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Monday, 4 April 2011

Franz Kafka: Bachelor's Ill Luck


The Painter's Servant (detail): William Hogarth, 1750-1755 (Tate Gallery, London)

It seems so dreadful to stay a bachelor, to become an old man struggling to keep one's dignity while begging for an invitation whenever one wants to spend an evening in company, to lie ill gazing for weeks into an empty room from the corner where one's bed is, always having to say good night at the front door, never to run up a stairway beside one's wife, to have only side doors in one's room leading into other people's living rooms, having to carry one's supper home in one's hand, having to admire other people's children and not even being allowed to go on saying: 'I have none myself,' modeling oneself in appearance and behavior on one or two bachelors remembered from one's youth.

That's how it will be, except that in reality, both today and later, one will stand there with a palpable body and a real head, a real forehead, that is, for smiting on with one's hand.

Franz Kafka: Bachelor's Ill Luck (Das Unglück des Jungegesellen), written between 1904 and 1912, from Betrachtung (Meditation), 1913, translated by Willa and Edwin Muir in The Penal Colony: Stories and Short Pieces, 1948


Anonymous said...

All these Kafka pieces are wonderful. This is about the saddest thing I've ever read and I think I recognize its truth.

TC said...

Sadness and truth have so much in common, don't they, Curtis?

Both are real, for example.

Kafka always reminds us of this; it seems he can't help it.



Yes indeed "Ill Luck," to put it mildly, or as Curtis writes "about the saddest thing I've ever read". . . .


first light coming into sky above ridge,
silver of planet rising behind branches
in foreground, sound of wave in channel

pen-and-ink copy of painted
landscape, temporary

which is present, yet still
is, that which “was”

cloudless blue sky reflected in channel,
shadowed green slope of ridge across it

TC said...

Steve, cloudless blue sky sounds wonderful... and if you have it, don't be tempted to take it for granted.

We had some rare visitors today, Iain and Anna Sinclair from London. The bold Angelica led an expedition of the lame & halt up to Indian Rock, whence, looking westward, one could take in the vast amplitude of ... a great sea of haze enveloping the Bridge and much between here and there.

(It's said these days that no one can tell for sure how much of the bad air is caused by car emissions and how much is caused by the drift-burden of emissions from Chinese coal-fueled power plants. But then, being patient as well as industrious, they'll soon enough own the land as well as the airspace, so we'd best breathe as best we can, while we can.)

aditya said...

Loneliness can be equally good/bad but a very sad image this is. Esp the There are not even blue skies in my city any more let alone the possibility of them filled with inflated white clouds. The sky is terribly grey, ill. To breathe the best till we can ..

a sparrow-
on my window sill
waiting for the sky

TC said...

Aditya, I can't help thinking that either a lonesome sparrow, pining for the sky on an urban windowsill, wrote the works of Franz Kafka, or that Franz Kafka has been reincarnated in the soul of that bird on your windowsill, just for the moment, so that you might write that poem.



Yes, wonderful to see there's still some blue up there (we take nothing for granted and "breathe as best we can, while we can". . . .