Ulysses XXI

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I advanced into the crowd, no one knew my name—

if had they known, would it have mattered:

did I know myself? And wheeling around,

I was molded into a shape by the shadowy light,

as if this mob, swelling and indifferent, were a sea-breeze

off of which something good might blow in;

as if the tadpoles that swarmed in the slime of this inhuman harbor

were men, not terrified survivors of mishaps,

of old shipwrecks, defying all words;

offal of forgotten ancient festivals,

packets of craving, of pus, of solitude,

solitary trembling things.

Caught up someplace, it was drizzling,

on some human line stretching to the dawn—

for bread, or for a visa, it was long, that line,

the war was long, the peace took a long time,

a long and sordid dawn;

and the discovery of nothingness so slowly overcame us,

this malaise in the heart, heavier than pregnancy;

the humiliation of being nothing,

immigrants without passports,

people alone from other countries,

each speaking another language,

speaking the tongue of the craving for bread, for destruction,

tenderness, honey, dream, and power,

a fresh bed under a strong roof, someplace out there. . . .

And I, I was among them, speaking my own language,

a language even I no longer understood!

I advanced, fearing that I’d be forgotten,

crying out from fear, hunger, and pain;

“include me here . . . I too am a god. Take pity, at least!”

—A sound, rattling and hoarse,

a bitter thread of music,

a broken complaint running across history,

outside of history . . . yes.

Of no importance, of course,

that I was in the road, in a womb,

or in the keyhole of this room,

in the aquarium of the world,

waiting for something I already knew was

—impossible, impossible,

and yet desiring to go beyond the possible.

a face, a hand,

a trembling bell,

the sound of a step, of a voice,

terrible and violent,

rising in the silence like a flood on a river of Mars!

But is it of any importance

that this day be inscribed

a significant date in the motion of history,

of any importance that someone deceives himself on the staircase

or by the door, believes himself to be more than nothing in time,

not merely a handful of human odors . . .

a guardian of the lighthouse, half-mad with terror.

 

Translated from the French by Leonard Schwartz.

Benjamin Fondane (1893–1944) was a Romanian poet and critic who wrote in both Romanian and French.

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