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on Monday mornings. This is an Open Thread forum,
so if you have an off-topic opinion burning a hole in
your brainpan, feel free to add a comment.
You road I enter upon and look around,
I believe you are not all that is here,
I believe that much unseen is also here.
– Walt Whitman, from “Song of the Open Road”
In 1980, World Tourism Day was inaugurated by the U.N. World Tourism Organization (UNWTO). I think they had something like this Mark Twain quote in mind: “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.”
In honor of that ideal, I’ve collected here some poems on journeys, including two poems from half a world apart in the 1600s, and another from a young poet who is better known for her posts on Instagram than for her two published collections.
On the World
by Francis Quarles
The world’s an inn; and I her guest.
I eat; I drink; I take my rest.
My hostess, nature, does deny me
Nothing, wherewith she can supply me;
Where, having stayed a while, I pay
Her lavish bills, and go my way.
“On the World” is in the public domain.
Francis Quarles (1592-1644) English poet best known for the poems in his book Emblems (emblem books, collections of allegorical illustrations with explanatory poems or morals, were very popular during his time). He joined Lincoln’s Inn after Cambridge to read for the bar, but became Princess Elizabeth Stuart’s cup-bearer, and after her marriage in 1613 to Frederick V, Elector Palatinate of the Rhine, Quarles became part of her court at Heidelberg, and then in Prague when Frederick became King of Bohemia. Quarles left in 1628 when he was appointed as secretary to James Usher, Archbishop of Armagh and primate of all Ireland. In 1633, he returned to London, published Emblems in 1635, and in 1639, he was made city chronologer. One of the previous holders of the post was playwright and poet Ben Johnson. His good fortune ended in 1644, when he wrote three pamphlets supporting the king’s cause during the English Civil War. His house was searched, and his papers destroyed by Parliamentarians. His popularity among the Puritans saved him from a personal attack, and he died of natural causes on September 8, 1644.
by C.P. Cavafy
As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
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 excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
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 your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter 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 go on learning from their scholars.
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 you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.
Ithaka gave you the marvelous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.
– translated by Edmund Keeley
(note: the Laistrygonians were a mythical race of cannibalistic giants in Homer’s Odyssey)
“Ithaka” from C.P. Cavafy: Collected Poems, translations © 1992 by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard – Princeton University Press
C.P. Cavafy (1863-1933) the most distinguished and highly influential modern Greek poet, who never lived in Greece, whose work had been ridiculed and rejected early in the last century by the Athenian literati, then almost forgotten by Greece until publication of an anthology of his poems in 1935, two years after his death. He was born in Alexandria, Egypt, which he first left at age nine after his father died, and his mother moved their large brood to Liverpool so his elder brothers could run the family import business, a time when Cavafy learned English and discovered Shakespeare, Robert Browning, and Oscar Wilde. These years influenced his choice of the Anglicized “Cavafy” as his pen name. When he was sixteen, the business failed, and the family returned, in debt-ridden gentility, to the Greek community in Alexandria. He was exiled again when he was nineteen, because his mother wisely removed the family from Alexandria, to the home of her parents in Constantinople during the increasing tension between Egypt and Great Britain over Egyptian nationalism. The British bombarded Alexandria in June of 1882. Their home in Alexandria was destroyed during the bombardment, and most of Cavafy’s early writing was lost. After his return from Constantinople, Cavafy worked in several jobs, then took a permanent position in the Irrigation Department of the Ministry of Public Works. His British superiors valued his excellent English. He worked there for 30 years, rising to assistant director of the department when he retired. Cavafy was homosexual. He had affairs but no love that lasted. Most of his erotic poetry was never published in his lifetime. Poet and Bureaucrat, Hellenic yet Cosmopolitan, he was as contradictory as the country of his family’s origins. Cavafy died of cancer on his birthday in 1933. His tombstone in the Greek Orthodox Cemetery in Alexandria bears a single word epitaph: Poet.
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn’t a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn’t a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming,
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I’ll not be knowing;
Yet there isn’t a train I wouldn’t take,
No matter where it’s going.
“Travel” is in the public domain.
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was born in Maine, graduated from Vassar College in 1917, and published her first book of poetry that same year. She became a well-known poet and playwright, with a strong feminist sensibility. She was the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, in 1923, for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver.
by Billy Collins
How agreeable it is not to be touring Italy this summer,
wandering her cities and ascending her torrid hilltowns.
How much better to cruise these local, familiar streets,
fully grasping the meaning of every roadsign and billboard
and all the sudden hand gestures of my compatriots.
There are no abbeys here, no crumbling frescoes or famous
domes and there is no need to memorize a succession
of kings or tour the dripping corners of a dungeon.
