The Kafka Dozen

Franz_Kafka_1910Grave_of_Kafka         TrialKafka

      Photo taken in 1910               Kafka’s Gravestone                 Cover of “The Trial”                                  

Although taken four decades ago from the diary of Franz Kafka, the reason why I post “The Kafka Dozen” now in a poetic format of my own crafting is mainly because of the Czech writer’s book “The Trial” (Ger. Der Prozess) that was published 90 years ago in 1915; and also due to my own enduring fascination with it – and his other writings – over the past 40 years.

It was in September 1974 in my native India that I came up with the idea of delving into Kafka’s most personal work in a way that would help any reader of the day to plumb his creative depths and insights. He was such a seminal writer of ‘old’ Europe that his name gave birth to the term ‘Kafkaesque’ in English and other European languages.

Readers of this blog will be interested to learn that the measure of Kafka’s appeal and value as a writer was quantified in 1988, when his handwritten manuscript of The Trial was sold at auction for $1.98 million, at that point the highest price ever paid for a modern manuscript. The buyer, a West German book dealer, gushed after his purchase was finalized: “This is perhaps the most important work in 20th-century German literature,” he said, “and Germany had to have it.” Then in 1999 The Trial was listed in Le Monde’s 100 Books of the Century and as No. 2 of the Best German Novels of the Twentieth Century.

My own memorable journey, accompanied by my wife Lolita, took place in February 2012 when we flew from New York to Prague, where during our active week’s vacation there we visited the Franz Kafka Museum in addition to attending a host of musical events – concerts and recitals – devoted to Dvorak and other famous Czech composers. It was a dream come true! But we did take some quality time off to visit the New Jewish Cemetery, a beautiful idyllic area, where we saw Kafka’s gravestone inscribed with his name along with those of some of his deceased family members.

Kafka Visit1

Kafka Visit2

With all that said and done, I now go ahead to append below at some length my presentation of The Kafka Dozen for your discernment and, I hope, enjoyment!

1. Mornings & Evenings
I

And those mornings,
You look out of the window,
Move the chair
away from the bed
And sit down to coffee.

II
And these evenings,
You prop up your arm
And hold you ear
in your hand.
Yes, if only that weren’t all!

2. He Has Only
He has only the moment,
the everlasting moment
of torment;
He has only one thing
always: his pain;
He has only as much ground
as his two feet take up
……..only as much of a hold
as his two hands encompass.

3. This Bachelor
This bachelor
with his thin clothes,
his art of prayer,
his enduring legs,
his lodgings
that he’s afraid of,
with his otherwise patched-up existence
now brought out again after a long period –
This bachelor holds all this together –
with his two arms………..

4. As If
I
It is as if I were made of stone
as if I were my own tombstone.
There is no loophole
for doubt or for faith
for love or repugnance,
for courage or anxiety,
in particular or general,
Only a vague hope lingers on,
but no better than
the inscriptions on tombstones.
II
Almost every word I write
jars against the next.
I hear the consonants rub
leadenly against each other
And the vowels sing
an accompaniment
Like Negroes
in a minstrel show.
III
My doubts stand
in a circle around every word,
I see them
before I see the word,
But what then!
I do not see the word at all,
I invent it.

[Note: Contrast II & III above with Matthew
12:36-37, paraphrased below:
That every idle word that men shall speak,
They shall account for on the day of judgment.
For by thy words thou shalt be justified,
And by thy words thou shalt be condemned.]

5. His Breathing
His breathing was loud
like sighs in a dream,
Where unhappiness is
more easily borne
_ Than in our world! –
so that
Simple breathing can serve
as sighs.

6. The Fishermen
I
Who could deny
that the fishermen
Sit there in their boats
like pupils
Who’ve been taken out
to the river from school.
Good, their immobility
is often incomprehensible,
Like that of flies
on windowpanes.
II
And over the bridge
go the trams,
Naturally as always
with a roaring rude as the wind’s,
And they sound
like spoiled clocks.

7. Distance
Distance already holds this life
firm in tranquility,
These diaries set fire
to it. The clarity
Of all the events
makes it mysterious,
Just as a park fence
rests the eye
When looking at
broad tracts of turf,
And yet inspires
inadequate respect in us.

8. Lucubration
It is midnight, but since I have slept
very well, that’s an excuse only
to the extent that by day
I would have written nothing.

The burning electric light,
the silent house, the darkness outside,
the last waking moments, they give me
the right to write even if it be
only the most miserable stuff.

9. My Education
My education has done me great harm:
A little dweller in the ruins,
burnt by the sun
Which woyuld have shone form me
there on the tepid ivy
This reproach twists
through society like a dagger.
Forgotten energy may hold
these persons fast in memory
I make of my reproach
and laughter a drumbeat
Sending into the world beyond.

10. Corruptor of Youth
Yes, a good racing chariot
is the first to be pursued
And overtaken by dust and wind
And its wheels fly over obstacles
So that one might almost
believe in love.

11. Whether Or No
Whether I lie here in the gutter
And stow away the rain water
Or drink champagne with the same lips
Up there under the chandelier makes
No difference to me.

12. You
‘You’, I said,
and gave him a little
shove with my knee.
But who’ll take you under the arm,
strengthen you with wine
in a nearby tavern?
And then lead you
to his room which,
miserable as it is,
Still has a few
panes of glass
between itself and the night.

 Copyright © 2015 Azim Lewis Mayadas

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