Franz Kafka

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

"Life", from "Jersy Blues, Selected Poems"

The Seine at Saint-Cloud,  Edvard Munch, 1890, The Munch Museum, Oslo


Life, my life.

Silent stream that insinuates
in the clearing, river unfolding
majestically, gravelly water of a torrent.

Life, my life.

You are the roaring waterfall,
the honed stone,
the atavist gravel bed.

Life, life, my life.

San Francisco, California, Spring 2003 

From the collection Jersey Blues, also available on iBookstoreNOOK Book, and Amazon Kindle.

Monday, August 19, 2013

A Sportsman's Sketches (Записки охотника, "The Hunting Sketches", or "Sketches from a Hunter's Album") by Ivan Turgenev, Full Text English Version

Portrait of Ivan Turgenev, by Vasily Perov, 1872

This magnificent collection (1852) of short stories by the great Russian Realist master Ivan Turgenev was the first work granting him fame and recognition. Based on personal observations on the hunting trails of the family's estate at Spasskoye, the writer depicts scenes of naturalistic sketches and everyday life, narrating the stories of peasants, serfs, and fellow land owners he comes across with, as well as the many injustices and contradictions of the social system of serfdom. Below we present a brief summary of each stories of the collection, along with the fully available version of A Sportsman's Sketches Full Text in English.

Hor and Kalinych: Story of two peasants, one idealist and the other very industrious, under the dependance of the same petty landowner.

Yermolay and the Miller’s Wife: Story of the narrator’s hunter friend, and a night they spent at a miller’s home; the miller, named Zvyerkoff, offers an insight on the injustices of serfdom. 

Raspberry Spring: As the narrator encounters two peasants at a tiny spring, he learns about the many self-deprivations all peasants take upon themselves. 

The District Doctor: Struck with fever in a small village, the narrator is visited by a district doctor who tells him the story of how he fell in love with a dying girl.

My Neighbor Radilov: The narrator meets with a widowed landowner named Radilov and dines at his house; the cordial neighbor dwells with his sister-in-law Olga—with whom he will soon disappear—, his elderly mother and a demented old nobleman. 

The peasant-proprietor Ovsyanikov: A poor landowner talks about the social ills of serfdom, the old times and the new ones. Like all attentive observers, the narrator takes a step back and listens.

Lgov: The narrator and his trusted huntsman Yermolay set off ducks hunting in a nearby hamlet. They meet  a pretentious local hunter named Vladimir and an old peasant who acts as the local fisherman, Old Knot. They go hunting in a swampy pond on a rickety punt, sink the boat and narrowly escape, wading ashore. 

Bezhin Lea: Upon nightfall the narrator finds himself lost in the forest and comes across a clearing where he meets up, as they crouch by the fire, with five peasant boys guarding a drove of horses. As the narrator feigns to be asleep, the innocent boys recount dreadful and mysterious stories. The majesty of the sky and of the omniscient nature in a glorious Russian mid-Summer night breaths beautifully throughout. 

Kassyan of Fair Springs: While the narrator and his coachmen Erofayis are off to a trip, the carriage's axle breaks and they venture off to a nearby hamlet for assistance; there they meet Kassyan, a fifty-year-old dwarf who lives there and who belongs to some unknown religious sect. To procure a new axle, he takes them to a clearing where a forest is being felled. A reflection upon established society and the ancestral relation with nature, traditions and religion. 

The Agent: A vivid example of peasantry’s exploitation, the story recounts of how a shrewd bailiff takes advantages of his aloof and distant landowner, who is an acquaintance of the  narrator. The peasants on a rent system are reduced to slavery by the cunning agent, without any intervention from the proprietor.

The Counting-House: The narrator comes across a run-down shack, the counting house of the local landowner, where he accidentally overhears the head clerk abusing his powers, and learns about the many vexations peasants are subject to.

Biryuk: At night, caught by a raging storm in the forest in a droshky, the narrator comes across a man, Biryuk, who watches over the landowner’s woods. He learns that man’s wife fled, leaving him and the children alone. When the forester hears in distance a peasant felling a tree, he sets out to confront him, catches him and threatens to turn him to the landowner. In the end Biryuk unexpectedly shows compassion and sets the peasant free. 

Two Country Gentlemen: The presentation of two landowners which are neighbors of the narrator offers the opportunity, in the background, for a description of mistreatment of peasants and the wretchedness of their condition. 

Lebedyan: The narrator comes across a town's horse fair and vividly describes the typical hustle and bustle of such lively rural events, while also resolving to buy a horse for himself. 

The Forest and the Steppe: Epilogue of the sketches, whereby Turgenev offers a magnificent description of a hunter’s life.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Saint Lawrence's Night, a Poem

Vincent Van Gogh's Starry Night Over the Rhone,  1888, Oil on canvas

Saint Lawrence's Night

In this night of Saint Lawrence,
similar to other nights of mine,
under such weeping sky,
similar to other skies of mine,
I wonder lonely along the way.
Father, where are you? And where are you, Ma?
Where are you now, woman? And where the son,
that was denied? To whom avails
my existence, now that along the path,
flickering stars — like trembling, unhorsed,
desperate  chevaliers — are falling upon my head?

Princeton, New Jersey, August 2004

From the collection Jersey Blues, also available on iBookstore, NOOK Book, and Amazon Kindle.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

A few words on "Mowing" by Robert Frost. Original text in English and translation in Italian (Mowing, Falciando l'Erba, by Robert Frost)

The Scythers, N.C. Wyeth, oil on canvas 1908

A highly evocative poem whereby an everyday experience—a mid-Summer day, cutting grass with a long scythe—recalls secretive, inexplicable meanings. Life and death alike beckon from a distance; the role of poetry, the actuality of living, the consciousness of the dreadful boundaries of existence— they all cast their long shadows on the poet's swale and its hay left to make.


There was never a sound beside the wood but one,
And that was my long scythe whispering to the ground.
What was it it whispered? I knew not well myself;
Perhaps it was something about the heat of the sun,
Something, perhaps, about the lack of sound—
And that was why it whispered and did not speak.
It was no dream of the gift of idle hours,
Or easy gold at the hand of fay or elf:
Anything more than the truth would have seemed too weak
To the earnest love that laid the swale in rows,
Not without feeble-pointed spikes of flowers
(Pale orchises), and scared a bright green snake.
The fact is the sweetest dream that labor knows.
My long scythe whispered and left the hay to make. 

From "West-Running Brooks", Robert Frost, 1928

Falciando l'erba

Non c'era mai altro suono accanto al bosco che uno,
Ed era la mia lunga falce che sussurrava alla terra.
Che cosa sussurrava esattamente? Non lo sapevo bene nemmeno io;
Forse era qualcosa a proposito della calura del sole,
Qualcosa, forse, circa l'assenza di suono—
Ed era per questo che sussurrava e non parlava.
Non era il sogno del dono di ore oziose,
O l'oro facile nelle mani di fata o elfo:
Ogni cosa oltre la verità sarebbe parsa troppo debole
All'amore sincero che deponeva le erbe a file,
Non senza i gambi flebilmente appuntiti dei fiori
(Pallide orchidi), e una spaventata serpe di verde brillante.
La realtà è il più dolce sogno che il lavoro conosca.
La mia lunga falce sussurrava e lasciava che si facesse il fieno.

da "West-Running Brooks", Robert Frost, 1928
Versione in Italiano a cura di LiteraryJoint