Franz Kafka

Saturday, October 19, 2019

"Love Unrippled" by Anton Chekhiv, from "Letters of Anton Chekhov to His Family and Friends by Anton Pavlovich Chekhov"


June, 1886.

 (A NOVEL) Part I.

It was noon.... The setting sun with its crimson, fiery rays gilded
the tops of pines, oaks, and fir-trees.... It was still; only in the
air the birds were singing, and in the distance a hungry wolf howled
mournfully.... The driver turned round and said:

“More snow has fallen, sir.”


“I say, more snow has fallen.”


Vladimir Sergeitch Tabatchin, who is the hero of our story, looked for
the last time at the sun and expired.

       *       *       *       *       *

A week passed.... Birds and corncrakes hovered, whistling, over a
newly-made grave. The sun was shining. A young widow, bathed in tears,
was standing by, and in her grief sopping her whole handkerchief....

September 21, 1886.

... It is not much fun to be a great writer. To begin with, it’s a dreary
life. Work from morning till night and not much to show for it. Money is as
scarce as cats’ tears. I don’t know how it is with Zola and Shtchedrin, but
in my flat it is cold and smoky.... They give me cigarettes, as before, on
holidays only. Impossible cigarettes! Hard, damp, sausage-like. Before I
begin to smoke I light the lamp, dry the cigarette over it, and only then I
begin on it; the lamp smokes, the cigarette splutters and turns brown, I
burn my fingers ... it is enough to make one shoot oneself!

... I am more or less ill, and am gradually turning into a dried

... I go about as festive as though it were my birthday, but to judge from
the critical glances of the lady cashier at the _Budilnik_, I am not
dressed in the height of fashion, and my clothes are not brand-new. I go in
buses, not in cabs.

But being a writer has its good points. In the first place, my book, I
hear, is going rather well; secondly, in October I shall have money;
thirdly, I am beginning to reap laurels: at the refreshment bars people
point at me with their fingers, they pay me little attentions and treat me
to sandwiches. Korsh caught me in his theatre and straight away presented
me with a free pass.... My medical colleagues sigh when they meet me,
begin to talk of literature and assure me that they are sick of medicine.
And so on....

September 29.

... Life is grey, there are no happy people to be seen.... Life is a nasty
business for everyone. When I am serious I begin to think that people who
have an aversion for death are illogical. So far as I understand the order
of things, life consists of nothing but horrors, squabbles, and
trivialities mixed together or alternating!

December 3.

This morning an individual sent by Prince Urusov turned up and asked me for
a short story for a sporting magazine edited by the said Prince. I refused,
of course, as I now refuse all who come with supplications to the foot of
my pedestal. In Russia there are now two unattainable heights: Mount
Elborus and myself.

The Prince’s envoy was deeply disappointed by my refusal, nearly died of
grief, and finally begged me to recommend him some writers who are versed
in sport. I thought a little, and very opportunely remembered a lady writer
who dreams of glory and has for the last year been ill with envy of my
literary fame. In short, I gave him your address.... You might write a
story “The Wounded Doe”--you remember, how the huntsmen wound a doe; she
looks at them with human eyes, and no one can bring himself to kill her.
It’s not a bad subject, but dangerous because it is difficult to avoid
sentimentality--you must write it like a report, without pathetic phrases,
and begin like this: “On such and such a date the huntsmen in the Daraganov
forest wounded a young doe....” And if you drop a tear you will strip the
subject of its severity and of everything worth attention in it.

December 13.

... With your permission I steal out of your last two letters to my sister
two descriptions of nature for my stories. It is curious that you have
quite a masculine way of writing. In every line (except when dealing with
children) you are a man! This, of course, ought to flatter your vanity, for
speaking generally, men are a thousand times better than women, and
superior to them.

In Petersburg I was resting--i.e., for days together I was rushing about
town paying calls and listening to compliments which my soul abhors. Alas
and alack! In Petersburg I am becoming fashionable like Nana. While
Korolenko, who is serious, is hardly known to the editors, my twaddle is
being read by all Petersburg. Even the senator G. reads me.... It is
gratifying, but my literary feeling is wounded. I feel ashamed of the
public which runs after lap-dogs simply because it fails to notice
elephants, and I am deeply convinced that not a soul will know me when I
begin to work in earnest.



... You have often complained to me that people “don’t understand you”!
Goethe and Newton did not complain of that.... Only Christ complained of
it, but He was speaking of His doctrine and not of Himself.... People
understand you perfectly well. And if you do not understand yourself, it is
not their fault.

I assure you as a brother and as a friend I understand you and feel for you
with all my heart. I know your good qualities as I know my five fingers; I
value and deeply respect them. If you like, to prove that I understand you,
I can enumerate those qualities. I think you are kind to the point of
softness, magnanimous, unselfish, ready to share your last farthing; you
have no envy nor hatred; you are simple-hearted, you pity men and beasts;
you are trustful, without spite or guile, and do not remember evil.... You
have a gift from above such as other people have not: you have talent. This
talent places you above millions of men, for on earth only one out of two
millions is an artist. Your talent sets you apart: if you were a toad or a
tarantula, even then, people would respect you, for to talent all things
are forgiven.

