Franz Kafka

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"A Tragic Actor" by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; from "The Schoolmistress and Other Stories" (1897) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Young Chekhov (left) with brother Nikolai in 1882


IT was the benefit night of Fenogenov, the tragic actor. They were
acting “Prince Serebryany.” The tragedian himself was playing Vyazemsky;
Limonadov, the stage manager, was playing Morozov; Madame Beobahtov,
Elena. The performance was a grand success. The tragedian accomplished
wonders indeed. When he was carrying off Elena, he held her in one hand
above his head as he dashed across the stage. He shouted, hissed, banged
with his feet, tore his coat across his chest. When he refused to fight
Morozov, he trembled all over as nobody ever trembles in reality, and
gasped loudly. The theatre shook with applause. There were endless
calls. Fenogenov was presented with a silver cigarette-case and a
bouquet tied with long ribbons. The ladies waved their handkerchiefs and
urged their men to applaud, many shed tears.... But the one who was
the most enthusiastic and most excited was Masha, daughter of Sidoretsky
the police captain. She was sitting in the first row of the stalls
beside her papa; she was ecstatic and could not take her eyes off the
stage even between the acts. Her delicate little hands and feet were
quivering, her eyes were full of tears, her cheeks turned paler and
paler. And no wonder--she was at the theatre for the first time in her

“How well they act! how splendidly!” she said to her papa the police
captain, every time the curtain fell. “How good Fenogenov is!”

And if her papa had been capable of reading faces he would have read
on his daughter’s pale little countenance a rapture that was
almost anguish. She was overcome by the acting, by the play, by the
surroundings. When the regimental band began playing between the acts,
she closed her eyes, exhausted.

“Papa!” she said to the police captain during the last interval, “go
behind the scenes and ask them all to dinner to-morrow!”

The police captain went behind the scenes, praised them for all their
fine acting, and complimented Madame Beobahtov.

“Your lovely face demands a canvas, and I only wish I could wield the

And with a scrape, he thereupon invited the company to dinner.

“All except the fair sex,” he whispered. “I don’t want the actresses,
for I have a daughter.”

Next day the actors dined at the police captain’s. Only three turned
up, the manager Limonadov, the tragedian Fenogenov, and the comic
man Vodolazov; the others sent excuses. The dinner was a dull affair.
Limonadov kept telling the police captain how much he respected him, and
how highly he thought of all persons in authority; Vodolazov mimicked
drunken merchants and Armenians; and Fenogenov (on his passport his name
was Knish), a tall, stout Little Russian with black eyes and frowning
brow, declaimed “At the portals of the great,” and “To be or not to
be.” Limonadov, with tears in his eyes, described his interview with the
former Governor, General Kanyutchin. The police captain listened, was
bored, and smiled affably. He was well satisfied, although Limonadov
smelt strongly of burnt feathers, and Fenogenov was wearing a hired
dress coat and boots trodden down at heel. They pleased his daughter and
made her lively, and that was enough for him. And Masha never took her
eyes off the actors. She had never before seen such clever, exceptional

In the evening the police captain and Masha were at the theatre again.
A week later the actors dined at the police captain’s again, and after
that came almost every day either to dinner or supper. Masha became more
and more devoted to the theatre, and went there every evening.

She fell in love with the tragedian. One fine morning, when the police
captain had gone to meet the bishop, Masha ran away with Limonadov’s
company and married her hero on the way. After celebrating the wedding,
the actors composed a long and touching letter and sent it to the police

It was the work of their combined efforts.

“Bring out the motive, the motive!” Limonadov kept saying as he dictated
to the comic man. “Lay on the respect.... These official chaps like
it. Add something of a sort... to draw a tear.”

The answer to this letter was most discomforting. The police captain
disowned his daughter for marrying, as he said, “a stupid, idle Little
Russian with no fixed home or occupation.”

And the day after this answer was received Masha was writing to her

“Papa, he beats me! Forgive us!”

