Franz Kafka

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"About Love," by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov, English Translation by Constance Garnett; Full Text, "About Love" („О любви“), by Anton Chekhov (1898)

Young Chekhov (left) with brother Nikolai in 1882


AT lunch next day there were very nice pies, crayfish, and mutton
cutlets; and while we were eating, Nikanor, the cook, came up to ask
what the visitors would like for dinner. He was a man of medium height,
with a puffy face and little eyes; he was close-shaven, and it looked
as though his moustaches had not been shaved, but had been pulled out
by the roots. Alehin told us that the beautiful Pelagea was in love with
this cook. As he drank and was of a violent character, she did not want
to marry him, but was willing to live with him without. He was very
devout, and his religious convictions would not allow him to “live in
sin”; he insisted on her marrying him, and would consent to nothing
else, and when he was drunk he used to abuse her and even beat her.
Whenever he got drunk she used to hide upstairs and sob, and on such
occasions Alehin and the servants stayed in the house to be ready to
defend her in case of necessity.

We began talking about love.

“How love is born,” said Alehin, “why Pelagea does not love somebody
more like herself in her spiritual and external qualities, and why
she fell in love with Nikanor, that ugly snout--we all call him ‘The
Snout’--how far questions of personal happiness are of consequence in
love--all that is known; one can take what view one likes of it. So far
only one incontestable truth has been uttered about love: ‘This is a
great mystery.’ Everything else that has been written or said about
love is not a conclusion, but only a statement of questions which have
remained unanswered. The explanation which would seem to fit one case
does not apply in a dozen others, and the very best thing, to my mind,
would be to explain every case individually without attempting to
generalize. We ought, as the doctors say, to individualize each case.”

“Perfectly true,” Burkin assented.

“We Russians of the educated class have a partiality for these questions
that remain unanswered. Love is usually poeticized, decorated with
roses, nightingales; we Russians decorate our loves with these momentous
questions, and select the most uninteresting of them, too. In Moscow,
when I was a student, I had a friend who shared my life, a charming
lady, and every time I took her in my arms she was thinking what I would
allow her a month for housekeeping and what was the price of beef a
pound. In the same way, when we are in love we are never tired of
asking ourselves questions: whether it is honourable or dishonourable,
sensible or stupid, what this love is leading up to, and so on. Whether
it is a good thing or not I don’t know, but that it is in the way,
unsatisfactory, and irritating, I do know.”

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

"One Autumn Night" a Short Tale by Maxim Gorky (Макси́м Го́рький)


Lev Tolstoy with Gorky in Yasnaya Polyana, 1900



 Once in the autumn I happened to be in a very unpleasant and
inconvenient position. In the town where I had just arrived and where
I knew not a soul, I found myself without a farthing in my pocket and
without a night's lodging.

Having sold during the first few days every part of my costume without
which it was still possible to go about, I passed from the town into
the quarter called "Yste," where were the steamship wharves--a quarter
which during the navigation season fermented with boisterous,
laborious life, but now was silent and deserted, for we were in the
last days of October.

Dragging my feet along the moist sand, and obstinately scrutinising it
with the desire to discover in it any sort of fragment of food, I
wandered alone among the deserted buildings and warehouses, and
thought how good it would be to get a full meal.

In our present state of culture hunger of the mind is more quickly
satisfied than hunger of the body. You wander about the streets, you
are surrounded by buildings not bad-looking from the outside and--you
may safely say it--not so badly furnished inside, and the sight of
them may excite within you stimulating ideas about architecture,
hygiene, and many other wise and high-flying subjects. You may meet
warmly and neatly dressed folks--all very polite, and turning away
from you tactfully, not wishing offensively to notice the lamentable
fact of your existence. Well, well, the mind of a hungry man is always
better nourished and healthier than the mind of the well-fed man; and
there you have a situation from which you may draw a very ingenious
conclusion in favour of the ill fed.

The evening was approaching, the rain was falling, and the wind blew
violently from the north. It whistled in the empty booths and shops,
blew into the plastered window-panes of the taverns, and whipped into
foam the wavelets of the river which splashed noisily on the sandy
shore, casting high their white crests, racing one after another into
the dim distance, and leaping impetuously over one another's
shoulders. It seemed as if the river felt the proximity of winter, and
was running at random away from the fetters of ice which the north
wind might well have flung upon her that very night. The sky was heavy
and dark; down from it swept incessantly scarcely visible drops of
rain, and the melancholy elegy in nature all around me was emphasised
by a couple of battered and misshapen willow-trees and a boat, bottom
upwards, that was fastened to their roots.

