Sean Connery (RIP) Reads C.P. Cavafy’s Epic Poem “Ithaca,” Set to the Music of Vangelis

This video combines three things that make me happy: the voice of Sean Connery (who passed away today), the music of Vangelis (Blade Runner, Chariots of Fire), and the poetry of C.P. Cavafy. Put them all together and you get a blissful soundscape of rolling synth lines, rolling Scottish R’s, and a succession of Homeric images and anaphoric lines. And the video’s quite nice as well.

Cavafy, whose work, I’m told, is really untranslatable from the original Greek, always seems to come out pretty well to me in English. “Ithaca,” one of his most popular poems, expresses what in lesser hands might be a banal sentiment akin to “it’s the journey, not the destination.” But in Cavafy’s poem, the journey is both Odysseus’s and ours; it’s epic where our lives seem small, and it translates our minor wanderings to the realm of mythic history.

Anyway, it seems rude to say much more and drown the poem in commentary. So, follow along with Sean Connery.

Find the text of the poem after the jump.

ITHACA [1910, 1911]
As you set out for Ithaca
hope that your journey is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laestrygonians 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 sensation
touches your spirit and your body.
Laestrygonians 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 Ithaca 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.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in 2012.

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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Comments (9)
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  • Helena Lyman says:

    No wonder Jackie Onassis requested this poem to be read at her funeral. Even more wondrous read by Sean Connery ! Thank you for this !

  • Bridget Leonard says:

    Beautiful mysterious and profound. Read by Sean Connery
    Who else. This voice with debth coming from a deep place.
    May he rest in peace having found his Ithaca.

  • Margaret T. Newman says:

    A lovely work.

    Thanks for posting it.

    Thanks for the stylish elegant swift acting from Sean Connery.
    Some of the best dates watching his James Bond movies

    Thanks.RIP Sean Connery


  • Ana says:

    Hermoso poema hermosa voz..Descansa en Paz.Jean.Coneri.inmortal

  • Jonathan weightman says:

    Enjoy all this journey has on offer; taste its joys and its monsters. Take your time. It’s the journey that matters. Perhaps get old in accomplishing this journey. Don’t expect much of Ithica. It is what it is. Don’t have expectations or fears but be open to everything on the journey.Eat good things; buy gorgeous things.Indulge and see.

  • lorna Goodison says:

    Wonderful. Just wonderful. Thank you for this.

  • Richard Scutter says:

    I like the translation – is it by Edmund Keeley? … oh yes, to put our soul into life to find joy … even in the little banal things

  • Steve Chase says:

    Good bye Sir Sean with you we have been found amazed happy & entertained. We always lived for your next experience. Bless you love you will watch your movies with joy.

  • Margaret Moulin says:

    Is there a CD track I can purchase – Ithaca C.P. Cavafy. Recitation by Sean Connery. ?Thank you for your attention to my request

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