Translation, from German, of Franz Kafka’s “Eine kaiserliche Botschaft”

An Imperial message

The Emperor – so they say – has sent to you, the subject, the wretched vassal, who is infinitesimal before the Imperial Sun in the far distance, a scattered shadow, to you, just you, the Emperor has delivered a deathbed message. He made his messenger to kneel at his bedside and whispered into his ear; so particular was he, he asked that everything be repeated back into his own ear. With nods of his head he registered the rectitude of the recitation. Before the audience of his death – all hindering walls had been torn down and, on the wide, high, fanning staircase stood, in a ring, the lords of the land – before all of these he dispatched his messenger. Immediately, he set out for the road. A robust, an indefatigable man, now with one arm and now with the other thrusting, he cleared his path midst the throng. If met with resistance, he pointed to his chest, to the insignia of the Sun; he moved easily then, the only one. But the crowd was so large, their ranks endless. Opening into wide fields, how he might fly; doubtless soon you’d hear the rapturous rapping of his fists on your very door. Instead, though, he struggles himself to exhaustion. Even still he squeezes through the castle’s innermost passages; he will never make it out. And even if he succeeds, nothing will come of it. He must fight his way back down those stairs; and even if he succeeds, nothing will be gained. There are the courtyards to traverse, and beyond them the second enclosure of the palace; and still more stairs and courtyards; and still more palace walls; and so on for a millennium, until he finally bursts through the outermost gate – but never, never will this happen – and there before him the royal seat, the center of the world, poured completely under by sediment. None may penetrate here, not even with a dead man’s last words. But you wait by your window, and dream of it when the evening comes.

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