Kafka’s The Trial is one of the most disturbing books I have ever read. It was written in 1915, and seems to anticipate many of the horrors of the twentieth century, although I doubt Kafka saw himself as a prophet. However I do think his hypersensitivity made him more aware than most of the capacity of human beings to be insensitive to the sufferings of others particularly if they are socially insecure themselves. How repulsively clever of secret police to attack social cohesion by bribing people to inform on their neighbours. There was also Kafka’s dreadful relationship with his boorisly self-confident father. I recently wrote a poem about guilt and then had a failure of nerve and called it “Recuperation”. This led people to whom I read it to misunderstand it. It relates to a period of deep distress I suffered over thirty years ago, and which has left a mark. The last sentence of The Trial has a terrifying resonance for me. They are the last words and feelings of K as he awaits the executioner’s blow. It was in my mind when I wrote this poem, although it mentions shame, not guilt. To me it reads like a verdict not only on himself, but the whole human race. In certain black moods it seems to me no less than the truth. “‘Like a dog!’ he said, it was as if the shame of it must outlive him”.


He thought he knew why, 
didn't put it in words
felt words might let him off lightly,

would have liked to soften 
the glare, but images kept coming up,
not memories, lurid projections.

Was often asleep in the day
too feeble by far
to distract himself from himself.

"You seem better, more colour".
Next day was helped to OT,
offered tiles to glue on a box

found he could do it - concentrate -
chose small turquoise squares
sorted them into a heap,

positioned their uneven edges
with exceptional care,
hoping the task would last days.

Near completion, he reclaimed 
a tile, put aside because it was faded,
to fix it to the edge of the lid,

like a thumb rest, Saw
it might stand for himself,

reconsidered, placed it 
in the midst of its fellows.
Felt suddenly drained; content

it would not be noticed,
nor the effort 
taken to decide.

Published by davidcookpoet

I am a husband, father and grandfather. I retired from a busy working life as an adult psychiatrist in 2014. My interests are in literature, philosophy, modern jazz and horse racing. I might represent those four fields by Shakespeare, Kant, Charlie Parker and Lester Piggott. Like nearly all of us, I can identify a number of formative experiences, one of which was a psychotic episode in my first year as a psychiatrist. This reinforced an already established interest in mystical experience, and a sense of how little human beings know. My intellectual bugbear is reductive materialism, and I am surprised at the lack of moral imagination of those who promulgate such views. It seems to me they need to consider ,perhaps by exposure, just why totalitarianism is so horrific.

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