Two of Kafka’s Parables

The Sirens

translated by Clement Greenberg

These are the seductive voices of the night; the Sirens, too, sang that way. It would be doing them an injustice to think that they wanted to seduce; they knew they had claws and sterile wombs, and they lamented this aloud. They could not help it if their laments sounded so beautiful.

A Chinese Puzzle

translated by Ernst Kaiser and Eithne Wilkins

Once there was a Chinese puzzle, a cheap simple toy, not much bigger than a pocket watch and without any sort of surprising contrivances. Cut into flat wood, which was painted reddish-brown, there were some blue labyrinthine paths, which all led into a little hole. The ball, which was also blue, had to be got into one of the paths by means of tilting and shaking the box, and then into the hole. Once the ball was in the hole, the game was over, and if one wanted to start all over again, one had first to shake the ball out of the hole. The whole thing was covered over with a strong, convex glass, one could put the puzzle in one’s pocket and carry it about with one, and wherever one was, one could take it out and play with it.

If the ball was unemployed, it spent most of its time strolling to and fro, its hands clasped behind its back, on the plateau, avoiding the paths. It held the view that it was quite enough bothered with the paths during the game and that it had every right to recuperate on the open plain when no game was going on. Sometimes it would look up at the vaulted glass, but merely out of habit and quite without any intention of trying to make out anything up there. It had a rather straddling gate and maintained that it was not made for those narrow paths. That was partly true, for indeed the paths could hardly contain it, but it was also untrue, for the fact was that it was very carefully made to fit within the paths exactly, but the paths were certainly not meant to be comfortable for it, or else it would not have been a puzzle at all.

From Nahum N. Glatzer (ed.), Kafka: The Complete Stories and Parables (New York: Quality Paperback Book Club, {1983]).

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