He had beaten her, beaten her behind the scenes, in the presence of
Limonadov, the washerwoman, and two lighting men. He remembered how,
four days before the wedding, he was sitting in the London Tavern with
the whole company, and all were talking about Masha. The company were
advising him to “chance it,” and Limonadov, with tears in his
eyes urged: “It would be stupid and irrational to let slip such an
opportunity! Why, for a sum like that one would go to Siberia, let alone
getting married! When you marry and have a theatre of your own, take me
into your company. I shan’t be master then, you’ll be master.”

Fenogenov remembered it, and muttered with clenched fists:

“If he doesn’t send money I’ll smash her! I won’t let myself be made a
fool of, damn my soul!”

At one provincial town the company tried to give Masha the slip, but
Masha found out, ran to the station, and got there when the second bell
had rung and the actors had all taken their seats.

“I’ve been shamefully treated by your father,” said the tragedian; “all
is over between us!”

And though the carriage was full of people, she went down on her knees
and held out her hands, imploring him:

“I love you! Don’t drive me away, Kondraty Ivanovitch,” she besought
him. “I can’t live without you!”

They listened to her entreaties, and after consulting together, took
her into the company as a “countess”--the name they used for the minor
actresses who usually came on to the stage in crowds or in dumb parts.
To begin with Masha used to play maid-servants and pages, but when
Madame Beobahtov, the flower of Limonadov’s company, eloped, they made
her _ingenue_. She acted badly, lisped, and was nervous. She soon grew
used to it, however, and began to be liked by the audience. Fenogenov
was much displeased.

“To call her an actress!” he used to say. “She has no figure, no
deportment, nothing whatever but silliness.”

In one provincial town the company acted Schiller’s “Robbers.”
 Fenogenov played Franz, Masha, Amalie. The tragedian shouted and
quivered. Masha repeated her part like a well-learnt lesson, and the
play would have gone off as they generally did had it not been for
a trifling mishap. Everything went well up to the point where Franz
declares his love for Amalie and she seizes his sword. The tragedian
shouted, hissed, quivered, and squeezed Masha in his iron embrace. And
Masha, instead of repulsing him and crying “Hence!” trembled in his
arms like a bird and did not move,... she seemed petrified.

“Have pity on me!” she whispered in his ear. “Oh, have pity on me! I am
so miserable!”

“You don’t know your part! Listen to the prompter!” hissed the
tragedian, and he thrust his sword into her hand.

After the performance, Limonadov and Fenogenov were sitting in the
ticket box-office engaged in conversation.

“Your wife does not learn her part, you are right there,” the manager
was saying. “She doesn’t know her line.... Every man has his own
line,... but she doesn’t know hers....”

Fenogenov listened, sighed, and scowled and scowled.

Next morning, Masha was sitting in a little general shop writing:

“Papa, he beats me! Forgive us! Send us some money!”

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

"The Night Jasmine; Il Gelsomino Notturno," by Giovanni Pascoli. English translation, with original Italian text. "The Night Jasmine; Il Gelsomino Notturno," from the collection "Canti di Castelvecchio" (1903)

Giovanni Pascoli as a kid (on the right), with his father Ruggero and brothers Giacomo e Luigi

The following translation of "The Night Jasmine; Il Gelsomino Notturno," by Giovanni Pascoli, is from the book "The Poems of Giovanni Pascoli: Translated in English, with Original Italian Text," published by LiteraryJoint Press (2017). Also available as Amazon ebook (Free on Kindle Unlimited!)

       The Night Jasmine

   And the night flowers open up,
   the hour I think about my loved ones.
   Among the viburnum trees appeared
   the twilight butterflies.

   It's been a while already, since the cries subsided:
   over there a lone house whispers.
   Under the wings the nest is fast asleep,
   like eyes under eyelashes.

   From the open calyxes exudes
   the odor of red strawberries.
   Over there, in the sitting room a light shines.
   Grass is born on top of the graves.

