The City – Constantine Cavafy

“When you set sail for Ithaca,
wish for the road to be long,
full of adventures, full of knowledge.” – From Ithaca by Cavafy

Most poetry lovers would recognize the name of Constantine Cavafy in correlation with his masterpiece, the immortal ‘Ithaca’. The Greek poet who spent most of his life in Alexandria showed a clear ‘Hellenistic’ imprint in his writings.

A few years ago, I stood in the balcony (photo below) of Cavafy’s house in Alexandria (house/museum). I stood there alone, then came an old man who stood next to me and started reciting beautiful verses. When he finished, I asked him what that poem was, and he told me it was The City by Cavafy. I will never forget that poem, and I invite you to do read and reflect:

“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 as though it were something dead.
How long can I let my mind moulder in this place?
Wherever I turn, wherever I happen to 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 will walk
the same streets, grow old in the same neighborhoods,
will turn gray in these very same houses.
You will always end up in this city.
Don’t hope for things elsewhere:
there is no ship for you, there is no road.
As you’ve wasted your life here, in this small corner,
you’ve destroyed it everywhere else in the world.”

The view from Cavafy's House in Alexandria

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