OVER THE SEA TO SKYE

Constantine Cavafy has a poem called simply Ithaka, one of his historical pieces in which advice is given to a traveller setting out on the journey to Ithaka — and the advice is “Hope that the road is long.” The point of the poem is that what is gained from a journey is in the voyaging, not in the arriving — and that when one does arrive as an old man (or woman, we may add) — one may find the goal achieved to be less than what was gained in the traveling to achieve it.

Of course this is a metaphor for the journey of life. You will find the poem here:
http://www.cavafy.com/poems/content.asp?id=74&cat=1

In his Verginibus Puerisque, Robert Louis Stevenson wrote,

Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.

Stevenson is the author of a poem of the category I like to call an “old man’s poem,” though of course there are “old woman’s poems” as well. In it he looks back on youth. It is a pleasant poem to read, full of the freshness of youth, and one can almost see and feel the prow of the swift boat breaking the waves into salt spray — glittering drops of sunlight.

The islands mentioned — Skye, Mull, Rum, and Eigg — are all in the Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland.

OVER THE SEA TO SKYE

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Mull was astern, Rum on the port,
Eigg on the starboard bow;
Glory of youth glowed in his soul:
Where is that glory now?

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Give me again all that was there,
Give me the sun that shone!
Give me the eyes, give me the soul,
Give me the lad that’s gone!

Sing me a song of a lad that is gone,
Say, could that lad be I?
Merry of soul he sailed on a day
Over the sea to Skye.

Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun,
All that was good, all that was fair,
All that was me is gone.

There is another poem — not by Stevenson — that also has the words “Over the Sea to Skye,” but it is about the escape of “Bonnie Prince Charlie” in Scottish history, and that one is not quite so interesting for my purposes here.

David

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