Saturday, May 10, 2008

Edmond Jabès, from "Adam, or the Birth of Anxiety"

Just a few days ago, I learnt about this Egyptian Jewish poet who lived from 1912 to 1991 in Egypt and later Paris, France as every Jew was expelled from Egypt with the Suez Crisis in 1956. Jabès wrote in French, but although I did study French for a year, I do not find myself able to read French literature the way it deserves. This excerpt is rather lengthy, but there are a few musings at the end of this post, if you think you would find that interesting ;-).

- - -
Did God consider for a moment that with one stroke He
deprived this man of what He would in the future grant all
other creatures?
Adam, son of Nothing by the will of God, fruit of wan-
ton benevolence,
fruit ripe before ripening, tree in full leaf before growing,
world completed before emerging from nothing, but only in
the Mind of God
Man of strange thoughts on which, however, his life de-
Man chained to the Void, chained to the absence of all
The past reassures us. Man without such security, deliv-
ered to whom? to what?
Man without light or shadow, without origin or road,
without place, unless part of that place outside time which
is indifferent to man.
Things must feel this way. But no doubt even they have
their thing-memory, recalling wood and steel, clay or marble.
Recalling their slow progress toward the idea, the know-
ledge of the thing they were to embody.
O emptiness! Nothing to lean against, nothing to rest on,
is this anxiety?
Time molds us. Without past there is no present, and the
I cannot be imagined.
Orphaned in the fullest sense of the term, of father and
mother, but also of himself - are we not engendered in that
moment of carnal and spiritual experience? - what could
seeing and hearing be for him? What could speaking or act-
ing mean? What weight has a word, what reverberations in
the future? What could it profit him? What contentment,
what soothing could he expect from any gesture?
Discoveries, encounters, surprises, disappointments,
wonder? Probably. But in relation to what other ap-
proaches, in reply to which inner question, lacking all com-
The key lies in the fertilized egg, the ovule, the fetus.
The mystery and the miracle.
Fertile forgetfulness. It pushes us to sound soul and spirit
in the name of spirit and soul. It helps us clear the various
paths of consciousness, to learn and unlearn, to take what
is offered, whether by dawn or by night, daily, in short, to
create ourselves
I am not. All I have ever been is the man life has allowed
me to be.

- - -

First of all, I am rather frustrated with the formatting of texts in this blogging system; I had formatted this poem perfectly, and then when viewing how it would look, it had leaked back into its normal and faulty form. Grrrrr! In poetry, form is an important part of the transmission of meaning.

There are several striking parts of this excerpt. The ending stanza, "I am not. All I have ever been is the man life has allowed me to be" is as true as anything. The preceding stanza as well, that we create ourselves every moment, we choose and fill this space we call 'myself' all the time, and are logged onto something bigger than us, or "chained to the Void" as Jabès puts it.

It is a mystery and a miracle, all along, life is a mystery and a miracle.

Also, when Jabès states that "Time molds us. Without past there is no present, and the I cannot be imagined" I hear him loud and clear. We believe in time, we believe in our past and that moulds us into the person that we think is us. How about letting go of the past; how about letting go of the things we believe we have to be because of what we used to be; how about filling the present with truth and each of our underlying and unique expression of the continuity of Being that we are all along?

I am not. All I have ever been is the man life has allowed me to be.

Or, as Tranströmer puts it:

Uppdrag: att vara där man är.
Också i den löjliga gravallvarliga
rollen - jag är just den plats
där skapelsen arbetar på sig själv.


Mission: to be where I am.
Also in the role of ridiculous
seriousness - I am exactly that place
where creation works on itself.

(Hasty translation, as Robert Bly's translation in no way conveys what this poem says.)

This is an excerpt from "Guard Duty" or "Posteringen" as is the original Swedish title, from the collection Stigar (Pathways in English). I always return to Tranströmer. To me, he is the blood of stones. He touches the sap of my soul.


Tina said...

I love reading blogs from around the world. Yours is wonderful

Anonymous said...

Tarjei Vesaas ruler. Lest han? Han bra.