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Writing without roots

The journey to Ithaka, the pathway to the sea

The journey begins

From "A Writer's Journey" by Eleanor Cameron (Innocence & Experience):

What makes the artist's journey exhilarating, she says, is that "one never knows what will emerge from the unconcious, memories that, suprisingly enough, begin coalescing into a pattern, only dimly perceived at first. But before long, for some mysterious reason, this pattern begins taking on the substance and detail that tell the writer that another novel, not necessarily of the past, is coming into being.

The pathway to the Sea

"It is something to be grateful for because it can be devastating to see nothing in the offing. I remember Lloyd Alexander saying, when I congratulated him on his latest book, 'Oh, but I haven't an idea what to do next. It's terrible -- I'm utterly barren and it frightens me!' He had not the faintest notion that  The First Two Lives of Lukas-Kasha would appear within the next two years, not to speak of the Westmark trilogy during the four after that. There are seven lines near the end of Cavafy's poem 'Ithaka' that particularly move me:

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you are destined for.
But do not hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you are old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you have gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich."

The secret cove

At high tide

"As we sit at our desks, struggling to bring a conception into existence, we are always trying -- if we are serious and not simply working for money and attention -- to make ourselves worthy of the vision, no matter how modest the accomplishment. There, for me at least, lies the mingled hardship and true joy of writing, the journey taken."

Into the unknown

And then there were two


From "The Life Journey" by John Rowe Townsend (Innocence & Experience):

''The life journey is a hero's journey. Although we may not feel very heroic, we are all embarked on the heroic quest, to live lives that have meaning for ourselves and others. We are on our individual Odysseys, our personal roads of trials. We have had our adventures, and we shall have more, but we shall come to Ithaka at last.''

True joyPhotos above: Howard, Victoria, and Tilly on the South West Coast Path and Watcombe Beach, south Devon, on a misty day.


I love the work of Cavafy and so in tribute to his brilliance I thought I'd take the risk of posting one of my own attempts on the same subject I.E. Ithaka. It was inspired by a TV programme I saw long ago in which a group of scholars and scientists were trying to solve the puzzle of why the modern day landscape of the island doesn't match the Classical descriptions;


Odysseus’s Ithaka has changed.
An earthquake brought down cliffs
And pedants and scholars,
Searching for homer’s headlands,
Were lost in the ‘wine dark sea’

But islands of the mind
Lie forever preserved,
An intaglio carved
In the poet’s verse:
The bow is strung and drawn
The arrow fits the string,
The string fits the groove
In the hero’s thumb
And the moment of release
Is held in the catch of the breath…

For ever.

Both of my grandparents were poets and so poetry was read in their household constantly. They both were also graduates of Cornell, the school in Ithaca, New York. They had met over both of them carrying the same book (Walden).

Ithaka is my childhood with my grandparents: the values and knowledge they most hoped to pass on to me.

Thank you for this, Stuart. This would definitely been a poem read in my family and passed about amongst us. Lovely.

I love "the moment of release is held in the catch of a breath" -- beautiful.

For Cavafy fans:

Rachel Cohen wrote a beautiful article on Cavafy and the Portuguese poet Fernando Pesso -- comparing them as "clerk poets" and as poets of the city. It was published in The Threepenny Review, and I've just found a copy online here:

(Michelle, I think you'll like this, if you haven't seen it already.)

How lovely to grow up with poets...

Beautiful pictures. That stretch of the south Devon coast is so different from the sandy Paignton beach pixs you posted last week. That startling red-to-pink soil and the all the little coves. We've always wanted to walk the Coast Path but haven't done so yet. Someday!

And a beautiful quote as always.

Thank you. And I agree with Terri, how lovely growing up with poets!

Hero's Thumb (For Stuart)

Even the whorls are huge,
like unexplored worlds
before we cut them down,
sandblasted their mountains,
gentrified their woods.

Even the nail is powerful,
shining like polished agate,
before it was cut into sparkles
pasted onto book covers,
a child's pretend crown.

Once the knuckle flexed
like a wire walker
between twin towers,
well before the hatred
brought them down.

Lately, unlikely,the thumb
has grown slow, cranky,
crackling, flamed,
numbed by arthritis,
that courier of age.

It cannot hold the bowstring
curl the meade cup,
clap the bull dancers,
praise the gods,
salute the high king.

It can just a wait to be folded
hand upon stilled chest,
laid onto the funerary,
Ithaka long over,
a new journey to begin.

