Found this while researching Cathleen Schine’s new book – They May Not Mean to, But They Do – and did not want to lose it.
THIS BE THE VERSE
by Philip Larkin
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
And add some extra, just for you.
But they were fucked up in their turn
By fools in old-style hats and coats,
Who half the time were soppy-stern
And half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
And don’t have any kids yourself.
It’s the journey, not the destination – channeling Odysseus in C.P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca” – a favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. But the translated Greek verse sounds so much better with a Scottish accent.
Sean Connery reads Ithaka
Now another way to relate to one of my favorite poems by Emily Dickinson:
Then there’s a pair of us — don’t tell!
They’d banish us — you know!
In Mary Choi’s essay for the New York Times – The Terror and Humiliation of Learning to Ride a Bike at 33 – she confesses to being an adult who never learned how to ride a bike – a skill lacking in my upbringing too. I thought I was alone, but Choi’s humorous essay gives me hope. All I have to do is move to New York City and buy a bike helmet.
In her collection of poetry, She Walks in Beauty, Caroline Kennedy includes one of her mother’s favorite poems. I made a copy to keep on my journey.
Ithaka by Constantine P. Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
hope the voyage is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians and 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 and Cyclops,
wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soud sets them up in front of you.
Hope the voyage is a long one.
May there be many a summer morning when,
with what leisure, what joy,
you come into harbors seen 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 gather stores of knowledge from their scholars.
Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would not 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 will have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
Related Post: Review of She Walks in Beauty