10 Letters From Franz Kafka To Friends, Lovers, and Editors


Taken from Franz Kafka: Letters to Friends Family and Editors, these letters (and some excerpted letters) constitute only a tiny sliver of the 423-page book.

1. To Oskar Pollak (Liboch, Autumn, 1902)

It’s a strange time I’ve been spending here, as you must have noticed, and I needed a strange time like this, a time in which I lie for hours on a vineyard wall and stare into the rain clouds which don’t want to leave here, or into the wide fields, which grown even wider when you have a rainbow in your eyes, or where I sit.

2. To Oskar Pollak (1903)

It might have been more sensible for me to have waited with this letter until I saw you and knew what the two months have made of you, for these summer months move me—I think—a goo way along. And then too this summer I haven’t received so much as a postcard from you, and in the last half year I haven’t spoken a word with you that was worth the trouble. So it may well be that I am sending the letter to a stranger who will be annoyed by the importunity, or to a dead man who cannot read it, or to a clever person who will laugh at it. but I must write the letter; for that reason I’m not waiting until it becomes clear that I ought not write it

For I want something from you, and I don’t want it out of friendship or intimacy, as might be imagined; no purely, out of selfishness, plain selfishness…

I’ll put together a bundle for you; it will contain everything I have written up to now, original or derivative…What I want to hear form you is not whether one might happily wait a bit or whether to go ahead and burn it all up with a light heart. In fact I don’t even want to know what your attitude towards me is, for I’d have to force that out of you too; what I want is something easier and harder, I want you to read the pages, even if indifferently and reluctantly. For there are also indifferent and reluctant pages among them. Because—this is why I want it—what is dearest and hardest of mine is merely cool, in spite of the sun, and I know that another pair of eyes will make everything warmer and livelier when they look at it…

Well, why all the fuss, eh—I am taking a piece (for I can do more than this and I shall—yes), a piece of my heart, packing it neatly in a few sheets of inscribed paper, and sending it on to you.

3. To Oskar Pollak (January 10, 1904)

I am putting Marcus Aurelius aside, putting him reluctantly aside. I think I could not live without him now, for reading two or three maxims in Marcus Aurelius makes me more composed and more disciplined, although the book as a whole only shows a man who with prudent speech and a hard hammer and sweeping view would like to make himself into a controlled, steely, upright person.

4. To Max Brod (Prague, August 28, 1904)

It is so easy to be cheerful at the beginning of summer. One has a lively heart, a reasonably brisk gait, and can face the future with a certain hope. One expects something out of the Arabian Nights, while disclaiming any such hope with a comic bow and bumbling speech—an exciting game that makes one feel cosy and all aquiver. One sits in one’s tossed bedding and looks at the clock. It reads late morning. But we paint the evening with subdued colors and distant views that stretch on and on. And we rub our hands red with delight because our shadow grows long and so handsomely crepuscular. We adorn ourselves, secretly hoping that the adornment will become our nature. And when people ask us about the life we intend to live, we form the habit, in spring, of answering with an expansive wave of the hand, which goes limp after a while, as if to say that it was ridiculously unnecessary to conjure up such things…

This season which has only an end but no beginning puts us into a state so alien and natural that it could be the death of us.

5. To Max Brod (Prague postmark May 1907)

My dear Max,

I really am hopeless, but nothing is going to change me. Yesterday afternoon I wrote you a tube postcard reading: “Here in the tobacco shop on the Garaben I ask you to forgive me for not coming to see you tonight. I have a headache, my teeth are rotting away, my razor is dull; it adds up to an unpleasant sight. Yours, F.”

This evening I lie down on the sofa thinking I have apologized and that a measure of order has been restored to the world, but as I am considering this I remember that I wrote Wladislaw Gasse instead of Schalengasse.

Please be angry about it and don’t speak to me anymore. My future is not rosy and I will surely—this much I can foresee—die like a dog. I too would be glad to avoid myself, but since that isn’t possible I can at least rejoice in not having any self-pity, and so have at least become an egotists. We ought to celebrate this great moment, you and I, I mean; as a future enemy you certainly are entitled to celebrate it.

It is late. I want you to know that tonight I wished you a good night.

Yours, Franz

6. To Hedwig W. (Prague, august 29, 1907)

Anyhow, I have no social life, no distraction; I spend my evenings on the small balcony above the river; I do not even read the Arbeiterzeitung and I am not a good person. Years ago I wrote this poem:

In the evening sun
We sit with bowed backs
On the benches in the park.
Our arms dangle,
Our eyes blink sadly.
And people in their clothes
Walk swaying on the gravel
Under this great sky
Which spreads from hills in the distance
On and on to distant hills.

And so I do not even have that concern with people that you require. You see, I am a ridiculous person; if you are a little fond of me, it’s out of pity; my part is fear. How little use meetings in letters are; they’re like splashings near the shore by two who are separated by an ocean. The pen has glided over the many slopes of all the letters and now it has come to an end; it is cool and I must go to my empty bed.

Yours, Franz

7. To Hedwig W. (Prague, September 8, 1907)


They have taken away my ink and are already asleep. Permit the pencil to write to you, so that everything I possess has some share in you. If only you were here in this empty room in which only two flies against the window are making noise, I could be close to you and lay my neck against yours.

8. To Hedwig W.

How you misunderstand me, and I don’t know whether it takes a certain measure of dislike for someone to want to misunderstand him. You wont believe me, but I wasn’t being at all ironic; all the things I wanted to know and that you have reported on in your letters were and are important to me. And the very sentences you call ironic were aiming at nothing but imitating the tempo with which I was permitted to caress your hands on several lovely days. Whether in those sentences I spoke about watchmen or Paris was almost beside the point.

Again interrupted in the morning and now, after midnight and very tired, continued:

Yes, the decision has come, but only today. Other people make decisions rarely and then take pleasure in their decisions during the long times between. But I am forever deciding, as often as a boxer, only I’m not boxing, that’s true. Incidentally, that’s only the way things look, and I hope that my affairs will soon assume the look appropriate to their nature.

I am staying in Prague and within a few weeks will in all probability obtain a position with an insurance company.

9. To Otto Stoessle (Prague, January 27, 1913)

Dear Dr. Stoessl,

Rowohlt Verlag has sent you my book Meditation. Please regard it as a small token of the affection I feel for your writings. You probably scarcely recall ever having spent any time with a person by my name, and yet you did. It was in Prague, in the tavern called “At the Sign of the Two Blackbirds,” and my friend Max Brod was kind enough to introduce me to you. Seeing and hearing you was a great encouragement to me at that time, and a remark you made then, “The novelist knows everything,” still rings in my mind to this day.

Cordially yours, Dr. F. Kafka

10. To Max Brod (picture postcard (Rehobot colony). Vienna, September 9, 1913)

Dear Max, Killing insomnia; I don’t dare put my hand on my brow because the ever alarms me so. I am running away from everything, literature and the Congress, just when it gets more interesting.

Regards to all, Franz