Category Archives: Thought

A Poem, and an Afterward

A travel friend of mine sent me a wonderfully relevant piece:

Ithaca

When you set out on your journey to Ithaca,
pray that the road is long,
full of adventure, full of knowledge.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the angry Poseidon – do not fear them:
You will never find such as these on your path,
if your thoughts remain lofty, if a fine
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Lestrygonians and the Cyclops,
the fierce Poseidon you will never encounter,
if you do not carry them within your soul,
if your soul does not set them up before you.
Pray that the road is long.
That the summer mornings are many, when,
with such pleasure, with such joy
you will enter ports seen for the first time;
stop at Phoenician markets,
and purchase fine merchandise,
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber, and ebony,
and sensual perfumes of all kinds,
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
visit many Egyptian cities,
to learn and learn from scholars.
Always keep Ithaca on your mind.
To arrive there is your ultimate goal.
But do not hurry the voyage at all.
It is better to let it last for many years;
and to anchor at the island when you are old,
rich with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting that Ithaca will offer you riches.

Ithaca has given you the beautiful voyage.
Without her you would have never set out on the road.
She has nothing more 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 these Ithacas mean.
~Constantine Cavafy (1863 – 1933)

A heady thought about the importance of the journey, and resigning the destination to its proper place of enabling the journey.

There are some thoughts that I missed in Cavafy’s piece, and one in particular I believe to be of great value. Cavafy, where are the travel companions, the transient allies—equal parts strange and similar—that one meets along the way? So, I addend (without the slightest pretense that my version equals the former):

Wander Widely, Live Fully.

Unroot thyself
and reach for foreign soil with breathless soul,
confronting thyself in true form
against the clarifying backdrop of the unknown,
the unexpected.

Fear not loneliness,
for your naked soul will encounter wild and wondrous pilgrims
equanimically unclothed—
friendships forged in mere days
whose intensities shine ten times the span.

Bolden thyself,
brace not,
like a willful river flow
from the eternal wellspring of experience—
maintain constant departure while always
arriving.

Paul Elliott (1988 – ?)

Wander on! ~PWALLE

Ithaca, as depicted in The Return of Odysseus by Claude Lorrain, 1644

Ithaca, as depicted in The Return of Odysseus by Claude Lorrain, 1644.


Same Same, But Different?

DSC_0115
Watching the world pass by.

This picture was taken on a 3rd class train ride from Lopburi to Phitsanulok, Thailand. You can’t quite see out the window, but I’ll describe it:

Miles and miles of patchworked rice fields—shallow, muddy water contained in square plots, with tiny green shoots sticking out in perfect order—interrupted on occasionally by small villages of orange, blue, and yellow buildings shaded with corrugated metal or gilded white temples overseen by enormous Buddhas, backdropped by hazy mountains and sparsely populated with ambling Thai farmers wearing sun hats.

I watched this flow by for hours from the hard metal bench of my rickety clackity train. I began to daydream of growing up as a rice farmer—passing the days bent double, spending all my time and energy reaping the most produce out of my small, square plot. I began filming the landscape to remember the daydreams..and then I had a nice laugh. Here’s the thought:

Videoing rice paddies from the bench of a third class train—
I wonder—
do Asian tourists film corn fields in the American heartland?

That is travel—everything is new and fresh and exciting, even when you’re viewing life as normal in a foreign context. Same same, but different.