You have only one failing, and the falseness of your position, and
your unhappiness and your catarrh of the bowels are all due to it.
That is your utter lack of culture. Forgive me, please, but _veritas
magis amicitiae...._ You see, life has its conditions. In order to
feel comfortable among educated people, to be at home and happy with
them, one must be cultured to a certain extent. Talent has brought you
into such a circle, you belong to it, but ... you are drawn away from
it, and you vacillate between cultured people and the lodgers _vis-a-vis._

Cultured people must, in my opinion, satisfy the following conditions:

1. They respect human personality, and therefore they are always kind,
gentle, polite, and ready to give in to others. They do not make a row
because of a hammer or a lost piece of india-rubber; if they live with
anyone they do not regard it as a favour and, going away, they do not say
“nobody can live with you.” They forgive noise and cold and dried-up meat
and witticisms and the presence of strangers in their homes.

2. They have sympathy not for beggars and cats alone. Their heart aches for
what the eye does not see.... They sit up at night in order to help P....,
to pay for brothers at the University, and to buy clothes for their mother.

3. They respect the property of others, and therefor pay their debts.

4. They are sincere, and dread lying like fire. They don’t lie even in
small things. A lie is insulting to the listener and puts him in a lower
position in the eyes of the speaker. They do not pose, they behave in the
street as they do at home, they do not show off before their humbler
comrades. They are not given to babbling and forcing their uninvited
confidences on others. Out of respect for other people’s ears they more
often keep silent than talk.

5. They do not disparage themselves to rouse compassion. They do not play
on the strings of other people’s hearts so that they may sigh and make much
of them. They do not say “I am misunderstood,” or “I have become
second-rate,” because all this is striving after cheap effect, is vulgar,
stale, false....

6. They have no shallow vanity. They do not care for such false diamonds as
knowing celebrities, shaking hands with the drunken P., [Translator’s Note:
Probably Palmin, a minor poet.] listening to the raptures of a stray
spectator in a picture show, being renowned in the taverns.... If they do a
pennyworth they do not strut about as though they had done a hundred
roubles’ worth, and do not brag of having the entry where others are not
admitted.... The truly talented always keep in obscurity among the crowd,
as far as possible from advertisement.... Even Krylov has said that an
empty barrel echoes more loudly than a full one.

7. If they have a talent they respect it. They sacrifice to it rest, women,
wine, vanity.... They are proud of their talent.... Besides, they are

8. They develop the aesthetic feeling in themselves. They cannot go to
sleep in their clothes, see cracks full of bugs on the walls, breathe bad
air, walk on a floor that has been spat upon, cook their meals over an oil
stove. They seek as far as possible to restrain and ennoble the sexual
instinct.... What they want in a woman is not a bed-fellow ... They do not
ask for the cleverness which shows itself in continual lying. They want
especially, if they are artists, freshness, elegance, humanity, the
capacity for motherhood.... They do not swill vodka at all hours of the day
and night, do not sniff at cupboards, for they are not pigs and know they
are not. They drink only when they are free, on occasion.... For they want
_mens sana in corpore sano._

And so on. This is what cultured people are like. In order to be cultured
and not to stand below the level of your surroundings it is not enough to
have read “The Pickwick Papers” and learnt a monologue from “Faust.” ...

What is needed is constant work, day and night, constant reading, study,
will.... Every hour is precious for it.... Come to us, smash the vodka
bottle, lie down and read.... Turgenev, if you like, whom you have not

You must drop your vanity, you are not a child ... you will soon be thirty.
It is time!

I expect you.... We all expect you.


Monday, October 7, 2019

"Il bove" (The Ox) by Giovanni Pascoli, from the collection "Myricae" (1891)

Cart with Black Ox, or The Ox-Cart (1884) by Vincent van Gogh

The Ox

Through vague haze, at the thin river
looks the ox, with big eyes: in the pasture
that recedes, to an ever-farther sea
run the waters of a cerulean river;

they magnify in his eyes, in the dust of
the light, the willow and the alder;
on the grass a herd of sheep passes by little by little
and it seems the herd of the ancient God:

wide wings conjure up rapacious sketches
in the air; silent chimeras float,
similar to clouds, in the deep heavens;

the immense sun behind the mountains
sets, tremendously high: they already grow,  black,
the greater shadows of greater worlds.

Il Bove

Al rio sottile, di tra vaghe brume,
guarda il bove, coi grandi occhi: nel piano
che fugge, a un mare sempre più lontano
migrano l’acque d’un ceruleo fiume;

ingigantisce agli occhi suoi, nel lume
pulverulento, il salice e l’ontano;
svaria su l’erbe un gregge a mano a mano,
e par la mandra dell’antico nume:

ampie ali aprono imagini grifagne
nell’aria; vanno tacite chimere,
simili a nubi, per il ciel profondo;

il sole immenso, dietro le montagne
cala, altissime: crescono già, nere,
l’ombre più grandi d’un più grande mondo.

From the collection “Myricae” (1891-1900)