   A late bee murmurs
   finding all taken the cells.
   (*) The hen-like constellation in the azure
   farmyard goes by with its chirping of stars.

   Over the entire night exudes
   the odor  that goes with the wind.
   It goes the light up the stairs;
   it flickers in the upper floor: it has gone off...

   Now it's dawn: a tad crumpled,
   the petals close; within the secret
   and soft receptacle is being conceived
   some new happiness still unknown.

(*) The stars cluster of the Pleiades in Italian is also nicknamed "Chioccetta" or "little broody hen."

 From the collection "Canti di Castelvecchio" (1903)


      Il Gelsomino Notturno

    E s’aprono i fiori notturni,
    nell’ora che penso ai miei cari.
    Sono apparse in mezzo ai viburni
    le farfalle crepuscolari.

    Da un pezzo si tacquero i gridi:
    là sola una casa bisbiglia.
    Sotto l’ali dormono i nidi,
    come gli occhi sotto le ciglia.

    Dai calici aperti si esala
    l’odore di fragole rosse.
    Splende un lume là nella sala.
    Nasce l’erba sopra le fosse.

    Un’ape tardiva sussurra
    trovando già prese le celle.
    La Chioccetta per l’aia azzurra
    va col suo pigolio di stelle.

    Per tutta la notte s’esala
    l’odore che passa col vento.
    Passa il lume su per la scala;
    brilla al primo piano: s’è spento...

    È l’alba: si chiudono i petali
    un poco gualciti; si cova,
    dentro l’urna molle e segreta,
    non so che felicità nuova.

    By Giovanni Pascoli, From the collection "Canti di Castelvecchio" (1903)

Saturday, April 8, 2017

"After the Theatre" by Anton Chekhov, Full Text in English; from "The Schoolmistress and Other Stories" (1897) by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov

Portrait of young Chekhov in country clothes
NADYA ZELENIN had just come back with her mamma from the theatre where
she had seen a performance of “Yevgeny Onyegin.” As soon as she reached
her own room she threw off her dress, let down her hair, and in her
petticoat and white dressing-jacket hastily sat down to the table to
write a letter like Tatyana’s.

“I love you,” she wrote, “but you do not love me, do not love me!”

She wrote it and laughed.

She was only sixteen and did not yet love anyone. She knew that an
officer called Gorny and a student called Gruzdev loved her, but now
after the opera she wanted to be doubtful of their love. To be unloved
and unhappy--how interesting that was. There is something beautiful,
touching, and poetical about it when one loves and the other is
indifferent. Onyegin was interesting because he was not in love at all,
and Tatyana was fascinating because she was so much in love; but if they
had been equally in love with each other and had been happy, they would
perhaps have seemed dull.

“Leave off declaring that you love me,” Nadya went on writing, thinking
of Gorny. “I cannot believe it. You are very clever, cultivated,
serious, you have immense talent, and perhaps a brilliant future awaits
you, while I am an uninteresting girl of no importance, and you know
very well that I should be only a hindrance in your life. It is true
that you were attracted by me and thought you had found your ideal in
me, but that was a mistake, and now you are asking yourself in despair:
‘Why did I meet that girl?’ And only your goodness of heart prevents you
from owning it to yourself....”

Nadya felt sorry for herself, she began to cry, and went on:

“It is hard for me to leave my mother and my brother, or I should take a
nun’s veil and go whither chance may lead me. And you would be left free
and would love another. Oh, if I were dead!”

She could not make out what she had written through her tears; little
rainbows were quivering on the table, on the floor, on the ceiling, as
though she were looking through a prism. She could not write, she sank
back in her easy-chair and fell to thinking of Gorny.

