At the Threshold of the Book

By Edmond Jabès 1912–1991 Edmond Jabes

Translated By Rosmarie Waldrop

Mark the first page of the book with a red marker. For,
in the beginning, the wound is invisible.

- Reb Alcé

"What is going on behind this door?"

    "A book is shedding its leaves."

    "What is the story of the book?"

    "Becoming aware of a scream."

    "I saw rabbis go in."

    "They are privileged readers. They come in small groups to give us their comments."

    "Have they read the book?"

    "They are reading it."

    "Did they happen by for the fun of it?"

    "They foresaw the book. They are prepared to encounter it."

    "Do they know the characters?"

    "They know our martyrs."

    "Where is the book set?"

    "In the book."

    "Who are you?"

    "I am the keeper of the house."

    "Where do you come from?"

    "I have wandered."

    "Is Yukel your friend?"

    "I am like Yukel."

    "What is your lot?"

    "To open the book."

    "Are you in the book?"

    "My place is at the threshold."

    "What have you tried to learn?"

    "I sometimes stop on the road to the sources and question the signs, the world of my ancestors."

    "You examine recaptured words."

    "The nights and mornings of the syllables which are mine, yes."

    "Your mind is wandering."

    "I have been wandering for two thousand years."

    "I have trouble following you."

    "I, too, have often tried to give up."

    "Do we have a tale here?"

    "My story has been told so many times."

    "What is your story?"

    "Ours, insofar as it is absent."

    "I do not understand."

    "Speaking tortures me."

    "Where are you?"

    "In what I say."

    "What is your truth?"

    "What lacerates me."

    "And your salvation?"

    "Forgetting what I said."

    "May I come in? It is getting dark."

    "In each word there burns a wick."

    "May I come in? It is getting dark around my soul."

    "It is dark around me, too."

    "What can you do for me?"

    "Your share of luck is in yourself."

    "Writing for the sake of writing does nothing but show contempt."

    "Man is a written bond and place."

    "I hate what is said in place I have left behind."

    "You trade in the future, which is immediately translated. What you have left is you without you."

    "You oppose me to myself. How could I ever win this fight?"

    "Defeat is the price agreed on."

    "You are a Jew, and you talk like one."

    "The four letters JUIF which designate my origin are your four fingers. You can use your thumb to crush me."

    "You are a Jew, and you talk like one. But I am cold. It is dark. Let me come into the house."

    "There is a lamp on my table. And the house is in the book."

    "So I will live in the house after all."

    "You will follow the book, whose every page is an abyss where the wing shines with the name."

Edmond Jabès. "At the Threshold of the Book" from From the Book to the Book © 1991 and reprinted by permission of Wesleyan University Press.

Source: From the Book to the Book: An Edmond Jab�s Reader (Wesleyan University Press, 1991)

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Poet Edmond Jabès 1912–1991

POET’S REGION France

Subjects Religion, Arts & Sciences, Judaism, Reading & Books, Philosophy

 Edmond  Jabès

Biography

An Egyptian Jew, Edmond Jabès was forced into exile by the 1956 Suez Crisis. He fled to Paris, where he joined the community of Surrealists, though he was never a formal member of the group. Jabès lived in France for the rest of his life, and in 1987 received France’s Grand Prix for Poetry. A major voice in postwar French poetry, Jabès remains difficult to categorize as a writer. His work is a pastiche of dialogue, aphorism, . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Religion, Arts & Sciences, Judaism, Reading & Books, Philosophy

POET’S REGION France

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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