Home > Uncategorized > Joseph Roth: His son was dead. His world had ended.

Joseph Roth: His son was dead. His world had ended.


Anti-war essays, poems, short stories and literary excerpts

Joseph Roth: Black and red, death fluttered over them


Joseph Roth
From The Radetzky March
Translated by Joachim Neugroschel

Back then, before the Great War…it was not yet a matter of indifference whether a person lived or died. If a life was snuffed out from the host of the living, another life did not instantly replace it and make people forget the deceased. Instead, a gap remained where he had been, and both the near and distant witnesses of his demise fell silent whenever they saw this gap.


By this time, the high-placed gentlemen in Vienna and St. Petersburg were already starting to prepare for the Great War. The borderlanders felt it coming earlier than the others, not only because they were used to sensing future things because they could see the omens of doom every day with their own eyes.


Not one of the czar’s officers and not one of His Apostolic Majesty’s officers knew that Death was already crossing his haggard, invisible hands over the glass beakers from which the men drank.


They waited there for two days, with no sign of the war. At times they heard strange firing from far away, to their right. It came from minor border scrimmages between mounted squads. Sometimes they saw wounded custom officials and occasionally the dead past the waiting soldiers. The war refused to start. It wavered, just as a storm may brew for days before erupting.


A long time had passed since the news of his son’s death, the seasons had replaced one another, according to the ancient, steadfast law of nature, yet were barely perceptible under the red veil of war – least of all to the district captain. His head still trembled constantly like a huge but light fruit on an all-too-slim stem. Lieutenant Trotta had long since rotted or been gobbled up by ravens, which circled over the deadly embankments in those days; but old Herr von Trotta still felt as if he had received the news of his son’s death only yesterday. And the letter from Major Zoglauer, who has likewise also died, remained in the district captain’s breast pocket; it was read anew every day and maintained in its dreadful freshness, the way a grave mound is maintained by loving hands.

What did old Herr von Trott care about the hundred thousands new corpses that had meanwhile followed his son? What did he care about the hasty and confused directives that came from his superiors week after week? And what did he care about the end of the world, which he now saw coming more clearly than the prophetic Chojnicki had once seen it? His son was dead. His office was terminated. His world had ended.


He went through sin after sin, as listed in the catechism. I was emperor for too long! he mused. But he thought he had said it aloud. “Everyone has to die. The Kaiser dies too.” And he felt as if at the same time, somewhere, far from here, that part of him that was imperial was dying. “War is also a sin!” he said aloud. But the priest didn’t hear him. Franz Joseph was again surprised. Every day brought casualty lists; the war had been raging since 1914. “Let it end!” said Franz Joseph. No one heard him. “If only I had been killed at Solferino!” he said. Perhaps, he thought, I’m already dead and I’m talking as a dead man. That’s why they don’t understand me….

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. No comments yet.
  1. No trackbacks yet.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: