Franz Kafka

Monday, May 27, 2019

"Love" by Anton Chekhov (from the collection "Love and Other Stories," 1895). Full text, translated in English by Constance Garnett

Chekhov with Leo Tolstoy at Yalta, 1900


 "THREE o'clock in the morning. The soft April night is looking in
at my windows and caressingly winking at me with its stars. I can't
sleep, I am so happy!

"My whole being from head to heels is bursting with a strange,
incomprehensible feeling. I can't analyse it just now--I haven't
the time, I'm too lazy, and there--hang analysis! Why, is a man
likely to interpret his sensations when he is flying head foremost
from a belfry, or has just learned that he has won two hundred
thousand? Is he in a state to do it?"

This was more or less how I began my love-letter to Sasha, a girl
of nineteen with whom I had fallen in love. I began it five times,
and as often tore up the sheets, scratched out whole pages, and
copied it all over again. I spent as long over the letter as if it
had been a novel I had to write to order. And it was not because I
tried to make it longer, more elaborate, and more fervent, but
because I wanted endlessly to prolong the process of this writing,
when one sits in the stillness of one's study and communes with
one's own day-dreams while the spring night looks in at one's window.
Between the lines I saw a beloved image, and it seemed to me that
there were, sitting at the same table writing with me, spirits as
naïvely happy, as foolish, and as blissfully smiling as I. I wrote
continually, looking at my hand, which still ached deliciously where
hers had lately pressed it, and if I turned my eyes away I had a
vision of the green trellis of the little gate. Through that trellis
Sasha gazed at me after I had said goodbye to her. When I was saying
good-bye to Sasha I was thinking of nothing and was simply admiring
her figure as every decent man admires a pretty woman; when I saw
through the trellis two big eyes, I suddenly, as though by inspiration,
knew that I was in love, that it was all settled between us, and
fully decided already, that I had nothing left to do but to carry
out certain formalities.

It is a great delight also to seal up a love-letter, and, slowly
putting on one's hat and coat, to go softly out of the house and
to carry the treasure to the post. There are no stars in the sky
now: in their place there is a long whitish streak in the east,
broken here and there by clouds above the roofs of the dingy houses;
from that streak the whole sky is flooded with pale light. The town
is asleep, but already the water-carts have come out, and somewhere
in a far-away factory a whistle sounds to wake up the workpeople.
Beside the postbox, slightly moist with dew, you are sure to see
the clumsy figure of a house porter, wearing a bell-shaped sheepskin
and carrying a stick. He is in a condition akin to catalepsy: he
is not asleep or awake, but something between.

If the boxes knew how often people resort to them for the decision
of their fate, they would not have such a humble air. I, anyway,
almost kissed my postbox, and as I gazed at it I reflected that the
post is the greatest of blessings.

I beg anyone who has ever been in love to remember how one usually
hurries home after dropping the letter in the box, rapidly gets
into bed and pulls up the quilt in the full conviction that as soon
as one wakes up in the morning one will be overwhelmed with memories
of the previous day and look with rapture at the window, where the
daylight will be eagerly making its way through the folds of the

Well, to facts. . . . Next morning at midday, Sasha's maid brought
me the following answer: "I am delited be sure to come to us to day
please I shall expect you. Your S."

Not a single comma. This lack of punctuation, and the misspelling
of the word "delighted," the whole letter, and even the long, narrow
envelope in which it was put filled my heart with tenderness. In
the sprawling but diffident handwriting I recognised Sasha's walk,
her way of raising her eyebrows when she laughed, the movement of
her lips. . . . But the contents of the letter did not satisfy me.
In the first place, poetical letters are not answered in that way,
and in the second, why should I go to Sasha's house to wait till
it should occur to her stout mamma, her brothers, and poor relations
to leave us alone together? It would never enter their heads, and
nothing is more hateful than to have to restrain one's raptures
simply because of the intrusion of some animate trumpery in the
shape of a half-deaf old woman or little girl pestering one with
questions. I sent an answer by the maid asking Sasha to select some
park or boulevard for a rendezvous. My suggestion was readily
accepted. I had struck the right chord, as the saying is.

