Two (Kind of Three) Books: David Bentley Hart and Mendelsohn’s Cavafy

Forget one-dollar copies of used Richard Ford novels. This is when the book-buying moratorium really gets difficult.

First, coming out on April 21 from Yale University Press is Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its Fashionable Enemies by David Bentley Hart. This will surely be the most eloquent and fiery rebuttal to the new atheists. But don’t let that dissuade you, should you be a skeptic; Hart is sure to respond with historical and theological rigor, not with empty rhetoric. Rusty Reno gives a kind of off-the-cuff pseudo-review here, which provides a good overview.

Second (and third), out today from Knopf is Daniel Mendelsohn’s much-anticipated two-volume translation of the Collected Poems and The Unfinished Poems of the Alexandrian Greek poet C. P. Cavafy. Never heard of Cavafy? Well now you have. And consider this an invitation to initiate yourself. Below is Mendelsohn’s translation, reproduced from Knopf’s website, of Cavafy’s poem “Ithaca.” (And here is an essay on Cavafy that Mendelsohn wrote for the New York Review of Books last November, which is a good introduction to Cavafy’s work; the same issue also published Mendelsohn’s translation of Cavafy’s wonderful poem, also available online, “Myres: Alexandria in 340 AD,” which I would also reproduce if it didn’t make this already-too-long post way longer.)

Ithaca

As you set out on the way to Ithaca
hope that the road is a long one,
filled with adventures, filled with discoveries.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
Poseidon in his anger: do not fear them,
you won’t find such things on your way
so long as your thoughts remain lofty, and a choice
emotion touches your spirit and your body.
The Laestrygonians and the Cyclopes,
savage Poseidon; you won’t encounter them
unless you stow them away inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up before you.

Hope that the road is a long one.
Many may the summer mornings be
when—with what pleasure, with what joy—
you first put in to harbors new to your eyes;
may you stop at Phoenician trading posts
and there acquire the finest wares:
mother-of-pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
and heady perfumes of every kind:
as many heady perfumes as you can.
Many Egyptian cities may you visit
that you may learn, and go on learning, from their sages.

Always in your mind keep Ithaca.
To arrive there is your destiny.
But do not hurry your trip in any way.
Better that it last for many years;
that you drop anchor at the island an old man,
rich with all you’ve gotten on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the beautiful journey;
without her you wouldn’t have set upon the road.
But now she has nothing left to give you.

And if you find her poor, Ithaca didn’t deceive you.
As wise as you will have become, with so much experience,
you will understand, by then, these Ithacas; what they mean.

[1910; 1911]

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2 comments so far

  1. Lee Ella on

    I love this poem. At some point in high school, it was hanging in my locker.

  2. susan berner on

    this is my favorite poem, although, I have to say the translations, I have found are so sterile as compared to the one I own.
    The line ‘if your thoughts do not imbue you’ is ruined, and made as if we don’t own a dictionary.
    If my paraphrasing is bad, I apologize- but I will search for the copy I have had for many years, and treasure it and hope you also know what I’m saying.


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