Second Odyssey

C.P. Cavafy, translated by George Economou

A second and great Odyssey as well,
maybe even bigger than the first, but alas,
with no Homer, no hexameters. 

Small was his ancestral home,
small was his native hometown,
his entire Ithaca was small. 

Telemachos’s affection, Penelope’s
fidelity, his father’s longevity,
his band of old friends, his people’s
loyal devotion, the blissful repose of home
poured like rays of joy into the seafarer’s heart. 

And just like rays, dissolved.  

                                 A thirst
awoke inside him for the sea.
He hated the air over dry land.
Phantoms out of the West
troubled his sleep every night.
Nostalgia possessed him
for voyages and early morning 
arrivals into harbors that
one joyfully enters for the first time. 

That Telemachos’s affection, that Penelope’s
fidelity, his father’s longevity,
that band of old friends, his people’s
loyal devotion, the peace and repose of home—

              —And he was gone. 

As the coastline of Ithaca
gradually disappeared from sight
and he set full sail for the way west,
for Iberia, for the Pillars of Hercules—
leaving behind all the Achaean seas—
he felt alive again, felt
liberated from the oppressive ties
to familiar and domestic matters.
And his adventurous heart exulted
in cold blood, with nary a drop for love.



C.P. (Constantine Peter) Cavafy was born in Alexandria, Egypt, on April 29, 1863, and died there on the same day of the year in 1933. He lived in England from the age of seven to sixteen, an experience that was to have a significant influence on his development as a poet. After a brief time in Constantinople, he spent the rest of his life working as a part-time civil servant and a full-time poet in Alexandria, whose diverse, rich history and culture exerted a powerful influence on him. (photo courtesy Cavafy Archive)

George Economou is the author of thirteen books of poetry and translations, the most recent of which are Complete Plus—The Poems of C. P. Cavafy in English (Shearsman Books, 2013); Ananios of Kleitor (Shearsman Books, 2009); and Acts of Love, Ancient Greek Poetry from Aphrodite’s Garden (Modern Library/Random House, 2006).A new book, Unfinished & Uncollected: Finishing Cavafy’s Unfinished Poems, followed by Uncollected Poems & Translations, will be published by Shearsman in the fall of 2015. (photo courtesy Andrea Augé)