Please note that the poems and essays on this site are copyright and may not be reproduced without the author's permission.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Franz Kafka: Up in the Gallery


Zirkusreiterin: Ernst Ludwig Kirchner, 1913 (Pinakothek der Moderne, München; image by Rufus46, 2008)

If some frail tubercular lady circus rider were to be driven in circles around and around the arena for months and months without interruption in front of a tireless public on a swaying horse by a merciless whip-wielding master of ceremonies, spinning on the horse, throwing kisses and swaying at the waist, and if this performance, amid the incessant roar of the orchestra and the ventilators, were to continue into the ever-expanding, gray future, accompanied by applause, which died down and then swelled up again, from hands which were really steam hammers, perhaps then a young visitor to the gallery might rush down the long staircase through all the levels, burst into the ring, and cry “Stop!” through the fanfares of the constantly adjusting orchestra.

But since things are not like that—since a beautiful woman, in white and red, flies in through curtains which proud men in livery open in front of her, since the director, devotedly seeking her eyes, breathes in her direction, behaving like an animal, and, as a precaution, lifts her up on the dapple-gray horse, as if she were his grand daughter, the one he loved more than anything else, as she starts a dangerous journey, but he cannot decide to give the signal with his whip and finally, controlling himself, gives it a crack, runs right beside the horse with his mouth open, follows the rider’s leaps with a sharp gaze, hardly capable of comprehending her skill, tries to warn her by calling out in English, furiously castigating the grooms holding hoops, telling them to pay the most scrupulous attention, and begs the orchestra, with upraised arms, to be quiet before the great jump, finally lifts the small woman down from the trembling horse, kisses her on both cheeks, considers no public tribute adequate, while she herself, leaning on him, high on the tips of her toes, with dust swirling around her, arms outstretched and head thrown back, wants to share her luck with the entire circus—since this is how things are, the visitor to the gallery puts his face on the railing and, sinking into the final march as if into a difficult dream, weeps, without realizing it.

Franz Kafka: Up in the Gallery (Auf der Galerie), 1916/1917, translated by Ian Johnston, 2009


Ed Baker said...

this is brilliant pure "poetry" shines through (even) via American English a 'poetry' / 'painting ... simultaneously both of them.

and we do forget that Kafka WAS ALSO there ... in "it"
entirely ---
ca 1917

Apollinaire, Jarry,Picasso et cetera et cetera

that guy his head in his hands his fingers drumming his skull weeps Oh To Be That Dappled-Gray

time now 100 since and we need a revival of
The Banquet Years

TC said...

Couldn't agree more Ed -- perhaps not quite a banquet but Shattuck... didn't he invent those years... didn't they name that surreal street after him... the street above which PK Dick once fashioned his manic speed persecution visions, and where now no doorway lacks a nocturnal sleeper, between the remaining isolated outposts of haut cuisine and the blacked-out businesses?

The shining-through of the pure poetry, since you and I have now independently noticed it, from vantage points three thousand miles removed, must therefore be real, and not merely a subjective impression. At least it has certainly improved the taste of the three day old bagel I am having for breakfast.

Ed Baker said...

I buy "OPPS" bagels ... they call em "day -olds"

SFW used to sell em 20 in a bag for $2 then it was 20 for $4 then they started throwing tham out.
so, over at Giant I get "day olds" 6 for $1.50

(which is 1/2 price

I keep them in the freezer .. from freezer (frozen) int toaster... dee -lissh !

I also get "day old" chocolate dounutz...6 for a dollar-fitty...
freeze them too

well time for a bagel and a cup of my 1/2 priced dented-can coffee

think I'll re-read (after 40 years) my The Trial

as soon as I read (for the first time) ALCOOLS

all of this .... 'stuff' intrudes ... clouds my mind:

full moon
behind a cloud
will I see you again

TC said...


Reading all that you've just said, someone who knows says, "A man close to your heart".

For me, there is No Bagel Too Old.

Though, sometimes... one must share with one's raccoon brothers.

TC said...

(and of course sisters)