Ithaka Summary (C. P. Cavafy)

C. P. Cavafy


(Poetry for Students)

Stanza 1
“Ithaka” begins with the poet addressing the reader directly in the second person, as “you,” and offering a piece of advice. The character addressed is not identified. He could be Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, but the poet is also addressing any reader of the poem.

The poet states that as the traveler sets out on his journey, he must hope that it is a long one, full of adventure and discovery. The destination of the journey is Ithaka. Ithaka is the island off the western coast of Greece to which Odysseus returned after the Trojan war. Odysseus’s journey was a long and difficult one. It was ten years before he was able to rejoin his wife Penelope in Ithaka. However, Ithaka in this poem can also be understood as the destination of any journey, and it can be further understood metaphorically as a journey through life.

In line 4, the poet mentions two of the obstacles that Odysseus encountered in the Odyssey. First are the Laistrygonians, who were half-men and halfgiants, who devoured many of Odysseus’s crew. Second are the Cyclops, who were giants with just one eye, placed in the middle of their foreheads. One of the Cyclops, Polyphemus, took Odysseus and his men prisoner and ate six of them before Odysseus escaped with the remaining six men.

In line 5, the poet mentions another of the forces that obstructed Odysseus’s return. This is Poseidon, who was the Greek god of the sea. He is referred to as angry because in the Odyssey Poseidon was angry that Odysseus had blinded Polyphemus, who was Poseidon’s son.

In the Odyssey, each of these three types of beings are powerful and seek to delay or destroy Odysseus. But, in line 5 of “Ithaka,” the poet bids his reader not to be afraid of them. In lines 6 and 7, he explains why. If the traveler keeps his thoughts “raised high,” he will never encounter any challenge resembling those monsters. The poet is implying that it is always necessary to be optimistic and hopeful.

Lines 8–11 repeat the same idea with one variation. This time, the poet explains that...

(The entire section is 878 words.)