Category Archives: Jabés

Dialogue of the Ferryman and the River-Dweller

River-dweller: I cannot get to the other bank without your help. Ferryman, tell me of the other bank.

Ferryman: For me, it is the bank to get to, just like this one is when I am over there.

River-dweller: Is it like the banks of my childhood? It is so far I cannot tell form here.

Ferryman: What matter what the country is like if it excites your imagination. What matter what its banks are like. It is your country as long as you think of it, your banks.

River-dweller: I would like to know where this country begins and ends, if its vegetation is related to ours. The shape of its trees and rocks. I would like to know what happens there.

Ferryman: There is life, like here, and life in death. Like here, there is darkness in the light of the Name.

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (trans. R. Waldrop)


The summer of death

We are at the heart of creation, absent from the All, in the marrow and moire of Absence, with the Void for recourse, for a means to be and to survive. So that, in the creative act, we are and even surpass the Void facing the restoring All.
   Book rejected and reclaimed by the book. The word, for which I was pain and meditation, discovers that its true place is the non-place where God lives resplendent with not being, with never having been.
   Death is of this world. It is on our planet that we will live death, along with plants and days.
   Where I go, night overtakes me.
   Ah, the sun will catch me, in my disturbing transparency.
   What am I but an awareness of the dark, forever?
   And yet
   I am certain I exist in the crystal of writings whose luster I could keep in check if I wanted. The world is within me, and I exist through the world.
   Did I know, when I let the first sentences of the book invade me, did I know that it would lead me from threshold to threshold to the summer of death?

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (trans. R. Waldrop)

The word

And Yukel said:

‘One evening I found myself facing death: a young girl with fascinating eyes. By and by (perhaps because I was thinking of a white rose while looking at her) she took the shape of my dreams and her perfume upset me even more. I suggested exchanging her for the rose of life which is red. –- To whom did I suggest this trade? I do not remember. In our last moments everything around us becomes blurred. –- I touched the white rose to my already cold lips. The red rose disappeared. At a distance I thought I saw a mouth and I distinctly heard it say goodbye to me.
   ‘I was never, through summit or scythe, so close to who we were.
   ‘Never, love, did we come so near the truth of the word.’

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (trans. R. Waldrop)

Earth, earth, where all is simple

God reveals Himself: an imagination prey to the loss of its image.

I know you, Lord, in the measure that I do not know you. For you are He who comes.

My God, I am reduced to you. I have exiled the word.


Try to kill Him with your spears, and you will learn that He is the order of all resistance.


God is a questioning of God.

Severed hand,
my five-fingered cup.
I drink what you hold
and am drunk.


You live in spite of life. You are more stubborn than death.


To doubt means perhaps to abolish limits, to circle the dice.
Earth, earth where all is simple.
God is doubt.

— Jabés, The Book of Questions (trans. R Waldrop)

God spoke

(‘God spoke, and what He said became our symbols. The shape of a letter is perhaps the shape of His face. God has as many faces as there are letters in an alphabet. God is written in all languages.
   ‘You will be able to contemplate God once you have learned to listen to words, to look at them carefully, that is, once you have learned to read’, he had noted.
   ‘His voice is inaudible, but it is the supporting silence which allows our sounds to be discrete’, he had added.
   ‘You will shatter the image of words. You will take away their sound. You will divert them from their meaning. You will turn them into holes.
   ‘Then reading and writing will throw you into the vortex of a voice absorbed into the void’, he had also noted.)

— Jabés, El, or the Last Book (trans. R. Waldrop)

Thus they died

I must warn you: writing leads to suicide. Is it only one human life that is at stake in the act of writing? And what is a human life compared to the life of a word? Perhaps nothing. Or all. Or all of a Nothing or again Nothing of an All.

Thus they died. Thus he again picked up his pen, and this natural, almost automatic gesture seemed so loaded with unknown forces that he shivered.

— Jabés, El, or the Last Book (trans. R. Waldrop)

The borders of life

I build a book on our sacrificed lives. Could there be a life at the borders of life where we repeat once more — but for which impenetrable purpose? — our characteristic gestures, our most intimate, our most weighty words?
   Could it be that writing is this other life stuck in the fens of the page? Here, any life devoted to its disconcerting duration gets bogged down.
   A decoy, I tell you, the open wounds of a decoy which the meaning given to our words — and woes — keeps us and others from contemplating.
   From these wounds we shall have drawn milk.

— Jabés, El, or the Last Book (trans. R. Waldrop)