A Message from the Emperor

Franz Kafka
A Message from the Emperor

The emperor – it is said – has sent to you, alone, the pitiful subject, the tiny shadow that fled to the farthest farness from the imperial sun, to you of all people has the emperor sent a message from his deathbed. He made the messenger kneel by his bed and whispered the message in his ear; it meant so much to him that he had it repeated back into his ear. His nod confirmed the accuracy of what had been said to him. And in front of the crowd of spectators observing his death – all obstructing walls are broken down, and on the stairs winding wide and high stand in a circle the empire’s greats – in front of all these he dispatched the messenger. At once the messenger set out on his way; a vigorous, an indefatigable man; holding forth one arm, then the other he makes his way through the crowd; if he meets resistance, he points to his chest, which shows the sign of the sun; he progresses with ease, unlike any other. But the crowd is so great; their dwelling places have no end. Were the country to open up, oh how he would fly and soon, soon you would hear the marvelous sound of his fists pounding on your door. But instead, how futile are his efforts; still he is forcing his way through the chambers of the innermost palace; never will he break through them; and if he succeeded, nothing would have been gained; he would have to fight his way down the stairs; and if he succeeded, nothing would have been gained; he would need to cross through the courtyards; and after the courtyards the second, surrounding palace; and more stairs and courtyards; and another palace; and so on through the ages; and if finally he burst out of the outermost gate – but never, never can this happen – the royal capital still lies before him, the center of the world, piled high full of its sediment. Nobody gets through here, all the less with a message from a dead man. – You, though, are sitting at your window and dream up the message when evening comes.

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All theory is grey, and green the golden tree of life.

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