©2014 Jane Yolen all right reserved

Thank you, Terri. I notice that the National Poetry Competition is putting out publicity at the moment; I think some of the writers who have contributed to your Poetry Challenge should give it a go. the closing date is 31st October (auspicious date). Some very prestigious poets have won over the years. the address is

Jane, once again I stand in awe of your work! This is beautiful! I love the imagery of the aging thumb succumbing to arthritis (mine have started to get a little creaky in the encroaching cold weather) In theme it reminds me of one of my favourite poems by Tennyson; "Ulysses". I'd love to see what you could make of the old age of some of the other Classical heroes... perhaps a subject for a collection?

It truly was.

In my baby book my mother notes that I was writing poetry at 3 (there is one she writes down that I still have) and it's more than 50 years later and I haven't stopped reading and writing poetry.

It's wonderful to look back on that time with my grandparents and my mother, the four of us in the sitting room, my grandmother's desk piled with books and magazines with placeholders in them of poems (and all sorts of other things as well) for us to read and discuss together while we visited.

I am "wealthy with all gained ... along the way" from that legacy.

It really was!

I feel as though I am in the midst of a company of poets such as the Romantics.

I am walking those whorls on finger pads, as though they were a path or a labyrinth I have been placed upon by your words.


Thanks both-=though I am already seeing problems--a typo, some tense annoyances. Will go work on it some more later today. I have a novel chapter to finish first.


Thanks so much, Stuart, for the link. I've done just that.

Goodness, I'm nervous to join such gifted company but this rough little bit just happened and, well, here it is:

I’d rather stop here
On this mud trail
And think.
Maybe watch the rain pulling down blackberry leaf,
Bending grass,
Blackening bark.

Maybe look back to find
No one’s coming yet.
For a blessed moment
I’ll be still
Let the crackle and patter come.
I’ll get wet.

Forgive me, Ithaka,
For this sweet delay.
This rest along the way.

-Edith Bishop

Hi Terri

I adore those lines from The Cavafy's poem ( Ithaka) and also the idea of this journey, life's or imagination's journey, being a long and enlightened one. A route that takes us beyond our familiar place and risks the unknown. A pathway to the sea and all the hidden currents of wisdom, magic and origin that help to comprise our human identity and composition. I also am sad to hear the news of Alastair Reid's passing. The poem you have shared by him, "A Spell for Sleeping" is totally captivating/enchanting along with the illustration. Combining the influence of today's topic "pathway to the sea" and this wonderful verse by the Scottish poet, here is what the muse left me.

In The Mermaid's Shadow

Stilled in a shimmering drift of water
seven fish dream of a lost king's daughter.
Alastair Reid

Palm greens and Plumeria
shape a cool bower on the beach
which I leave -- to wade
in the evening shallows. The salt water
blue and weightless.

Stepping in its tide
my small feet remember
their first glimmer. Sheer silver
flashing beneath the wave.

Fish petals veined
with metallic thread. The same
thread used to string
a host of stars. A harp
that sang of sleek maidens

and sailor men
lured by their loveliness. Caught
in the languid net
of their sigh. The same
glittering skein
of origin
that pulls me back. Home

to rise again
from the brine-god's ribs
as the female -- Fair Eve
may first have been
shaking a coral branch
before -- her luscious apple
leafed in lore.

Hi Stuart,

Love your poetic take on "Ithaka" and how the spirit of imagination and verse prevail --

But islands of the mind
Lie forever preserved,
An intaglio carved
In the poet’s verse:

I totally agree with your perception here. The physical landscape may become destroyed by climatic events over years/centuries - but what is expressed through the wonder of the human mind/heart exists for eternity. Words have a power all their own, they breathe and they extend from one generation to the next. A fine, fine poem!

Much enjoyed,

Hi Jane

A breathtaking poem and so beautifully voiced. I love how you took and idea from Stuart's wonderful poem and expanded upon it. We may lose our ability, with age or infirmity, to shape and touch things physically but still words have finger of their own. We fold our hands upon our chest, float on that barge through the closing chapter but a new one begins, a new journey that looms out of Ithaka's shadow.

It can just a wait to be folded
hand upon stilled chest,
laid onto the funerary,
Ithaka long over,
a new journey to begin.

Love this poem! Thanks so much for sharing it.

Hi Edith

I really enjoyed the sentiments/perspective in this piece. That pause to watch the rain fall, to feel the grass bend and intake the breadth of something familiar and natural in an essential part of them main or ultimate journey. It refreshes the mind and delights the heart. It overall, enriches the human condition. Loved these lines , in particular,

On this mud trail
And think.
Maybe watch the rain pulling down blackberry leaf,
Bending grass,
Blackening bark.

