June 27: “Greece”

The sea was sapphire coloured, and the sky
Burned like a heated opal through the air;
We hoisted sail; the wind was blowing fair
For the blue lands that to the eastward lie.
From the steep prow I marked with quickening eye
Zakynthos, every olive grove and creek,
Ithaca’s cliff, Lycaon’s snowy peak,
And all the flower-strewn hills of Arcady.
The flapping of the sail against the mast,
The ripple of the water on the side,
The ripple of girls’ laughter at the stern,
The only sounds: when ‘gan the West to burn,
And a red sun upon the seas to ride,
I stood upon the soil of Greece at last!

— Oscar Wilde

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May 25: “Ithaka”

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, 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 excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, 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 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.

— C.P. Cavafy

February 20: “After Greece”

Light into the olive entered
And was oil. Rain made the huge, pale stones
Shine from within. The moon turned his hair white
Who next stepped from between the columns,
Shielding his eyes. All through
The countryside were old ideas
Found lying open to the elements.
Of the gods’ houses, only
A minor premise here and there
Would be balancing the heaven of fixed stars
Upon a Doric capital. The rest
Lay spilled, their fluted drums half sunk in cyclamen
Or deep in water’s biting clarity
Which just barely upheld me
The next week, when I sailed for home.
But where is home–these walls?
These limbs? The very spaniel underfoot
Races in sleep, toward what?
It is autumn. I did not invite
Those guests, windy and brittle, who drink my liquor.
Returning from a walk, I find
The bottles filled with spleen, my room itself
Smeared by reflection onto the far hemlocks.
I some days flee in dream
Back to the exposed porch of the maidens
Only to find my great-great-grandmothers
Erect there, peering
Into a globe of red Bohemian glass.
As it swells and sinks I call up
Graces, Furies, Fates, removed
To my country’s warm, lit halls, with rivets forced
Through drapery, and nothing left to bear.
They seem anxious to know
What holds up heaven nowadays.
I start explaining how in that vast fire
Were other irons–well, Art, Public Spirit,
Ignorance, Economics, Love of Self,
Hatred of Self, a hundred more,
Each burning to be felt, each dedicated
To sparing us the worst; how I distrust them
As I should have done those ladies; how I want
Essentials: salt, wine, olive, the light, the scream–
No! I have scarcely named you,
And look, in a flash you stand full-grown before me,
Row upon row, Essentials,
Dressed like your sister caryatids,
Or tombstone angels jealous of their dead,
With undulant coiffures, lips weathered, cracked by grime,
And faultless eyes gone blank beneath the immense
Zinc-and-gunmetal northern sky.
Stay then. Perhaps the system
Calls for spirits. This first glass I down
To the last time
I ate and drank in that old world. May I
Also survive its meanings, and my own.

— James Merrill

January 9: “The Couple”

A Greek ship
Sails on the sea
Carrying me past
The islands
Into an unknown
Island where
The burros
Are sleeping, houses
Are white, and brown
Honey is sold in
The general store. That’s
Me up on the hill,
Living with the
Man I’m going
To marry– there
We are– he plays
The violin
But never practices,
I fold and unfold
The nylon blouses
I brought from
America and put
Them neatly in
A drawer. It is
Time to go out.
We explore the island
And at the same time
Argue about
Getting married.
We walk close to
The sea, which happens
To knock our eyes
Out with its blue. An
Old lady, call her a
Witch, passes us by and
Asks us the way to
The post office.
We continue on the rocks,
Walking by the sea. “I bet
We look married,” I say,
And turn my eyes from
The sea. “Only to
An old lady
Going to mail
Letters at the post
Office,” he replies.
And begins to weep.
Not one snorkel
Will float
Us under the sea,
To the schools of fish
Who are enjoying
Their mateless
Existence, or
Take us away from
Our troubles. The
Young girl folds
Up her blouses and
Begins to pack.
The young man
Picks up his fiddle
And places it
Back into
The imitation
Alligator case.
The island
Now is sinking
Beneath the blue sea.
The life plot thickens.
Wait.
We have forgotten
Our footsteps.
We must
Cover them up
To
The post office.

— Sandra Hochman