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Kafka in Translation

By

A Message from the Emperor trans. Donna Freed

An Imperial Message trans. Willa and Edwin Muir

The Emperor—so they say—has sent a message, directly from his death bed, to you alone, his pathetic subject, a tiny shadow which has taken refuge at the furthest distance from the imperial sun.

The Emperor, so a parable runs, has sent a message to you, the humble subject, the insignificant shadow cowering in the remotest distact before the imperial sun; the Emperor from his deathbed has sent a message to you alone

He ordered the herald to kneel down beside his bed and whispered the message in his ear. He thought it was so important that he had the herald speak it back to him. He confirmed the accuracy of verbal message by nodding his head.

He has commanded the messenger to kneel down by the bed, and has whispered the message to him; so much store did he lay on it that he ordered the messenger to whisper it back into his ear again. Then by a nod of the head he has confirmed that it is right.

And in front of the entire crowd of those witnessing his death—all the obstructing walls have been broken down, and all the great ones of his empire are standing in a circle on the broad and high soaring flights of stairs—in front of all of them he dispatched his herald.

Yes, before the assembled spectators of his death— all the obstructing walls have been broken down, and on the spacious and loftily mounting open staircases stand in a ring of the great princes of the Empire— before all these he has delivered his message.

The messenger started off at once, a powerful, tireless man. Sticking one arm out and then another, he makes his way through the crowd. If he runs into resistance, he points to his breast where there is a sign of the sun. So he moves forwards easily, unlike anyone else.

The messenger immediately sets out on his journey; a powerful, and indefatigable man; now pushing with his right arm, now with his left, he cleaves a way for himself through the throng; if he encounters resistance he points ot his breast, where the symbol of the sun glitters; the way it is made easier for him than it would be for any other man.

But the crowd is so huge; its dwelling places are infinite. If there were an open field, how he would fly along, and soon you would hear the marvellous pounding of his fist on your door. But instead of that, how futile are all his efforts.

But the multitudes are so vast; their numbers have no end. If he could reach the open fields how fast he would fly, and soon doubtless you would hear the welcome hammering of his fists on your door. But instead how vainly does he wear out his strengths;

He is still forcing his way through the private rooms of the innermost palace. Never will he win his way through. And if he did manage that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to fight his way down the steps, and, if he managed to do that, nothing would have been achieved. He would have to stride through the courtyards, and after the courtyards through the second palace encircling the first, and, then again, through stairs and courtyards, and then, once again, a palace, and so on for thousands of years.

still he is only making his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he get to the end of them; and if he succeeded that nothing would be gained; he must next fight his way down the stair; and if he succeeded in that nothing would be gained; the courts would still have to be crossed; and after the courts the second outer palace; and so on for thousands of years;

And if he finally burst through the outermost door—but that can never, never happen—the royal capital city, the centre of the world, is still there in front of him, piled high and full of sediment. No one pushes his way through here, certainly not someone with a message from a dead man.

and if at last he should burst through the outermost gate— but never, never can that happen— the imperial capital would lie bfore him, the center of the world, crammed to bursting with its own sediment. Nobody could fith his way through here even with a message from a dead man.

But you sit at your window and dream of that message when evening comes.

But you sit at your window when evening falls and dream it to yourself.

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