Mark Harman is Professor of English and Modern Languages at Elizabethtown College. The paperback edition of his translation of Franz Kafka’s Amerika: The Missing Person appeared in August. (September 2011)


Kafka’s ‘A Message from the Emperor’: A New Translation

Franz Kafka; drawing by Tullio Pericoli
Kafka’s “A Message from the Emperor” made its first appearance in the Prague Zionist journal Die Selbstwehr (Self-Defense) in September 1919, the year the thirty-six-year-old Kafka composed his famous letter to his father. Hauntingly oblique, the story weaves together childlike hopefulness and stoical resignation, metaphysical yearning and psychological insight, a …


Kafka’s “A Message from the Emperor”: A New Translation

Stone statue in the grave site called Yongdingling, where the emperors of the Northern Song dynasty rest, Gongxian, China, 1982

The emperor—it is said—sent to you, the one apart, the wretched subject, the tiny shadow that fled far, far from the imperial sun, precisely to you he sent a message from his deathbed. He bade the messenger kneel by his bed, and whispered the message in his ear. So greatly did he cherish it that he had him repeat it into his ear. With a nod of his head he confirmed the accuracy of the messenger’s words. And before the entire spectatorship of his death—all obstructing walls have been torn down and the great figures of the empire stand in a ring upon the broad, soaring exterior stairways—before all these he dispatched the messenger.