No need to stand around a sarcophagus, see Napoleon’s
little bed on Elba, or view the bones of a saint under glass.
How much better to command the simple precinct of home
than be dwarfed by pillar, arch, and basilica.
Why hide my head in phrase books and wrinkled maps?
Why feed scenery into a hungry, one-eyed camera
eager to eat the world one monument at a time?
Instead of slouching in a café ignorant of the word for ice,
I will head down to the coffee shop and the waitress
known as Dot. I will slide into the flow of the morning
paper, all language barriers down,
rivers of idiom running freely, eggs over easy on the way.
And after breakfast, I will not have to find someone
willing to photograph me with my arm around the owner.
I will not puzzle over the bill or record in a journal
what I had to eat and how the sun came in the window.
It is enough to climb back into the car
as if it were the great car of English itself
and sounding my loud vernacular horn, speed off
down a road that will never lead to Rome, not even Bologna.
“Consolation” from The Art of Drowning © 1995 by Billy Collins – University of Pittsburgh Press
Billy Collins (1941 – ) dubbed “the most popular poet in America” by Bruce Weber in the New York Times, he was a two-term U.S. Poet Laureate (2001-2003), and has published many poetry collections, including Questions About Angels; The Art of Drowning; Nine Horses: Poems; and The Rain in Portugal. It was Questions About Angels, published in 1991, that put him in the literary spotlight. Collins says his poetry is “suburban, it’s domestic, it’s middle class, and it’s sort of unashamedly that.”
by Dorothy Parker
Half across the world from me
Lie the lands I’ll never see–
I, whose longing lives and dies
Where a ship has sailed away;
I, that never close my eyes
But to look upon Cathay.
Things I may not know nor tell
Wait, where older waters swell;
Ways that flowered at Sappho’s tread,
Winds that sighed in Homer’s strings,
Vibrant with the singing dead,
Golden with the dust of wings.
Under deeper skies than mine,
Quiet valleys dip and shine.
Where their tender grasses heal
Ancient scars of trench and tomb
I shall never walk: nor kneel
Where the bones of poets bloom.
If I seek a lovelier part,
Where I travel goes my heart;
Where I stray my thought must go;
With me wanders my desire.
Best to sit and watch the snow,
Turn the lock, and poke the fire.
“Hearthside” from Dorothy Parker: Complete Poems, © 1973 by the National Association of the Advancement of Colored People – Penguin Classics, 2010 edition
Dorothy Parker (1893-1967) born in Long Branch, New Jersey; American poet, wit, editor, and literary critic. Her formal education ended at 14, but Parker was a founding member of the famed Algonquin Round Table (circa 1919-1929). When the New Yorker debuted in 1925, Dorothy Parker was on the editorial board. As the magazine’s “Constant Reader,” she contributed poetry, fiction — and book reviews famous for pulling no punches: “This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force.” She made four failed suicide attempts, and said in an interview when she turned 70, “If I had any decency, I’d be dead. All my friends are.” In 1967, Parker did die, of a heart attack, at age 73. She bequeathed her literary estate to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whom she had never met.
The moon and sun are eternal travelers.
even the years wander on.
a lifetime adrift in a boat or in old age
leading a tired horse into the years,
every day is a journey, and
the journey itself is a home.
– from Narrow Road to a Far Province, by Bashō
This poem is in the public domanin. Translator was uncredited.
Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694) the most famous poet of the Edo period in Japan, considered the greatest master of haiku; his success came early in life, but later he took to wandering through the country in search of inspiration
by Margaret Atwood
The moment when, after many years
of hard work and a long voyage
you stand in the centre of your room,
house, half-acre, square mile, island, country,
knowing at last how you got there,
and say, I own this,
is the same moment when the trees unloose
their soft arms from around you,
the birds take back their language,
the cliffs fissure and collapse,
the air moves back from you like a wave
and you can’t breathe.
No, they whisper. You own nothing.
You were a visitor, time after time
climbing the hill, planting the flag, proclaiming.
We never belonged to you.
You never found us.
It was always the other way round.
“The Moment” from Eating Fire, © 1998 by Margaret Atwood – Virago Press
Margaret Atwood (1939 – ) Canadian poet, novelist, short story writer, essayist, and environmental activist, widely regarded as one of Canada’s greatest living writers. Known for her novels, especially The Handmaid’s Tale, published in 1985. She has been honored with numerous awards, including the Booker Prize, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, and the Governor General’s Award – twice.
by nayyirah waheed
allow yourself lowness.
know that it is
the way to who you are.
“traveling” from nejima, © 2014 by Nayyirah Waheed – CreateSpace Independent Publishing
Nayyirah Waheed is a reclusive poet who has been dubbed “the most famous poet on Inatagram,” known for her minimalist style. She has published two books of poetry, salt and nejima.