By now, of course, this old saw seems hopelessly devalued. But let's face it: old saws are often true. Moreover, the notion is not simply the stock-in-trade of self-help gurus. For instance, C. P. Cavafy's wonderful poem "Ithaka" is a variation on the theme, and Cavafy was as unillusioned as they come (in his own dreamy way). Here are the closing stanzas:
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, Collected Poems (translated by Edmund Keeley and Philip Sherrard) (Princeton University Press 1975).
Charles Oppenheimer (1875-1961), "Kirkcudbright: Evening" (1914)
What so pure
each a promise
of new beginnings?
We step into a place
we've never seen
or a place
where once we suffered.
And silly hope greets us, She says
What a beautiful Spring day
and smiles charmingly
among the falling leaves.
Ewen McCaig (editor), The Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2009).
This poem explores the "wherever you go, there you are" conundrum that I have considered in my "No Escape" series. Dream destinations are not always what they're cracked up to be, are they? The final stanza is lovely.
Charles Oppenheimer, "The Old Tolbooth, Kirkcudbright" (1931)
Here is R. S. Thomas in his 79th year:
The deception of platforms
where the arrivals and the departures
coincide. And the smiles
on the faces of those welcoming
and bidding farewell are
to conceal the knowledge
that destinations are the familiarities
from which the traveller must set out.
R. S. Thomas, Mass for Hard Times (Bloodaxe Books 1992).
The poem is a bit reminiscent of T. S. Eliot's oft-quoted lines:
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
T. S. Eliot, "Little Gidding," Four Quartets (1943).
Charles Oppenheimer, "Kirkcudbright under Snow" (c. 1934)
Finally, as is usually the case, Philip Larkin shakes us by the shoulders and says: "Snap out of it!"
Autobiography at an Air-Station
Delay, well, travellers must expect
Delay. For how long? No one seems to know.
With all the luggage weighed, the tickets checked,
It can't be long . . . We amble to and fro,
Sit in steel chairs, buy cigarettes and sweets
And tea, unfold the papers. Ought we to smile,
Perhaps make friends? No: in the race for seats
You're best alone. Friendship is not worth while.
Six hours pass: if I'd gone by boat last night
I'd be there now. Well, it's too late for that.
The kiosk girl is yawning. I feel staled,
Stupefied, by inaction -- and, as light
Begins to ebb outside, by fear; I set
So much on this Assumption. Now it's failed.
Philip Larkin, Collected Poems (Faber and Faber 1988). Larkin wrote the poem in December of 1953, at the ripe old age of 31 (with fear already setting in).
As long-time (and much appreciated) readers of this blog may recall, Larkin can do little wrong in my book. Thus, I confess that I am fond of this poem, however dreary (or horrific?) it may seem to some. Here's a thought: Larkin has condensed Dante's Inferno into a sonnet. "Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a dark wood . . ."
Charles Oppenheimer, "From a Tower, Kirkcudbright"