Edmond Jabes. Photo by Bracha L. Ettinger.
I discovered the amazing poetry of Edmond Jabes back in the 80s, thanks to the foundational Random House Anthology of 20th Century French Poetry. Foundational for me, at least. His poetry stunned me with its wisdom, silence, profound silences, and made me think of other poets of the unsaid like Beckett, Camus, Hemingway, Celan and Blanchot. The power of the sun and the desert to create moments beyond language was his unique gift. His attempt to express those moments. The impossibility of using words to emote silence. The impossibility of remembering or forgetting the terrible, the extremes of grief beyond endurance. The impossibility of knowing or forgetting or naming his god. The impossibility of not doing so.
Jabes was a veritible UN of the mind. Jewish, Italian, born in Egypt, he fled to France in 1956 during the Suez crisis. Wrote most of his poetry in French. I know his work through the fine translations of Rosemarie Waldrop, who seems especially atuned to his experimental genius and nearly obsessive language sculptures. Perhaps only a language poet could do him justice. Perhaps it’s fitting that I read him in English, adding in the process yet another translation and transformation from the desert, the sun, a white space in time that we can almost wrap our eyes and ears around. Almost.