Maybe look back to find
No one’s coming yet.

Thank you for sharing this,

oh this is fabulously juicy!

Good Luck!

Thank You Wendy, high praise indeed!


All the poets traveled
On crooked pathways
Through mist and maze
Sometimes bedevilled

Where haunts and wants
Slither over the path
We carefully hide some wrath
And hope to lose out haunts.

I have seen you poets, all
Shining and wondrous, you
Awe me in your joys, your view
And it is here, we call

Each other to join the still
Quiet roads, the waterways
The everlasting poet's maze
To come to this, a hill.

And over the hill we see
The island. Ithaka, here we are,
Like finding a map, a distant star,
How we wonder, can this be?

We never knew who was to come
Strangers all, and now to meet
With boats of paper, never complete
For poets know where we are from.

One more note and I will go.
Blessed be, to all I know.

Hello to all the Gifteds above. A small question. Where may I find Eleanor Cameron's "A Writer's Journey"? Take care, Maria

Thanks Terri--I bookmarked for later (too weary to read now)

(what a thrall of wonder is herein exposed)

'Islands of the mind lie forever preserved'
in these many minds, their folds unfolding

but I'm no poet actually, I soar aimlessly
at night, like a migrating bird whose lost

her flock long long ago, drifting currants
take me where they want to go, I only ride

along. I ride along in song and sorrowing
from day to night to day again, forgetting.

Phyllis and Michelle; I've mentioned before that I had a lecturer at university who said that sometimes poems shouldn't be analysed but simply accepted as something beautiful. Here in both your poems are examples of what he meant.

Lovely, Jane. I would love to see the finished piece.

I adore this one. It truly speaks to me.

A wonderful addition!!!

In "Innocence & Experience," the book I blogged about on Tuesday. You'll find more info on it there.

Another wonder. *happy sigh*

Whereas for me, it was the last three lines that grabbed me.

Thanks so much Terri!!

I am for some reason drawn to tales, scapes, songs anything that comes from the sea. I was born in Upper State New York, Hudson Valley, and was certainly birthed and raised inland. So why this oceanic force/allure haunts me is a mystery put that is part of the magic of being alive and I guess who I am.

Anyway, I am so glad you could personally relate to this one!!

My best

Hi Phyllis

I love this poem and the view of how , although strangers, as poets we somehow meet on this imaginative journey and quest. The cadence and voice in this poem enchants!

Thank you so much for sharing it,
My best

Thank you Terri and Wendy. You're too kind. I'm deeply inspired by the posts here and by the gorgeous poems of this community. Thank you all.

I also feel a connection to this poem, Wendy. Particularly the image of Eve shaking a coral branch. Thank you for sharing it and a bit of yourself.

Oh my. Many goosebumps and teary reads later, I am grateful. Thank for this, Phyllis!

Thank you too, Michelle. Thrall of wonder, indeed.

Hi Edith

So glad you could relate in some way to my poem. Thank you so much for taking the time to read it and share your impressions. I sincerely appreciate it!


Hi Michelle,

I soar aimlessly
at night, like a migrating bird whose lost

her flock long long ago, drifting currants
take me where they want to go, I only ride


What lovely lines from a beautifully haunting poem. I really like the feel and mood of this piece. Thank you so much for sharing it.


Thank you so much Terri, Wendy and Edith. I was overwhelmed by all the poems and the
mysterious allure of Ithaka. I couldn't think of anything to say except to put it all into
a poem that just wrote itself.

Thank you...something beautiful was my first connection with poetry when I was very
young. How did they do this? I wanted to know. I started writing beautiful words and their
meaning. Musical words and words like stones, water, wind in the woods. A wordhoard.

Luckily I got to take classes with William Stafford and he taught us to write carelessly
and just keep the ones you like. He wasn't famous then.

Well this started it all. You led the way. Just lovely.

I am reading the old Fantasy and Horror collections, 2001 right now. Your poems show
up like glittering gems there. Musical and wondrous. And tough.

So happy this poem 'just happened.' Way to go. "I'll be still
Let the crackle and patter come.
I'll get wet.

Music to my ear.

And Wendy, dear Wendy, who I think flew back out of the windows and has a condo in

Not a poet? When you can write: " soar aimlessly at night....and ride along in song and
sorrowing?" Actually, you are a poet.

Hey nice that the mood was caught and appreciated...and I do write carelessly...the less labor, the more freedom, the more pleasure in the practice. Everything absolutely everything is practice for me. Thank you for your sensitivity and for all your wonders too.

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