The world opens within us at the view of ships
departing—they depart with their hair in the wind
returning—they return old and decrepit
in the dance of lights,
in the farewell revels of ports
seated while everyone dances.
The world opens within us at vast mornings
(what ones I saw glistening on the ocean’s lashes!)
at fairies trapped
in fruit-pits where children are afraid,
at carpets unrolled before the feet of the Queen
(advancing calmly in the land of palms)
at songs of blacks on the Mississippi
(were they, too, chased from Paradise?)
and suddenly at nations of chimneys,
of night shelters
where the greenish waters of humanity drain away
(I’ve seen my share) and at clandestine gambling dens
the Fates of boredom
who knit wool stockings for the dead
The world opens within us (where have you been, my Thirst?)
at an oily mix of languages and race
at the long, soft murmur of epitaphs
(where? when? in what moors?)
—by sailors of sand who ask for sand
lost in the sand, looking for a world to forget
—at the endless vomiting of all that is incurable
crying out to hear itself cry
(oh! the nights and their pain)
—at the drunken dancers of the days and weeks.
—Have we not drifted long enough through fog
without asking quarter or begging mercy?
It is time to close the doors,
time to turn off the lamp. At last it is time
to sign this fresco we have finished painting
—that the wind sweeps away.
Benjamin Fondane (1893-1944) published poems, translations and criticism in his native Romania before moving to Paris in 1923. After devoting seven years to perfecting his French, he resumed his literary activity in that language. His works include the long poems Ulysses (1933), Titanic (1937), and Exodus, and The Sorrows of Ghosts (both posthumous), as well as works of criticism on Baudelaire, Rimbaud and his mentor, the philosopher Lev Chestov.
Nathaniel Rudavsky-Brody lives in Brussels, where he works as a programmer in digital publishing. He studied math in Chicago and medieval literature in Poitiers and Paris. He has published translations of Benjamin Fondane and an article on the philosophy of sailing.
Original text: Benjamin Fondane, “Ulysse” from Le mal des fantômes. Paris: Paris-Méditerranée & L’Ether Vague, 1996.