...In The Poet, Hesse demonstrates that same sense of being an
observer rather than a participant, in common with Kerouac's later
He realized that at all festivals and with all joys of this earth he
would never feel wholly comfortable and serene at heart; even in the
midst of life he would remain solitary and be, to a certain extent, a
watcher, an alien, and he felt that his soul, unlike most others, was so
formed that he must be alone to experience both the beauty of the earth
and the secret longings of a stranger.
Of course, this idea is shown much more strongly in The Steppenwolf!
I have a Hesse book titled Autobiographical Writings which
contains a short story titled Life Story Briefly Told. An
interesting element of Hesse's autobiographical writings is that they
often veer off suddenly into fantasy, describing his life as it might
be or might have been, sometimes possible and sometimes not, sometimes
plausible and sometimes not, reminiscent of the life stories in Das
Glasperlenspiel. Perhaps he warns us this time... I consider
reality to be the last thing one need concern oneself about, for it is,
tediously enough, always present, while more beautiful and necessary
things demand our attention and care... or perhaps the title itself
should be sufficient warning. Life Story Briefly Told begins
conventionally. At some point Hesse is imprisoned. His friends bring him
paints and paper...
Happy as a child, I carried on this game of creation and so painted
a landscape on the wall of my cell. This landscape contained almost
everything that had given me pleasure in life: rivers and mountains, sea
and clouds, peasants at harvest time, and a crowd of other beautiful
things in which I had taken joy. But in the middle of the picture there
ran a very small railroad train. It was going straight toward the
mountain and its head was already buried in it like a worm in an apple.
The locomotive had already entered a little tunnel out of whose dark
mouth sooty smoke was pouring.
The story continues conventionally, believable though perhaps untrue. One
doesn't really know whether to take it as fiction or nonfiction, though
there is no reason for doubt. But then it ends:
It was in front of my picture in this cell that I was standing one
day when the guards came hurrying up once more with their tedious
summons and tried to tear me away from my happy activity. At that moment
I felt weariness and something like revulsion against all this bustle,
this whole brutal and spiritless reality. It seemed to me high time
to put an end to my torment. If I was not allowed to play my innocent
artist's game undisturbed, then I must have recourse to those sterner
arts to which I had devoted so many years of my life. Without magic this
world was unbearable.
I called to mind the Chinese formula, stood for a minute with
suspended breath, and freed myself from the illusion of reality. I
then affably requested the guards to be patient for a moment longer
since I had to step into my picture and look after something in the
train. They laughed in their usual way, for they considered me mentally
Then I made myself small and stepped into my picture, got aboard
the little train, and rode in the little train into the little black
tunnel. For a while sooty smoke continued to be visible, pouring out of
the round hole, then the smoke dispersed and with it the entire picture
and I with the picture.
The guards remained behind in great embarrassment.
Try to find a copy of Hesse's Autobiographical Writings. I think
that it is some of his best work!
It is interesting to compare originals with translations. Usually the
translator tries to be faithful to the original, but I'm still sometimes
struck by even slight differences. For example, when Leo apparently
lost his faith and left the group of journeyers to the East, Er
tat uns leid becomes We were sorry in English; a slight
difference perhaps... or maybe not. Soon after, dieses Unternehmen
selbst auf geheimnisvolle Weise an Wert zu verlieren
becomes the undertaking itself seemed in some mysterious way
to lose meaning, and this is certainly not quite the
same, though it can perhaps be forgiven since we find soon after
that es drohte alles seinen Wert, seinen Sinn zu
verlieren. But the emphasis had changed. A difference that I found
quite striking, a sudden but delayed realization after having known the
book for decades, but only in English translation, was in the title
itself: Morgenlandfahrt becomes The Journey to the East.
Morgenland vs. The East... I think that the original title
conveys a greater depth and breadth of meaning.
books at amazon...
The Glass Bead Game
The Journey to the East
Hermann HESSE - El Vikipedio, la libera enciklopedio.
2. Mai 2010 aktualisiert, von Ailanto.