My God! how interesting, how fascinating men were! Nadya recalled the
fine expression, ingratiating, guilty, and soft, which came into the
officer’s face when one argued about music with him, and the effort he
made to prevent his voice from betraying his passion. In a society where
cold haughtiness and indifference are regarded as signs of good breeding
and gentlemanly bearing, one must conceal one’s passions. And he did
try to conceal them, but he did not succeed, and everyone knew very well
that he had a passionate love of music. The endless discussions about
music and the bold criticisms of people who knew nothing about it kept
him always on the strain; he was frightened, timid, and silent. He
played the piano magnificently, like a professional pianist, and if he
had not been in the army he would certainly have been a famous musician.

The tears on her eyes dried. Nadya remembered that Gorny had declared
his love at a Symphony concert, and again downstairs by the hatstand
where there was a tremendous draught blowing in all directions.

“I am very glad that you have at last made the acquaintance of Gruzdev,
our student friend,” she went on writing. “He is a very clever man, and
you will be sure to like him. He came to see us yesterday and stayed
till two o’clock. We were all delighted with him, and I regretted that
you had not come. He said a great deal that was remarkable.”

Nadya laid her arms on the table and leaned her head on them, and her
hair covered the letter. She recalled that the student, too, loved her,
and that he had as much right to a letter from her as Gorny. Wouldn’t it
be better after all to write to Gruzdev? There was a stir of joy in her
bosom for no reason whatever; at first the joy was small, and rolled
in her bosom like an india-rubber ball; then it became more massive,
bigger, and rushed like a wave. Nadya forgot Gorny and Gruzdev; her
thoughts were in a tangle and her joy grew and grew; from her bosom it
passed into her arms and legs, and it seemed as though a light, cool
breeze were breathing on her head and ruffling her hair. Her shoulders
quivered with subdued laughter, the table and the lamp chimney shook,
too, and tears from her eyes splashed on the letter. She could not
stop laughing, and to prove to herself that she was not laughing about
nothing she made haste to think of something funny.

“What a funny poodle,” she said, feeling as though she would choke with
laughter. “What a funny poodle!”

She thought how, after tea the evening before, Gruzdev had played with
Maxim the poodle, and afterwards had told them about a very intelligent
poodle who had run after a crow in the yard, and the crow had looked
round at him and said: “Oh, you scamp!”

The poodle, not knowing he had to do with a learned crow, was fearfully
confused and retreated in perplexity, then began barking....

“No, I had better love Gruzdev,” Nadya decided, and she tore up the
letter to Gorny.

She fell to thinking of the student, of his love, of her love; but the
thoughts in her head insisted on flowing in all directions, and she
thought about everything--about her mother, about the street, about the
pencil, about the piano.... She thought of them joyfully, and felt
that everything was good, splendid, and her joy told her that this was
not all, that in a little while it would be better still. Soon it would
be spring, summer, going with her mother to Gorbiki. Gorny would come
for his furlough, would walk about the garden with her and make love
to her. Gruzdev would come too. He would play croquet and skittles with
her, and would tell her wonderful things. She had a passionate longing
for the garden, the darkness, the pure sky, the stars. Again her
shoulders shook with laughter, and it seemed to her that there was a
scent of wormwood in the room and that a twig was tapping at the window.

She went to her bed, sat down, and not knowing what to do with the
immense joy which filled her with yearning, she looked at the holy image
hanging at the back of her bed, and said:

“Oh, Lord God! Oh, Lord God!”

Sunday, April 2, 2017

"The Hour of Barga; L'ora di Barga," by Giovanni Pascoli. English translation, with original Italian text. "L'ora di Barga," from the collection "Canti di Castelvecchio" (1903)

View of Barga, north of the provincial capital, Lucca, Italy.

The Poems of Giovanni Pascoli, Translated in English, next to their Original Italian Text. Giovanni Pascoli (b. at San Mauro Romagna, December 31, 1855, d. at Barga April 6, 1912) was a classical scholar and one of the greatest European poets of his times. The work of Giovanni Pascoli is considered the beginning of modern Italian poetry. Amidst the thick fog, in the rough seas and the rugged shores of a country divided by historic, cultural, and linguistic barriers, Pascoli become the lighthouse to point to, in order to find a common language and a way to unity. In appearance, he often simply spoke of “little things:” bucolic scenes, small images of nature, peasants and their everyday chores; even animals, birds, plants, and flowers with mystical names found their cozy spot under the beaming sun of Pascoli’s marvelous pen.