The overturned canoe with its battered keel and the miserable old
trees rifled by the cold wind--everything around me was bankrupt,
barren, and dead, and the sky flowed with undryable tears...
Everything around was waste and gloomy ... it seemed as if everything
were dead, leaving me alone among the living, and for me also a cold
death waited.

I was then eighteen years old--a good time!

Thursday, January 12, 2017

"Ein Besuch im Bergwerk, A Visit to a Mine" by Franz Kafka: English version. "Ein Besuch im Bergwerk, A Visit to a Mine" by Franz Kafka, translated in English, with Original Text in German

Franz Kafka in 1906

A Visit to a Mine

Today the head engineers were down with us. There has been some order from the directory board to create new tunnels, therefore the engineers came to make the preliminary measurements. How young these people are, yet already so diverse! They have all developed freely, and already at such early age, their own specific traits show.
One, black-haired, lively, lets his eyes run everywhere. A second with a notepad, as he walks makes records, looks around, comparing notes. A third one, his hands in his jacket pockets, so that it is all tight, goes about upright; he holds his dignity; only the continual biting of his lips betrays the impatient, non repressed youth. A fourth gives the third explanations that are not requested; shorter than him, like a tempter walks beside him,  the index finger is always in the air, as to recite a litany of everything to be observed. A fifth, perhaps the highest in rank, will not tolerate any support; now is ahead, now is behind; The whole company pace their steps after him; he is pale and weak; the responsibility has hollowed out his eyes; he often presses his hand against the forehead while thinking.
The sixth and seventh to go a little hunched, head to head, arm in arm, in confidential conversation; 

if we were not obviously here in our our coal mine and our work in the deepest tunnels, one might think that these bony, beardless, bulbous-nosed gentlemen were young clergyman.  
One laughs mostly to himself, like a cat that is purring; the other, also smiling, leads his words and with the free hand beats some rhythm.  
How secure must these two gentlemen feel in their positions,  what merits must they have already acquired within  our mine if, despite their young age, here on such an important commission, under the eyes of their boss, they can so unwaveringly occupy themselves with small matters of their own, or at least matters not immediately related to their current task. Or could it be possible that, in spite of all the laughs and lack of attention, they actually notice all that is  necessary? One can hardly dare to give a definitive judgement over these gentlemen.On the other hand, there is no doubt that, for example, the eighth one pays incomparably more attention than anyone else to the matter. He must touch everything and taps with a small hammer, that he keeps pulling out of his pocket and then puts back in again. Sometimes, in spite of his elegant clothes, he kneels down in the dirt and taps on the ground, then again, as he walks, the walls or the ceiling above his head. Once, he lay down flat and remained there still; we already thought that a bad accident had happened; but then he jumped up with a small wince of his slender body. He had simply made an additional investigation. We think we know our mine and its stones, but what has this engineer exactly examined in this way is to us incomprehensible.
A ninth pushes forward a kind of stroller, in which lies the measuring instrument. An extremely valuable equipment, deeply protected by cotton wool. Actually, this cart should be pushed by the servant, but it is not entrusted to him; an engineer had to be called in, and he does it happily, as anyone can see. He is probably the youngest, perhaps he still does not understand all the machinery, but his eyes rest continually on it, so that he sometimes comes close to push the cart into a wall. But there is another engineer who gets close to the cart and prevents this from happening. 

