Kafka on Books

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us.  If the book we are reading doesn’t shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place?  So that it can make us happy, as you put it?  Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves.  What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than we love ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like suicide.  A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us.


"Lesendes Mädchen" by Franz Eybl, 1850

“Lesendes Mädchen” by Franz Eybl, 1850


A boat beneath a sunny sky,

Lingering onward dreamily

In an evening of July –


Children three that nestle near,

Eager eye and willing ear,

Pleased a simple tale to hear –


Long has paled that sunny sky:

Echoes fade and memories die:

Autumn frosts have slain July.


Still she haunts me, phantomwise,

Alice moving under skies

Never seen by waking eyes.


Children yet, the tale to hear,

Eager eye and willing ear,

Lovingly shall nestle near.


In a Wonderland they lie,

Dreaming as the days go by,

Dreaming as the summers die:


Ever drifting down the stream –

Lingering in the golden gleam –

Life, what is it but a dream?


~ Lewis Carroll


"Woman with a Child in a Boat" by Berthe Morisot, 1892

“Woman with a Child in a Boat” by Berthe Morisot, 1892



Ask me no more where Jove bestows,

When June is past, the fading rose;

For in your beauty’s orient deep

These flowers as in their causes, sleep.


Ask me no more whither doth stray

The golden atoms of the day;

For in pure love heaven did prepare

Those powders to enrich your hair.


Ask me no more whither doth haste

The nightingale when May is past;

For in your sweet dividing throat

She winters and keeps warm her note.


Ask me no more where those stars light

That downwards fall in dead of night;

For in your eyes they sit, and there,

Fixed become as in their sphere.


Ask me no more if east or west

The phoenix builds her spicy nest;

For unto you at last she flies,

And in your fragrant bosom dies.


            ~ Thomas Carew


"The Soul of the Rose" by John William Waterhouse, 1907

“The Soul of the Rose” by John William Waterhouse, 1907



Angry people acted as if she was wresting herself away from them: stealing herself.  They told her to forget the M.A. in creative writing….Her stories, full of love and roads and music, were the only company she sought, more than enough.  She wanted to sustain this for a lifetime….This is what writing demands of writers: time.  Energy.  Courage.  The fury of many and the rudeness of the rest.

~ Anneli Rufus, Party of One: The Loners’ Manifesto


Anonymous (19th century, French)

Anonymous (19th century, French)

Time Long Past

Like the ghost of a dear friend dead

     Is Time long past.

A tone which is now forever fled,

A hope which is now forever past,

A love so sweet it could not last,

     Was Time long past.


There were sweet dreams in the night

     Of Time long past:

And, was it sadness or delight,

Each day a shadow onward cast

Which made us wish it yet might last –

     That Time long past.


There is regret, almost remorse,

     For Time long past.

’Tis like a child’s beloved corse

A father watches, till at last

Beauty is like remembrance, cast

     From Time long past.


~ Percy Bysshe Shelley


"The Complain of the Watch" by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1770s

“The Complain of the Watch” by Jean-Baptiste Greuze, 1770s



Then followed that beautiful season […]

the Summer of All-Saints! 

Filled was the air with a dreamy and magical light; and the landscape

Lay as if new-created in all the freshness of childhood.

Peace seemed to reign upon earth, and the restless heart of the ocean

Was for a moment consoled.  All sounds were in harmony blended.


~ Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie


"Summer Sunlight" by Childe Hassam, 1892

“Summer Sunlight” by Childe Hassam, 1892

A Summer Wish

Oh that it were with me

As with the flower;

Blooming on its own tree

For butterfly and bee

Its summer morns:

That I might bloom mine hour

A rose in spite of thorns.


Oh that my work were done

As birds’ that soar

Rejoicing in the sun:

That when my time is run

And daylight too,

I so might rest once more

Cool with refreshing dew.


~ From “A Summer Wish” by Christina Rossetti


Unknown Artist, 1893

Unknown Artist, 1893


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