Kafka’s Letter to His Father

One of my most treasured memories from an abroad history unit I took a few years ago, was when the group was in Franz Kafka’s birthplace Prague, and my gorgeous friend Mitch asked me ‘why does everyone have such a hard-on for Kafka anyway?’ (he’s since claimed that he doesn’t remember saying that, but he definitely did, its tattooed in my memory).

Anyway, because Fathers Day is coming up I thought I’d discuss Kafka’s unsent letter to his father. It’s often published alongside his short stories, and it was written in 1919 as a response to his father, Hermann, who had asked him ‘..why I claim to be afraid of you’. 

Regardless of whether you’re familiar with Kafka’s novels, this letter is deeply poignant, and transcends historical barriers.

It details the roots of his fraught relationship with his father, their inherent differences, and evaluates whether things could have been different, and to what extent Hermann was to blame for the lingering sense of isolation Kafka felt throughout his life.

Kafka wrote that his purpose in exploring their relationship in such detail was in hope that ‘peace of mind‘ could be reached which would ‘make living and dying easier‘. Yet whether he ever intended to send this letter is unknown.

I love this letter because it’s just so personal and raw, and its length is testament to how much of an underlying influence his father held over him even into adulthood – ‘this overpowering sense I often have of being a nobody…stems largely from your influence’. 

In a way its beautiful because it reads as though it could’ve been written today. Its an example of how human nature to a certain point stays the same. You could’ve lived at any point in history and you’d still have regrets, and your parents would’ve still made mistakes and fucked you up in their own personal way.

Those Times Kierkegaard was the best darn life-coach

So I googled Søren Kierkegaard quotes and all these heart-warming ones came up! No! That’s not the Kieregaard I know! Personally I prefer when this forefather of existentialism was a bit of a negative nancy and decided to have himself a little whinge. So here is a collection of much less life affirming quotes from the Danish philosopher:

 ‘At a theatre once a fire broke out backstage. The clown came on to warn the audience. The audience thought it was a joke and applauded; he repeated what he said, and the applause increased. I think that’s how the world will come to an end: to the general acclaim of witty types who think it’s all a joke’

‘Hang yourself you’ll regret it: don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it, either way, you’ll regret it. This, gentlemen, is the essence of all life’s wisdom’

‘It is never given a person to be absolutely and in every conceivable way completely content, not even for one single half-hour of his life.’

‘Probability is the sworn enemy of enthusiasm’

‘My distress is enormous, boundless; no one knows it except God in Heaven, and he will not console me; no one can console me expect God in Heaven, and he will not take compassion on me’

‘Thus our own age is essentially one of understanding, and on the average, perhaps, more knowledgeable than any former generation, but it is without passion. Everyone knows a great deal, we all know which way we ought to go and all the different ways we can go, but nobody is willing to move. If at last someone were to overcome the reflection within him and happen to act, then immediately thousands of reflections would form an outward obstacle. Only a proposal to reconsider a plan is greeted with enthusiasm; action is met with indolence’

‘life is so empty and meaningless…how barren is my soul…always before me an empty space’

‘…it is terrible to think, at moments, of the life I led in the hidden centre of my heart, of course literally never a word breathed to anyone, not even daring to note down the least thing about it – and that I was able to clothe that life with an outwardly lively and cheerful existence’

‘People no longer write for someone to learn something. Perish the thought, what disrespect! the reading public knows everything already. It isn’t the reader that needs the author…no, it’s the author who needs the reader. An author is therefore quite simply someone with financial problems.’

‘Since earliest childhood an arrow of grief has been buried in my heart. As long as it stays there I am ironic – if it is drawn out I will die.’

‘Most people tend to have two advisers, one for the moment of danger when they are afraid. Then when things are going well they would rather have nothing to do with him, for the sight of him reminds them how weak they were’

Poetry quotes that perfectly sum up getting your heart shat on

So sometimes in life you’ll find yourself falling for a person and basically they’re a complete fool who has shit taste and they break your heart. But look don’t worry, there are loads of poets who know and share your pain. Here are some quotes to read in the grieving period, while you’re crying into a KFC bargain bucket and putting tinder back on your phone.

His soul shall taste the sadness of her might,
And be among her cloudy trophies hung
..and drown the wakeful anguish of the soul
Ode on Melancholy, John Keats

I keep on dying,
Because I love to live
The Lesson, Maya Angelou

I won’t telephone him. I’ll never telephone him again as long as I live. He’ll rot in hell, before I’ll call him up. You don’t have to give me strength, God; I have it myself. If he wanted me, he could get me. He knows where I am. He knows I’m waiting here. He’s so sure of me, so sure. I wonder why they hate you, as soon as they are sure of you – A Telephone Call, Dorothy Parker

And why with you, my love, my lord,
Am I spectacularly bored,
Yet do you up and leave me – then
I scream to have you back again?
On Being a Woman, Dorothy Parker

And all I loved, I loved alone.
Alone, Edgar Allan Poe

I thought I was not alone, walking here by the shore,
But the one I thought was with me, as now I walk by the shore,
As I lean and look through the glimmering light—that one has utterly disappeared,
And those appear that perplex me.
I Thought I Was Not Alone, Walt Whitman

With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.
The More Loving One, W.H Auden

And pleasures flow so thick and fast
Upon his heart, that he at last
Must needs express his love’s excess
With words of unmeant bitterness
Chistabel, Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Since my young days of passion – joy, or pain
Perchance my heart and harp have lost a string
– IV Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage, Lord Byron

When we two parted
In silence and tears
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss:
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this
– I When We Two Parted, Lord Byron

In secret we met –
In silence I grieve
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee! –
With silence and tears
– IV When We Two Parted, Lord Byron

So we’ll go no more a roving
So late into the night,
Thought my heart is still as loving,
And the moon is still as bright,
– I So We’ll Go No More A Roving, Lord Byron

When hearts have once mingled
Love first leaves the well-built nest;
The weak one is singled
To endure what it once possessed
Lines: ‘When the lamp is shattered’, Percy Shelley

She weeps alone for pleasures not to be;
Sorely she wept until the night came on,
And then, instead of love, O Misery
– XXX Isabella, Keats

Shakespeare Time 

….since why I love I can allege no cause – Sonnet XLIX

At yet, love knows, it is a greater grief
To bear love’s wrong than hate’s known injury – sonnet XL

Thou art the grave where buried love doth live,
Hung with the trophies of my lovers gone,
Who all their parts of me to thee did give:
That due of many now is thine alone:
Their images I loved I view in thee
And thou, all they, hast all the all of me – XXXI

Thy proud heart’s slave
And vassal wretch to be:
Only my plague thus far I count my gain
That she makes me sin awards me pain. – CXLI

When to the sessions of sweet silence thought
I summon up remembrance of things past
I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought
And with old woes new wail my dear times – XXX