Obviously, the latter understands the machinery inside out and seems to be its real depositary. From time to time, without stopping the cart, he takes a part of the equipment out and looks through, tightens or looses a screw, shakes and taps, holds his ear and listens; and finally puts the minuscule object, barely visible from a distance, back in the cart with all the caution, while in such occasion the cart's driver stops. A bit of a despot is this engineer, but only on behalf of the devices. It is enough a silent sign of his finger, that ten steps from the cart we already have to move aside, although there is nowhere room to evade. Behind these two gentlemen goes the unoccupied servant. The gentlemen, as it is natural given their  great knowledge, have long let go of any pride; the servant on the other hand seems to have collected it for himself. The one hand in the back, stroking with the other his gilt buttons or the fine cloth of his uniform, he nods repeatedly right and left, as if we had greeted him and he replied, or as if he supposed we had greeted him but from his height he could not have verified. Of course, we do not greet him, but by the sight of him, one would be led to believe that there is something monstrous in being a servant in the chancellery of the direction of the mine. We laugh behind his back, however, as even a thunderbolt could not induce him to turn around, and he remains something that escapes our comprehension.
Today we will have little more work to do; the interruption was too extensive; such a visit takes all thoughts about work away. Too tempting it is looking these gentlemen in the darkness of the pilot tunnel, in which they all disappeared. Our work shift is also almost over; we will not see them returning anymore.

From "The Tales of Franz Kafka: English Translation With Original Text In German," available as e-book on Amazon KindleiPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Kobo, and as printed, traditional edition through Lulu.  

Original Text in German:

