I left behind one city’s sidewalks for other city sidewalks,
millions of men for other millions of men,
the same ones without end,
I never had enough.
So why had I moved on?
Words die away, passing from mouth to mouth
and luck wears out, always supplying the dice.
What a curious voyage I have made among men,
we have traveled so many roads, Oh my eye,
and were amazed at each new turn
to find that mornings were the same
that men had the same faces,
old dinghies tied to rotting wharves,
did I not know their roots buried
in the earth—the useless voyage, and the thirst?
The novelty was in their tubercles.
Miracles of hunger, of cold,
you are filled with faces.
The world was full when we left port.
Did we see truly, or was it only a vision?
And now that the seas have salted my lungs
an ancient seagull, my hope chipped and worn
I close the old book and ask what’s the use,
why so much water multiplied by so much water,
and so much land?
Men may be king of this world, but I,
but you, shadows worn down by anger,
pity and the desire to be nowhere at all,
what are we looking for? Did I invent you? My eyes
are tired. What can men do? Absent from themselves,
or rather, consumed like us by secret fevers
and having returned from a voyage where they too
saw people, ports and the senseless seas,
eternal things, that are so dull to the palate,
and feeling, tender, perishable things
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.