSTICE (Tor Teen, June 2013), the upcoming Egyptian mythology MG book, TUT (Tor Children's, Winter 2014), and the middle-grade SFF series, THE FORGOTTEN WORLDS BOOKS (CBAY, 2008-2010). You can read more about her and her books on P. J.'s website or blog.


Jordan Dane said...

Awesome! I love how you related Ithaca to your writer journey. ABSOLUTELY it's the journey, my fine friend. Bon voyage!

Jordan Dane said...

Btw, I've done Red Dirt a number of times. Love it. A nice writer conference.

PJ Hoover said...

Red Dirt is a blast, right, Jordan! It would be even more fun if we were there at the same time!
And yes, so much about the journey. It makes it that much more tolerable :)