Ein Besuch im Bergwerk

Heute waren die obersten Ingenieure bei uns unten. Es ist irgendein Auftrag der Direktion ergangen, neue Stollen zu legen, und da kamen die Ingenieure, um die allerersten Ausmessungen vorzunehmen. Wie jung diese Leute sind und dabei schon so verschiedenartig! Sie haben sich alle frei entwickelt, und ungebunden zeigt sich ihr klar bestimmtes Wesen schon in jungen Jahren.
Einer, schwarzhaarig, lebhaft, läßt seine Augen überallhin laufen.
Ein Zweiter mit einem Notizblock, macht im Gehen Aufzeichnungen, sieht umher, vergleicht, notiert.
Ein Dritter, die Hände in den Rocktaschen, so daß sich alles an ihm spannt, geht aufrecht; wahrt die Würde; nur im fortwährenden Beißen seiner Lippen zeigt sich die ungeduldige, nicht zu unterdrückende Jugend.
Ein Vierter gibt dem Dritten Erklärungen, die dieser nicht verlangt; kleiner als er, wie ein Versucher neben ihm herlaufend, scheint er, den Zeigefinger immer in der Luft, eine Litanei über alles, was hier zu sehen ist, ihm vorzutragen.
Ein Fünfter, vielleicht der oberste im Rang, duldet keine Begleitung; ist bald vorn, bald hinten; die Gesellschaft richtet ihren Schritt nach ihm; er ist bleich und schwach; die Verantwortung hat seine Augen ausgehöhlt; oft drückt er im Nachdenken die Hand an die Stirn.
Der Sechste und Siebente gehen ein wenig gebückt, Kopf nah an Kopf, Arm in Arm, in vertrautem Gespräch; wäre hier nicht offenbar unser Kohlenbergwerk und unser Arbeitsplatz im tiefsten Stollen, könnte man glauben, diese knochigen, bartlosen, knollennasigen Herren seien junge Geistliche. Der eine lacht meistens mit katzenartigem Schnurren in sich hinein; der andere, gleichfalls lächelnd, führt das Wort und gibt mit der freien Hand irgendeinen Takt dazu. Wie sicher müssen diese zwei Herren ihrer Stellung sein, ja welche Verdienste müssen sie sich trotz ihrer Jugend um unser Bergwerk schon erworben haben, daß sie hier, bei einer so wichtigen Begehung, unter den Augen ihres Chefs, nur mit eigenen oder wenigstens mit solchen Angelegenheiten, die nicht mit der augenblicklichen Aufgabe zusammenhängen, so unbeirrbar sich beschäftigen dürfen. Oder sollte es möglich sein, daß sie, trotz alles Lachens und aller Unaufmerksamkeit, das, was nötig ist, sehr wohl bemerken? Man wagt über solche Herren kaum ein bestimmtes Urteil abzugeben.
Andererseits ist es aber doch wieder zweifellos, daß zum Beispiel der Achte unvergleichlich mehr als diese, ja mehr als alle anderen Herren bei der Sache ist. Er muß alles anfassen und mit einem kleinen Hammer, den er immer wieder aus der Tasche zieht und immer wieder dort verwahrt, beklopfen. Manchmal kniet er trotz seiner eleganten Kleidung in den Schmutz nieder und beklopft den Boden, dann wieder nur im Gehen die Wände oder die Decke über seinem Kopf. Einmal hat er sich lang hingelegt und lag dort still; wir dachten schon, es sei ein Unglück geschehen; aber dann sprang er mit einem kleinen Zusammenzucken seines schlanken Körpers auf. Er hatte also wieder nur eine Untersuchung gemacht. Wir glauben unser Bergwerk und seine Steine zu kennen, aber was dieser Ingenieur auf diese Weise hier immerfort untersucht, ist uns unverständlich.
Ein Neunter schiebt vor sich eine Art Kinderwagen, in welchem die Meßapparate liegen. Äußerst kostbare Apparate, tief in zarteste Watte eingelegt. Diesen Wagen sollte ja eigentlich der Diener schieben, aber es wird ihm nicht anvertraut; ein Ingenieur mußte heran, und er tut es gern, wie man sieht. Er ist wohl der Jüngste, vielleicht versteht er noch gar nicht alle Apparate, aber sein Blick ruht immerfort auf ihnen, fast kommt er dadurch manchmal in Gefahr, mit dem Wagen an eine Wand zu stoßen.
Aber da ist ein anderer Ingenieur, der neben dem Wagen hergeht und es verhindert. Dieser versteht offenbar die Apparate von Grund aus und scheint ihr eigentlicher Verwahrer zu sein. Von Zeit zu Zeit nimmt er, ohne den Wagen anzuhalten, einen Bestandteil der Apparate heraus, blickt hindurch, schraubt auf oder zu, schüttelt und beklopft, hält ans Ohr und horcht; und legt schließlich, während der Wagenführer meist stillsteht, das kleine, von der Ferne kaum sichtbare Ding mit aller Vorsicht wieder in den Wagen. Ein wenig herrschsüchtig ist dieser Ingenieur, aber doch nur im Namen der Apparate. Zehn Schritte vor dem Wagen sollen wir schon, auf ein wortloses Fingerzeichen hin, zur Seite weichen, selbst dort, wo kein Platz zum Ausweichen ist.
Hinter diesen zwei Herren geht der unbeschäftigte Diener. Die Herren haben, wie es bei ihrem großen Wissen selbstverständlich ist, längst jeden Hochmut abgelegt, der Diener dagegen scheint ihn in sich aufgesammelt zu haben. Die eine Hand im Rücken, mit der anderen vorn über seine vergoldeten Knöpfe oder das feine Tuch seines Livreerockes streichend, nickt er öfters nach rechts und links, so als ob wir gegrüßt hätten und er antwortete, oder so, als nehme er an, daß wir gegrüßt hätten, könne es aber von seiner Höhe aus nicht nachprüfen. Natürlich grüßen wir ihn nicht, aber doch möchte man bei seinem Anblick fast glauben, es sei etwas Ungeheures, Kanzleidiener der Bergdirektion zu sein. Hinter ihm lachen wir allerdings, aber da auch ein Donnerschlag ihn nicht veranlassen könnte, sich umzudrehen, bleibt er doch als etwas Unverständliches in unserer Achtung.
Heute wird wenig mehr gearbeitet; die Unterbrechung war zu ausgiebig; ein solcher Besuch nimmt alle Gedanken an Arbeit mit sich fort. Allzu verlockend ist es, den Herren in das Dunkel des Probestollens nachzublicken, in dem sie alle verschwunden sind. Auch geht unsere Arbeitsschicht bald zu Ende; wir werden die Rückkehr der Herren nicht mehr mit ansehen.

Friday, January 6, 2017

"Nevicata", "The Snowfall", by Giovanni Pascoli. English version with Original Text in Italian, by Giovanni Pascoli, from the collection "Myricae" (1891-1911)

Caspar David Friedrich, “Winter Landscape with church,” 1811, oil on canvas, National Gallery, London, UK.


It snows; the air is swarming with white;
the earth is white; snow upon snow;
the elms groan with a long, tired bellow:
some white falls upon a soft thud.

And the wind gusts ragingly blow
and in the streets whirls the storm of snow;
kids pass by: a babbling of cry;
a mother passes by: a prayer passes by.

Giovanni Pascoli,  from the collection Myricae (1891-1911).

 Original Text in Italian:

Monday, January 2, 2017