Franz Kafka, Letters to Milena

by Vertebrata



“Good heavens, Milena, if you were here, and my pitiful, unthinking mind! And still I would be lying if I said I missed you: it’s the most perfect, most painful magic, you are here, just as I am and even more so; wherever I am, there you are too, and even more intensely.”


“What do you think? Can I still get a letter by Sunday? It should be possible. But this passion for letters is senseless. Isn’t one letter enough, isn’t one knowing enough? Of course it is, but nevertheless I am tilting my head way back, drinking the letters, aware only that I don’t want to stop drinking. Explain that, teacher Milena!”


“It’s so wonderful to have received your letter, to have to answer it with my sleepless brain. I can’t think of anything to write, I’m just walking around here between the lines, underneath the light of your eyes, in the breath of your mouth like in some beautiful happy day, which stays beautiful and happy even if my head is sick, tired, and if I have to leave Monday via Munich.F”


“I am on such a dangerous road, Milena. You are standing fast by a tree, young, beautiful, your eyes are subduing the sorrows of the world with their brightness. I can’t listen both to the terrible inner voices and to you simultaneously, but I can listen to what the voices are saying and confide this in you, trusting you like no other person in the world.”


“Do you know, darling? When you became involved with others you quite possibly stepped down a level or two, but If you become involved with me, you will be throwing yourself into the abyss.”


“Where am I trying to lead you with all this? I’ve lost my way a little, but that doesn’t matter, because if you’ve accompanied me, then we’re both lost.”


“At the same time something occurs to me I once read at somebody’s house, something like this: “My beloved is a fiery column passing over the earth. Now it is holding me enclosed. But it does not guide those who are enclosed, just those who see.”
(now I’m even losing my name-it was getting shorter and
shorter all the time and is now: Yours)”


“Today I looked at a map of Vienna, for a moment it seemed incomprehensible to me that they would build such a huge city when you only need one room.”


“An old uncle of mine is arriving tomorrow evening from Paris. It is a blow because it will take time and I need all the time I have and a thousand times more than all the time I have and most of all I’d like to have all the time there is just for you, for thinking about you , for breathing in you.”


“Somehow I can’t write about anything but what concerns us and us alone, in the middle of the crowded world. Everything else is foreign to me. Wrong! Wrong! But my lips are babbling and my face is lying in your lap.”


“It’s a little gloomy in Prague, I haven’t received any letters, my heart is a little heavy. Of course it’s impossible that a letter could be here already, but explain that to my heart.”


“And when you go to bed tonight, as a good night wish from me, take in – all in one stream – everything I am and have: all of which is blissfully happy to rest in you.”


“By the way, why am I a human being, with all the torments this extremely vague and horribly responsible condition entails? Why am I not, for example, the happy wardrobe in your room, which has you in full view whenever you’re sitting in your chair or at your desk or when you’re lying down or sleeping (all blessings upon your sleep!)?”


“It’s simply a weakness, a mood of the heart, which knows exactly why it’s beating nevertheless. Giants have their weaknesses as well; I believe even Hercules fainted once. With my teeth clenched, however, and with your eyes before me I can endure anything: distance, anxiety, worry, letterlessness.”


“With you in my heart I can bear everything, and even if I did write that the days without letters were horrifying, it’s not true; they were just horribly difficult-the boat was heavy and it’s draught was horribly deep, but on your tide it floated nonetheless.”


“Letters like the two today, small and happy or at least spontaneous, are almost (almost almost almost almost) forest, and wind in your sleeves and a view of Vienna. Milena, how good it is to be with you!”


“I’m tired, can’t think of a thing, and my sole wish is to lay my head in your lap, feel your hand on my head, and stay that way through all eternity-



“For about half an hour I’ve been reading the 2 letters and the card and only now do l realize that I’ve been laughing the whole time. Was there ever any emperor in the history of the world better off than I am? I walk into my room and find three letters waiting for me, and I don’t have to do a thing except open them – my fingers are too slow! – lean back and – be unable to believe that I am so fortunate, so happy.”


“Did I praise my luck too highly? Aren’t milk and butter and salad any help at all, and do I have to have the nourishment of your presence?”