The following translation of "The Hour of Barga; L'ora di Barga," by Giovanni Pascoli, is from the book "The Poems of Giovanni Pascoli: Translated in English, with Original Italian Text," published by LiteraryJoint Press (2017). Also available as Amazon ebook (Free on Kindle Unlimited!)

The Hour of Barga

In my little nook, where I hear nothing
but the murmur of the wheat's stems,
the sound of the hours comes with the wind
from the unseen hamlet in the mountains:
a sound that equally and lightly falls,
like a persuading voice.

You say, It's time, you say, It's late,
a mild voice that from the sky descends.
Yet, let me look a bit more at
the tree, the spider, the bee, the stem,
things that are many centuries, or a year,
or an hour old, and at those clouds that disappear.

Let me remain here still
amongst much movements of wings and branches;
and listen to the rooster that from a farm calls,
and to another one, that from another answers,
and, when elsewhere settled is the soul,
to the shrieks of a chickadee that brawls.

And then again the hour chimes, and sends me
first one of its cry of tinkling
wonder, then the same mild
voice of before is advising,
and deep, deep, deep, encourages me:
it tells me, It's late; it tells me, It's time.

Then you want me to think about the comeback,
voice that falls lightly from the sky!
Yet, how pretty is this little of day that is left
and shines as if through a voile!
I know it's time, I know it's late;
let me look on a bit longer, still.

Let me look within my soul,
let that in my past I live;
if only on the dry twig my flower lived on,
if only I found a kiss that I did not give!
In my little nook of shadowy exile
let me lament upon my own life!

And then again the hour chimes, and shrills
two times a cry of anguish, seemingly,
and then, back again mild and tranquil,
in my nook it persuades me:
it's late! it's time. Yes, let's go back where
those who love and whom I love dwell.

L'Ora di Barga

Al mio cantuccio, donde non sento
se non le reste brusir del grano,
il suon dell’ore viene col vento
dal non veduto borgo montano:
suono che uguale, che blando cade,
come una voce che persuade.

Tu dici, È l’ora, tu dici, È tardi,
voce che cadi blanda dal cielo.
Ma un poco ancora lascia che guardi
l’albero, il ragno, l’ape, lo stelo,
cose ch’han molti secoli o un anno
o un’ora, e quelle nubi che vanno.

Lasciami immoto qui rimanere
fra tanto moto d’ale e di fronde;
e udire il gallo che da un podere
chiama, e da un altro l’altro risponde,
e, quando altrove l’anima è fissa,
gli strilli d’una cincia che rissa.

E suona ancora l’ora, e mi manda
prima un suo grido di meraviglia
tinnulo, e quindi con la sua blanda
voce di prima parla e consiglia,
e grave grave grave m’incuora:
mi dice, È tardi; mi dice, È l’ora.

Tu vuoi che pensi dunque al ritorno,
voce che cadi blanda dal cielo!
Ma bello è questo poco di giorno
che mi traluce come da un velo!
Lo so ch’è l’ora, lo so ch’è tardi;
ma un poco ancora lascia che guardi.

Lascia che guardi dentro il mio cuore,
lascia ch’io viva del mio passato;
se c’è sul bronco sempre quel fiore,
s’io trovi un bacio che non ho dato!
Nel mio cantuccio d’ombra romita
lascia ch’io pianga su la mia vita!

E suona ancora l’ora, e mi squilla
due volte un grido quasi di cruccio,
e poi, tornata blanda e tranquilla,
mi persuade nel mio cantuccio:
è tardi! è l’ora! Sì, ritorniamo
dove son quelli ch’amano ed amo.

From the collection “Canti di Castelvecchio(1903)”