Between four and five o'clock in the afternoon I made my way to the
furthest and most overgrown part of the park. There was not a soul
in the park, and the tryst might have taken place somewhere nearer
in one of the avenues or arbours, but women don't like doing it by
halves in romantic affairs; in for a penny, in for a pound--if
you are in for a tryst, let it be in the furthest and most impenetrable
thicket, where one runs the risk of stumbling upon some rough or
drunken man. When I went up to Sasha she was standing with her back
to me, and in that back I could read a devilish lot of mystery. It
seemed as though that back and the nape of her neck, and the black
spots on her dress were saying: Hush! . . . The girl was wearing a
simple cotton dress over which she had thrown a light cape. To add
to the air of mysterious secrecy, her face was covered with a white
veil. Not to spoil the effect, I had to approach on tiptoe and speak
in a half whisper.

From what I remember now, I was not so much the essential point of
the rendezvous as a detail of it. Sasha was not so much absorbed
in the interview itself as in its romantic mysteriousness, my kisses,
the silence of the gloomy trees, my vows. . . . There was not a
minute in which she forgot herself, was overcome, or let the
mysterious expression drop from her face, and really if there had
been any Ivan Sidoritch or Sidor Ivanitch in my place she would
have felt just as happy. How is one to make out in such circumstances
whether one is loved or not? Whether the love is "the real thing"
or not?

From the park I took Sasha home with me. The presence of the beloved
woman in one's bachelor quarters affects one like wine and music.
Usually one begins to speak of the future, and the confidence and
self-reliance with which one does so is beyond bounds. You make
plans and projects, talk fervently of the rank of general though
you have not yet reached the rank of a lieutenant, and altogether
you fire off such high-flown nonsense that your listener must have
a great deal of love and ignorance of life to assent to it. Fortunately
for men, women in love are always blinded by their feelings and
never know anything of life. Far from not assenting, they actually
turn pale with holy awe, are full of reverence and hang greedily
on the maniac's words. Sasha listened to me with attention, but I
soon detected an absent-minded expression on her face, she did not
understand me. The future of which I talked interested her only in
its external aspect and I was wasting time in displaying my plans
and projects before her. She was keenly interested in knowing which
would be her room, what paper she would have in the room, why I had
an upright piano instead of a grand piano, and so on. She examined
carefully all the little things on my table, looked at the photographs,
sniffed at the bottles, peeled the old stamps off the envelopes,
saying she wanted them for something.

"Please collect old stamps for me!" she said, making a grave face.
"Please do."

Then she found a nut in the window, noisily cracked it and ate it.

"Why don't you stick little labels on the backs of your books?" she
asked, taking a look at the bookcase.

"What for?"

"Oh, so that each book should have its number. And where am I to
put my books? I've got books too, you know."

"What books have you got?" I asked.

Sasha raised her eyebrows, thought a moment and said:

"All sorts."

And if it had entered my head to ask her what thoughts, what
convictions, what aims she had, she would no doubt have raised her
eyebrows, thought a minute, and have said in the same way: "All

Later I saw Sasha home and left her house regularly, officially
engaged, and was so reckoned till our wedding. If the reader will
allow me to judge merely from my personal experience, I maintain
that to be engaged is very dreary, far more so than to be a husband
or nothing at all. An engaged man is neither one thing nor the
other, he has left one side of the river and not reached the other,
he is not married and yet he can't be said to be a bachelor, but
is in something not unlike the condition of the porter whom I have
mentioned above.

Every day as soon as I had a free moment I hastened to my fiancée.
As I went I usually bore within me a multitude of hopes, desires,
intentions, suggestions, phrases. I always fancied that as soon as
the maid opened the door I should, from feeling oppressed and
stifled, plunge at once up to my neck into a sea of refreshing
happiness. But it always turned out otherwise in fact. Every time
I went to see my fiancée I found all her family and other members
of the household busy over the silly trousseau. (And by the way,
they were hard at work sewing for two months and then they had less
than a hundred roubles' worth of things). There was a smell of
irons, candle grease and fumes. Bugles scrunched under one's feet.
The two most important rooms were piled up with billows of linen,
calico, and muslin and from among the billows peeped out Sasha's
little head with a thread between her teeth. All the sewing party
welcomed me with cries of delight but at once led me off into the
dining-room where I could not hinder them nor see what only husbands
are permitted to behold. In spite of my feelings, I had to sit in
the dining-room and converse with Pimenovna, one of the poor
relations. Sasha, looking worried and excited, kept running by me
with a thimble, a skein of wool or some other boring object.

"Wait, wait, I shan't be a minute," she would say when I raised
imploring eyes to her. "Only fancy that wretch Stepanida has spoilt
the bodice of the barège dress!"