“Won’t you reach out across those stories to me, and leave your hand with me for a long, long time?”


“I never understood physics and I do not understand the “scales of the world” and I’m sure they don’t understand me any better, and I am here just like I was in Vienna and your hand is in my own as long as you leave it there.

Franz wrong, F wrong, Yours wrong/nothing more, calm, deep forest”


“I see you bent over your work, your neck bared, I’m standing behind you, but you don’t know it-please don’t be frightened if you feel my lips on the back of your neck, I didn’t mean to kiss it, it’s only love which can’t be helped.”


“In that case this would actually be the last letter you receive before we see each other face to face. And these eyes which haven’t had anything to do for a month (all right: reading letters, looking out the window) will see you.”


“I don’t think I could offer congratulations of any length for your birthday without coughing. Fortunately no congratulations are necessary, just a thank you for being on this Earth, where I wouldn’t have even begun to expect you might be found.”


“Who else can tell a story so well? While I was reading it I felt I was walking up and down in front of the cafe, day and night, year after year; every time a guest came or went I would peer in through the open door to check that you were still inside. Then I would resume the pacing and waiting. This was neither straining nor sad. And how could it be straining or sad to wait in front of a café when you are inside!”


“I’m so happy to breathe again with you so near. Today between your letter and mine, there is a clear good being together, breathing deeply – as far as this is possible in the great uncertainty.”


“Because I love you (you see, I do love you, you dimwit, my love engulfs you the way the sea loves a tiny pebble on its bed-and may I be the pebble with you, heaven permitting) I love the whole world and that includes your left shoulder-no, the right one was first and so I’ll kiss it whenever I want to (and whenever you’re kind enough to pull down your blouse a little) and that also includes your left shoulder and your face above me in the forest and your face below me in the forest and my resting on your almost naked breast. And that’s why you’re right in saying we were already one and I’m not afraid of this; on the contrary, it is my only happiness and my only pride and I don’t at all restrict it to the forest.”


“Moreover, perhaps it isn’t love when I say you are what I love the most – you are the knife I turn inside myself, this is love.”


“Robinson had to make his dangerous voyage, had to suffer shipwreck and many other things – I would only have to lose you and would already be Robinson. But I’d be more Robinson than he. He still had the island and Friday and many various things and finally the ship that took him away and practically turned everything into a dream. I wouldn’t have a thing, not even my name, since I’ve given that to you as well.”


“Sometimes when one wakes up in the morning one thinks that truth is right next to the bed, like an open grave with a few wilted flowers, ready to receive.”


“Last night I dreamed about you. What happened in detail I can hardly remember, all I know is that we kept merging into one another. I was you, you were me. Finally you somehow caught fire.”


“Aren’t our eyes made to be torn out, and our hearts for the same purpose? At the same time it’s really not that bad; that’s an exaggeration and a lie, everything is exaggeration, the only truth is longing, which cannot be exaggerated.”


“I’m not saying goodbye. There isn’t any goodbye, unless gravity, which is lying in wait for me, pulls me down entirely. But how could it, since you are alive.”


“This afternoon I couldn’t get out of bed, not because I was too tired but too “heavy,” this word keeps recurring, it’s the only one that fits me, do you really understand it? It’s something like the “heaviness” of a ship that has lost its rudder and says to the waves: “I’m too heavy for myself and too light for you.”


“So now I’ve been brooding over this letter until 1:30 at night without doing anything else, just staring at it, and through it at you. Sometimes-not in a dream-I see in my mind: Your face is hidden by your hair, which I succeed in parting right and left, your face appears, I run my hands along your forehead to your temples and now I’m holding your face in my hands.”


“How did people ever get the idea they could communicate with one another by letter! One can think about someone far away and one can hold on to someone nearby; everything else is beyond human power. Writing letters, on the other hand, means exposing oneself to the ghosts, who are greedily waiting precisely for that. Written kisses never arrive at their destination; the ghosts drink them up along the way.”


“And now my “best regards” after all – what does it matter if they collapse at your garden gate; perhaps your strength will be all the greater.”