“When you start on your journey to Ithaca” C P Cavafy
When first you set sail for the Island,
Imagine another world,
Summon up into your mind, into your soul,
The Fortunate Isles, the Islands of the Blessed,
Imagine freedom, autonomy, a world held in common,
Imagine the Age of Gold.
Fear neither gods nor masters,
The Laestrygonians nor the Titans,
The anger of tyrants nor the pursuit of the Furies,
If you do not lose hope they will have no power over you.
And should you be driven onto Cyclops’ isle,
Do not give way to despair,
You and your companions will overcome him.
Remember that the enmity of the giants
Towards dreamers like you
Will always guide you onwards
If you let it enter your heart,
If you let it awaken your courage.
Anchor at many old harbours on the way
In Ionia or the Cyclades, in Phoenicia and Egypt,
And bring to them the intoxication of rebellion,
Add to your crew
But do not seek rich merchandise
Bought with enslaved hours and days,
Turquoise, coral and amber,
Perfumes, jewels and fine silks.
If you are free,
The quintessence of their beauty will cling to you,
In mid ocean, or ashore on desolate headlands,
It will never desert you.
Always remember the Island,
Carry it in your soul, in your imagination,
Voyagers such as you are its truest citizens.
So enter Alexandria and Athens,
Cities of the civilisation that feeds on lives
To learn from those who have knowledge,
And to study all those books
Which, emanating from such cities,
Are like maps of lost Odysseys, charts
To steer past the Sirens, to sail beyond
The island of the goddess of illusions.
Understand you will gain nothing from the voyage,
For freedom calls,
That scornful song the wind has taken:
Everything for everyone. Nothing for ourselves.*
Pull offshore with joy and rage,
Knowing that where you are heading
A mysterious new island is rising out of the sea.
Note: After Cavafy, Ithaca, and Auden, Atlantis.
*Para todos toda. Nada para nosotros. Declaration of the Zapatista Army of National Liberation.
Sea of Dreams
Only consider how far down the beautiful islands go…..
Ikaria, thyme scented, forested Samos, pink Fourni,
Patmos, white on the horizon,
Falling steeply into that sea of dreams
Where Icarus sank
So inky blue you could dip your pen into it
And write what the old caïque-masters told
Of a drowned city:
How they hauled up their nets
And the sea poured off stone heads,
Sightless eyes, shattered marble….
How Ikaria was cast down from Olympus
To make a birthplace for Dionysus,
Took root in the sea,
A broken mountain,
Shaking with earthquakes,
Overrun with vines,
Its boiling mineral waters
Upwelling in the sea caves
From Persephone’s wounds.
Note: The first line is taken from the Greek poet George Seferis.
An Alien Spaceship, Landed.
In memory of John and Jaki
It draws the warm night in
Like a faultless musical phrase
A walking moment
Scent of hay
Silent crowd blocking the road
A globe of light
A village bar in the south of France.
You said on the phone:
Bring your horn”…..
And it draws the warm sounds in
Like an alien spaceship, landed,
A walking moment
A golden voice, closer, singing,
A brilliant interior, white light,
The spellbound earthlings crowding up….
And she’s the Oracle of Soul, no less,
Singing for all uncorrupted dreamers
Sitting on a low stool
Hunched over the mic
Hair covering her face
And she’s soaring….
Like a moth to the flame, I,
Over the heads of the crowd?
Levitated to the stage?
The sax on my shoulder
The ship’s drive notching up
My hands on the controls now
And you’re beaming at me, John,
Behind that synth-command-console,
Shining out of the light,
Like we’re sharing some ineffable secret
As I turn towards the mic
And the ship lifts off…..
“That was perfect!”
Twenty five years ago
On the solstice,
And you knew because you made it so.
And now you’re both gone;
Only the memory of a love beamed down,
Maybe a mysterious scorching of the grass?
Overhead…. the welcoming stars.
The Lacadaemonians at Delphi
Here at Delphi we saw just another Archon,
Sprightly, leaning on a staff,
Accompanied by the usual guard,
(Chosen, of course, for their beauty as much as anything)
Carrying finely-worked bronze spears
And silent, watchful,
Lacadaemonians from the south,
An intractable race, it was said,
Bearing an impeccable gold statue of Apollo for the sanctuary
And another senseless question to the Pythia,
Concerning dominion and honour…….
She sent them on some fool’s errand,
Something about laying ancient bones to rest,
A hint, to be sure,
Echoing the unsleeping horror of Atreus’ matricide,
A crime that has been laid at our door,
As they always are,
Pinned on us from time out of mind,
Who simply teach asking the right questions…..
Well, set that aside,
We heard they rummaged the length and breadth of the Peloponnese
Having the excuse, you see,
But spies more like,
Those modest Lacadaemonians,
Until, as always,
Back they came with more expensive gifts,
Bronze tripods, cauldrons,
Looted from who knows where,
Cluttering up the place,
Seeking more information
To furnish their simple, upright minds.
This time she surpassed herself
Our noble kinswoman
Uttering faultless dactyls worthy of Homer herself
Describing a modern forge
‘Where two winds roar
And blow is met by counter blow
Grief piled on grief’…..
Evoking the never-ending calamity of war.
Eventually one of them thought he saw through it
Standing one day in an iron-worker’s smithy
In a town in Arcadia
Marvelling at the size of the bellows
At the intensity of the heat
At the properties of the strange new metal:
Do not the lords of men always wonder
At the artisan’s skill?
Of course he asked for bones,
And lo! bones had been found nearby:
Where is the earth not filled
With the bones of the victims of war?
So they carted them all back to Sparta
After doing a deal with the smith,
Without a second thought for the forge.
They missed the point entirely, you see,
And, to be sure, they did very well for themselves for a while,
Even here against us (although they respected the Oracle).
Yes, the ascendancy of the Lacadaemonians
Can be traced to the moment they seized those bones;
Without a doubt, they missed the point entirely.”
I walked up the dry river bed at Mycenae
Like a criminal, out of sight of the road,
Through a landscape the colour of a lion’s pelt;
Drowsed in the shade of a rock,
Drank brackish water from an army water-bottle
Dreaming lion paws in the dust……
Inarkhos, river of dust,
Dried up by Poseidon’s hatred of Argos,
Swallowed by the sea.
Even then…..on the outside,
Waiting like a fox for the visitors to leave
For the attendants to shut the great beehive
Tomb of Agamemnon and leave;
Waiting for the silence.
The cistern in the citadel was dry
The flight of steps into darkness
That terrified Henry Miller
Ends in organic rock
As if the wound had healed over.
O black night, you who nurse the golden stars!
Dog-like I lay in the dust
Of the house of Atreus,
The night occluded,
The roaring of the stones silenced,
No snake whispering in the dead grass,
Dead water to drink
And the red glow of a cigarette
Seferis and Kerouac
Signed up for their bourgeois regrets,
In the visitors’ book
Of Hotel Belle Helene de Menelas
The furies whistling.
I brought no furies with me.
The stones were dumb mouths,
The stars turned away their faces.
The dust slept as well as I.
Nostalgia for the Present
A dark, momentary summer
Ten or fifteen years ago,
Listening to the piano music of Ravel
In the garden
In days of sudden heat….
Miroirs, a reverie,
Awakening a drowsy nostalgia
For the eternal hour
While the bees stumbled in the lavender
The blackbird’s song
Dreamed time away
The swifts tilted about the sky;
A nostalgia for Summer
As if that present moment
Were somehow also
Deep in the past…..
And now, so soon,
It’s a long time ago,