And after waiting in vain for this grace, I lost my temper, went
out of the house and walked about the streets in the company of the
new cane I had bought. Or I would want to go for a walk or a drive
with my fiancée, would go round and find her already standing in
the hall with her mother, dressed to go out and playing with her

"Oh, we are going to the Arcade," she would say. "We have got to
buy some more cashmere and change the hat."

My outing is knocked on the head. I join the ladies and go with
them to the Arcade. It is revoltingly dull to listen to women
shopping, haggling and trying to outdo the sharp shopman. I felt
ashamed when Sasha, after turning over masses of material and
knocking down the prices to a minimum, walked out of the shop without
buying anything, or else told the shopman to cut her some half
rouble's worth.

When they came out of the shop, Sasha and her mamma with scared and
worried faces would discuss at length having made a mistake, having
bought the wrong thing, the flowers in the chintz being too dark,
and so on.

Yes, it is a bore to be engaged! I'm glad it's over.

Now I am married. It is evening. I am sitting in my study reading.
Behind me on the sofa Sasha is sitting munching something noisily.
I want a glass of beer.

"Sasha, look for the corkscrew. . . ." I say. "It's lying about

Sasha leaps up, rummages in a disorderly way among two or three
heaps of papers, drops the matches, and without finding the corkscrew,
sits down in silence. . . . Five minutes pass--ten. . . I begin
to be fretted both by thirst and vexation.

"Sasha, do look for the corkscrew," I say.

Sasha leaps up again and rummages among the papers near me. Her
munching and rustling of the papers affects me like the sound of
sharpening knives against each other. . . . I get up and begin
looking for the corkscrew myself. At last it is found and the beer
is uncorked. Sasha remains by the table and begins telling me
something at great length.

"You'd better read something, Sasha," I say.

She takes up a book, sits down facing me and begins moving her lips
. . . . I look at her little forehead, moving lips, and sink into

"She is getting on for twenty. . . ." I reflect. "If one takes a
boy of the educated class and of that age and compares them, what
a difference! The boy would have knowledge and convictions and some

But I forgive that difference just as the low forehead and moving
lips are forgiven. I remember in my old Lovelace days I have cast
off women for a stain on their stockings, or for one foolish word,
or for not cleaning their teeth, and now I forgive everything: the
munching, the muddling about after the corkscrew, the slovenliness,
the long talking about nothing that matters; I forgive it all almost
unconsciously, with no effort of will, as though Sasha's mistakes
were my mistakes, and many things which would have made me wince
in old days move me to tenderness and even rapture. The explanation
of this forgiveness of everything lies in my love for Sasha, but
what is the explanation of the love itself, I really don't know. 

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

"Evening of Gavinana" (Sera di Gavinana), by Vincenzo Cardarelli, from the collection "Poesie," 1936

The ancient Gavinana, medieval hamlet in the comune of San Marcello Piteglio, Pistoia, Italy.

From "Vincenzo Cardarelli: The Forgotten amongst the Great. A Collection of the Best Poems by Vincenzo Cardarelli, Translated in English," available as e-book on Amazon Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Koboand as printed, traditional edition through Lulu.

Evening of Gavinana (Sera di Gavinana)

Here is the evening and the rain stops
on the Tuscan Apennines.
As the clouds descend to the valley,
huddled here and there
like mist nests amongst the intricate trees,
the mountains grow purple in color.
A sweet wandering then
to whom during the day toils
and in himself, in disbelief, wallows.
From the busy hamlets, here below, comes
a glad and thick jabber in which
one perceives the declining day
and the imminent rest.
Mingled with it is the throbbing, the high and dry
pounding of the truck on the wide
white road that crosses the mountains.
And everything in the evening,
crickets, church bells, springs,
becomes a concert and a prayer,
trembles in the clear air.
And how shiner is,
in the hour that has no other light,
the blanket of your hips, Apennines.
On your fields that climb in wide turns,
this green liquid, that peeks again
amongst the sun's deceits at every downpour,
to the wind it changes colors, and enraptures me,
along the  restless path,
and tenderly hushes
the vagabond soul.

From the collection "Poesie," 1936, by Vincenzo Cardarelli.

From "Vincenzo Cardarelli: The Forgotten amongst the Great. A Collection of the Best Poems by Vincenzo Cardarelli, Translated in English," available as e-book on Amazon Kindle, iPhone, iPad, or iPod touchon NOOK Bookon Koboand as printed, traditional edition through Lulu.