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Guy Davenport


February 01, 1996

The hunter Gracchus

On April 6, 1917, in a dwarfishly small house rented by his sister Ottla in the medieval quarter of Prague (22 Alchymistengasse—Alchemists’ Alley), Kafka wrote in his diary: Today, in the tiny harbor where save for fishing boats only two ocean-going passenger steamers used to call, a strange boat lay at anchor. A clumsy old craft, rather low and very broad, filthy, as if bilge water had been poured over it, it still seemed to be dripping down the yellowish sides; the masts disproportionately tall, the upper third of the mainmast split; wrinkled, coarse, yellowish-brown sails stretched every which way between the yards, patched, too weak to stand against the slightest gust of wind.