Friday, September 28, 2007

As many sensual perfumes as you can

Perfume Shrine has long worshipped at the altar of poet C.P.Cavafy. Sometimes it is just as well that he includes fragrant references in his unique poetry.
Today I present you "Ithaca", perhaps his most famous didactic poem, recited by Sir Sean Connery with music by Vangelis and images from the film Baraka. Originally uploaded by babylonianman.

As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey 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 sensasion
touches 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 soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope that your journey is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you come into harbors you're seeing 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 learn and learn again from those who know.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you're destined for.
But don't hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so that you're old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you've gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaca to make you rich.

Ithaca gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you would have not set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaca won't have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you'll have understood by then what these Ithacas mean.

And an announcement:
October will be devoted to chypres. Stay tuned for in depth analysis of their aesthetics and for reviews.


  1. It will sound pedestrian, my dear E., but this is my favorite poem of all time. It is a life lesson, it has gotten me through hard times and has made me smile with joy at important junctions, or milestones if you will. If I could share only one literary piece with people in my life, this would be it. Thank you for sharing its beauty with your readers.

  2. Not pedestrain at all, D! It's not my all time favourite of his (that honour goes to "The god forsakes Anthony" ~which I had referenced in my old host of the blog), but it is worth sharing, I think.

  3. You know how much I love the Alexandrian... I even met an old lady in Alexandria who'd know him as a girl. I'm always fascinated to discover him in English, as I've read him in Yourcenar's French, prose translation. Must pull it out. Such poignant wisdom and beauty, from an old, old soul...

  4. "Ithaka" was a favorite of Jackie O's; in fact, it was read by Maurice Tempelsman, her longtime companion, at her funeral. On other fronts, I can't tell you how excited I am that you will be devoting October to chypres, that most elusive (and variable) of accords.

  5. Anonymous01:51

    So beautiful... You give us so much through Perfume Shrine. Looking forward to your chypre illuminations!

    My best always,

  6. Yes, D, dear, I do know :-)
    Wonderful to meet someone who knew him. He was indeed an old soul.
    Yourcenar did a great job of it(and her Memoirs is one of my favourite works of literature).
    Please don't miss The God forsakes Antony. It's sublime...*sigh*

  7. She must have taken a cue or two from her stay in Greece, then, C. I could picture worse poems to be read in one's funeral; she chose well.

    Re: chypres ~Let's hope I live up to your high expectations :-)

  8. Thank you Miranda, dear;
    it's good to share beauty with you :-)

  9. Now, E., you haven't forgotten that when we meet at last, you're supposed to recite "The Gods forsake Anthony" in Greek while dabbing on Mitsouko, have you?

  10. Too true, D! Too true! It had slipped my hazy mind...

  11. Beauty! You have made my morning...

  12. And am I glad for this, Lucy, dear.

  13. A wonderful poem, one of my earliest favorites. I'm always delighted to see he has affected others with his rich imagery. Thank you for this lovely reminder of Cavafy's artistry.

  14. You're very welcome Heather.
    It's indicative of your sensibilities that it has been a favourite. :-)


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