The Greek poet Constantine P. Cavafy utilizes various literary devices in his poem “Ithaka,” which stresses to the reader the importance of taking one’s time on the journey of life.
Cavafy employs a second-person narrator, who advises the reader (“you”) right from the opening. The narrator seems like a wise, experienced teacher or life coach instructing the reader on how to navigate through life. Cavafy uses allusions to the epic poem The Odyssey, like the title itself, “Ithaka,” which was Odysseus’s destination. The title also serves as an extended metaphor throughout the poem to represent a goal at the end of life. Other allusions include characters from the epic poem, including Laistrygonians (the man-eating giants), Cyclops (the one-eyed giant), and Poseidon (the angry god of the sea). Just as they tried to hinder Odysseus on his journey, they serve as metaphors of challenges the reader will encounter in life.
Another literary device is imagery. Cavafy presents luxurious jewels and objects, like “mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony” and “sensuous perfumes,” to illustrate what the reader can see and enjoy when taking time when progressing through life. Riches and joys—material and not—should be lived and appreciated through sight, smell, and thought. In fact, the reader should accumulate “stores of knowledge,” or pearls of wisdom, from other people and experiences in life's journey.
By the end of his poem, Cavafy uses personification to describe Ithaka and her relation to the reader. “She” is the motivator who propels the reader through life toward an end goal. What “she” grants the reader materially (whether the reader was “splendid” or “poor”) is not important ultimately; it is the wisdom from the experience of life’s journey that provides meaning.
Finally, Cavafy structures his poem to emphasize the importance of journey over destination. The first three stanzas contain, respectively, twelve, eleven, and ten lines. In these first three stanzas, Cavafy packs his allusions and imagery of the journey. His personification of Ithaka begins near the end of the third stanza and then continues in the fourth stanza. Most of the poem focuses on the journey; the final destination is only quickly mentioned in the shortest sections of the poem. Likewise, the reader should focus attention and time on the events of life, not a final goal or death.