Tuesday, November 03, 2009


     These are still golden and cerulean days, for there is nothing more golden than the November sun. But November's true hour is not in the break of day swathed in food or even the golden noon, but at twilight. Twilight, redolent of potato tops, the cool gloom which reaches out coldly for you, the thieving darkness, flickering with the light of someone's far-off fire. Homewards, homewards! How pretty are the walls, the lamp, the armchair and the books! You only really notice the glory and perfection of human dwellings in these long hours of darkness--how they glow! 1


     But there are such short days; another of autumn's gifts. The darkness comes on so quickly that you don't even notice it at first, and then you are already planted in it as in some dampening, thick matter, in which everything slows down, even time itself. People even start to live and speak more slowly; they do not think about exploiting advantages, pulling off any quick schemes or getting up to things behind anyone's back. They rest as though fettered, and the things they say to each other are somehow more private and softer than those they speak under the influence of the sun. I think that even if murderers and traitors were inside like this that they would be similarly enlightened. Devilish notions are just the sort that come up if people withdraw from the light into darkness to conceal themselves. But this darkness is not a mask behind which anyone can hide, but like a moss which grows over him. It is, if I may say so, the moss of timelessness, for timelessness is dark. It is for just this reason that people talk about serious and private matters at times like these. I think that the council of ministers should keep hours from time to time; they should assemble in the growing dark, lit only by the burning tips of a few cigars. One minister after the other would fall into a quiet melancholy. "Boys," the prime minister might softly say, "I've had it up to here with this politicking. You know, if we stopped lying once in a while and just said what we really wanted..." "Yes indeed," someone else might sigh, "I sometimes feel like governing is a hell of a responsibility. It weighs a person down. If only it just...worked without all these machinations and contrivances...if only people were more transparent..."

     "I think so too!" a third would say.

     "What we could accomplish if we all believed in each other!"

     "Yeah," a fifth would say, "but politics is such rubbish. If we just only thought more about our huge responsibility and less about politics..."

     "So," the prime minister would ask, "can I turn on the lights yet?"
"Not yet--we're doing such a good job!"



     It can truly drive a man crazy when a coal cart goes rattling down the street. Nothing clangs and rattles so terribly as coal; perhaps they have made it out of some sort of especially resonant wood, like primitive drums.2 Half of our municipal psychoses must certainly have their origin in a rattling coal cart. The pedestrian regards the coachman with a murderous hate without the slightest bit of effect, and the two stiffs up above jouncing along on the pile of coal, and looks to escape this clanking beast either ahead of it or behind it or around the corner (of course in vain), for wherever he may turn, he finds himself in the active radius of at least one coal cart with its coachman and helpers.
     This wild hatred of the city dweller vanishes in a trice, however, when he comes upon a coal wagon in the winter. Then and only then does it seem to rattle triumphantly, and clang righteously, boasting of its fully-laden nature--even the shovelers leap about somehow solemnly, as though the crushing din exhilarated them. And then the cart stands before your gates, the horses stuff their noses into the bags of oats, and exhale deeply, the two stiffs climb down and set up their lunch pails on the softened sacking, and the coachman spits magisterially and unloads coal with a wide, ringing shovel, and the coal is already rattling and drumming down into the cellar, the coal dust rising as though from a mine, and thank goodness is there ever a lot of it, that will do for me until spring, and that is coal for you, sir, black and shiny as pitch.
     But if you went out tomorrow and saw one on the street, you stare at that rattling coal cart with murderous hate; you'd flee before it, seething and spitting, that people suffered such a clangor on the streets! They should just ban them and be done with it!



1The Czech word for "they glow," září, is the same for the month of September, and etymologically created. It is my assumption that the coincidence is intentional. (Czech months are based on old Slavic etyma instead of being borrowings of the Roman months)
2 Čapek has an adjective here which is probably directly translated as "Negro (drums);" I'm cautious enough to bowdlerize it a bit but literalist enough to need to footnote it.

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