Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
This is a collection of some of his short works published in 1919.
Son of a widowed mother, Augustus has not turned out well. He drinks and chases ladies and leads a dissolute life. He complains about not being loved and is about to commit suicide. His friend Mr. Binnswanger advises him to try the opposite tactic: loving others. He does and drags through life giving aid and assistance to those around him. A life of poverty and suffering is ending and he visits Mr. Binnswanger for the last time. Sounds of angel voices and visions of sparks and fireworks and he falls asleep.
Han Fook, poet, is about to be married. On the eve of the ceremony he muses by the river (in China) and ponders over his reflection. An old man appears and impresses Han with his poetical insights; Han follows him upriver to his cave and spends years learning poetry from him. Growing discontented he travels down to his old village and sees his abandoned bride, fellow villagers, and some former associates. He goes back to the master’s cave and learns the lute. Years pass, the master dies and Han, once more studying his reflection, wonders which is the reality.
A musically gifted young man leaves his girlfriend and parents to travel with an older sailor to ports unknown. The music becomes darker as time passes. The master dies and the boy, now an adult, sees his reflection and he has become the sailor.
Strange New From Another Star
A village is destroyed by an earthquake. A young man volunteers to visit the king to obtain flowers to decorate the many graves. On the way he stays overnight at a small temple on a hilltop. A huge bird carries him to another planet where he sees a vast plain covered with ruined buildings and dead bodies. Arriving at the only tent to be seen in the area, another king tells him of the battle that has just taken place. Waking up back in the small temple, he continues on his way and eventually is interviewed by his own king and granted a dispensation for decorating the graves of the fallen in his own village. Later he searches for the temple fruitlessly, as it has vanished.
The Hard Passage
Entranced by the looming mountains, a young person leaves his green and pleasant land to explore the alpine regions. While passing through a deep, dark, slimy gorge, he passes a tree with a crow in it, singing “Eternity”. Later on he falls off a cliff and finds himself in the bosom of his family.
A Dream Sequence
The narrator finds himself in a salon without shoes. Embarrassed, he picks up a loose slipper and hits another man on the head with it. The salon becomes a large lake near which he’s riding a giant horse. Rescuing a fair maiden from the water he finds himself climbing the Eiffel tower with his friend Paul. Looking down he spies numerous girls tight-rope walking between buildings. Finding himself in a dark murky tunnel, he slithers through the mud until he arrives in a dim room with his sister and her husband, who try to soothe him with music, but he feels lost. “Tears are the melting ice of the soul”, he thinks as she begins to play the piano. And “years like snowflakes fall” all around him. Bound in chains, he chases his mother through the sticky air.
The annual fair in a farming community. A tall dark stranger enters and hypnotizes the citizens by granting their wishes. Soon everyone had had a wish granted except a boy who wished he was a mountain and a young man entertaining his friends by playing on the violin. The boy got his wish and the young man received a new instrument. Then a deep rumbling sound penetrated the area and all the buildings fell down and a mountain took their place. Over the succeeding years the mountain gradually eroded away, experiencing in the meantime generations of villagers from the neighborhood picnicking and playing on its heights, waters cascading down its flanks, and human enterprises appearing and disappearing as it gradually ground down to a flat peneplain. Finally the dark stranger reappeared and asked if the tiny remnant of hill had any more wishes. At the faint answer, the sea washed over the site to the sound of very faint violin music.
Anselm played in the garden as a child and grew to love Irises. He thought how wonderful it would be if he could just crawl up into the calyx and rest. As he got older, attending college, becoming a teacher, he gradually forgot the joy he’d known as a boy. Meeting a lady named Iris at a party, he fell in love but she refused to marry him unless he could remember that joy that he’d experienced as a boy in the garden. So he quit his job and wandered for years until, returning to his native village, he discovered that Iris was dying. Forlorn, he left the town and spent the rest of his life wandering, searching, until one day in a mountainous region he saw a pair of golden pillars leading into a magic garden. He entered and found what he’d been seeking.
Hesse had a background in Eastern philosophy and religion even though he was raised in a pietist household. His maternal grandparents had been missionaries in Malaya and China but he was raised in an area of Germany near the Estonian border. Later he became a Swiss citizen. He was a curious person, studying with Carl Jung and investigating all sorts of religions and philosophies having to do with the meaning of life. And his search is magnified in his books, although it’s not apparent whether he ever discovered answers that satisfied him. Unfortunately he never studied much geology or other sciences, so his researches were limited pretty much to the humanities. He was enamored at one time by Buddhism, and those concepts are reflected in his stories, although it seems that his beliefs ultimately paled into a generalistic frame of mind, centering around a mystical apprehension of deism. The stories are evocative, though, and well worth reading.