Please forgive me for a piece of sheer indulgence. I want to share with you the delight in reading poems about Ithaca – having been inspired by that nameless woman writer I mentioned in the previous post. I will share one I reread frequently.
As with most poems, the object may be Ithaca, the subject isn’t. I have just seen the most moving programme on BBC 4 “The Secret Life Of Waves”. David Malone, the documentary film maker discovers that whilst a wave moves through water, it consists of energy, not water. He explores the different kinds of wave, how waves travel thousands of miles – a storm in the Antarctic will fan out and arrive 7000 miles away in Alaska within 2 weeks. He discovers that the sound of each tiny droplet collectively creates the sound the waves make breaking on the seashore and then moves on to explore whether things are objects or process. He concludes that all is process and as we are energetic beings, our lives follow that same trajectory of energy which passes through water.
Why I mentioned this wonderful programme is that as in life, the energy of the poem passes through the object as energy passes through water.
As you’ll know, Ithaca is the home and kingdom that Odysseus has been attempting to return to. Poseidon, god of the sea and earthquakes manages to detain him for many years. Homer’s epic poem ‘The Odyssey’ traces his journey.
The poet is Carol Ann Duffy, our Poet Laureate and national treasure and the poem is from a collection called “Rapture”. Here it is:
And when I returned,
I pulled off my stiff and salty sailor’s clothes,
slipped on the dress of the girl that I was,
and slid overboard.
A mile from Ithaca, I anchored the boat.
The evening softened and spread,
The turquoise water mentioning its silver fish,
The sky stooping to hear.
My hands moved in the water, moved on the air,
The lover I was, tracing your skin, your hair,
And Ithaca there, the bronze mountains
shouldered like rough shields,
the caves, where dolphins hid,
dark pouches for jewels,
the olive trees ripening their tears in our pale fields.
Then I drifted in on a ribbon of light,
tracking the scents of rosemary, lemon and thyme,
the fragrances of your name,
which I chanted in my heart,
like the charm it was, bringing me back
to Ithaca, all hurt zeroed now
by the harm you could do with a word,
me as hero plainly absurd,
wading in, waist-high, from the shallows at dusk,
dragging my small white boat.