Hermann Hesse was a German writer, poet and painter, born in 1877, who gave life to an impressive catalog of works such as poems, novels, anthologies, magazines and hundreds of watercolors.
Until the middle of the 20th century he was considered the most widely read European writer in the United States. His dream of being a poet was consolidated ever since he started working in a bookstore, where he was in charge of filing the books, but where he stayed after his working day to read all kinds of texts.
Before the age of 20 he published his first poem and in 1946 he was awarded with the Nobel Prize for Literature. Some of the best Hermann Hesse books are Steppenwolf, Beneath the Wheel, Demian: The Story of a Youth, Siddhartha, among others.
He was a young man who never adapted to traditional education, which generated serious conflicts with his parents and led him to stay at various educational institutions that he later abandoned, some of them because they did not allow him to study poetry. It was a difficult stage that even led him to attempt suicide. Years later, in his work ‘Under the Wheels’, he analyzes this educational system.
In 1914, during the First World War, he wrote an article he called on German intellectuals to not to fall into nationalist controversies, which brought him strong criticism from the press, that even called him a traitor. After this, he coped with the death of his father, the schizophrenia of his first wife and a serious illness of his son.
In the framework of World War II, the German press refused to publish his articles because he came out in defense of Jewish authors or those persecuted by the Nazis. That was how he began to work on ‘The Glass Bead Game’, a novel published in Switzerland, the work he would later win the Nobel Prize with.
The best poems of Hermann Hesse
As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slaves of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.
This poem is included in the previously mentioned novel, the one that made him win the Nobel Prize.
It talks about how change is permanent and he recommends not to resist it, but letting it flow, accepting it bravely and without remorse.
2. In Secret We Thirst.
with the gentleness of arabesques
our life is similar
to the existence of fairies
that spin in soft cadence
to which we sacrifice
the here and now
Dreams of beauty, youthful joy
like a breath in pure harmony
with the depth of your young surface
where sparkles the longing for the night
for blood and barbarity
In the emptiness, spinning, without aims or needs
dance free our lives
always ready for the game
yet, secretly, we thirst for reality
for the conceiving, for the birth
we are thirst for sorrows and death.
In life, not everything is happiness and sweetness, but even more so. Hesse considers that even in the most calm and satisfying stages, humans need that blow of reality that sorrows give, even death.
3. The poet.
Only on me, the lonely one,
The unending stars of the night shine,
The stone fountain whispers its magic song,
To me alone, to me the lonely one
The colorful shadows of the wandering clouds
Move like dreams over the open countryside.
Neither house nor farmland,
Neither forest nor hunting privilege is given to me,
What is mine belongs to no one,
The plunging brook behind the veil of the woods,
The frightening sea,
The bird whir of children at play,
The weeping and singing, lonely in the evening, of a man secretly in love.
The temples of the gods are mine also, and mine
the aristocratic groves of the past.
And no less, the luminous
Vault of heaven in the future is my home:
Often in full flight of longing my soul storms upward,
To gaze on the future of blessed men,
Love, overcoming the law, love from people to people.
I find them all again, nobly transformed:
Farmer, king, tradesman, busy sailors,
Shepherd and gardener, all of them
Gratefully celebrate the festival of the future world.
Only the poet is missing,
The lonely one who looks on,
The bearer of human longing, the pale image
Of whom the future, the fulfillment of the world
Has no further need. Many garlands
Wilt on his grave,
But no one remembers him.
Loneliness is one of the recurring themes in Hesse’s work. The poet, owner of everything elusive, such as the buzzing of birds or the song of stones, feels the loneliest and most forgotten of all men.
4. Without You.
My Pillow gazes upon me at night
Empty as a gravestone;
I never thought it would be so bitter
To be alone,
Not to lie down asleep in your hair.
I lie alone in a silent house,
The hanging lamp darkened,
And gently stretch out my hands
To gather in yours,
And softly press my warm mouth
Toward you, and kiss myself, exhausted and weak-
Then suddenly I’m awake
And all around me the cold night grows still.
The star in the window shines clearly-
Where is your blond hair,
Where your sweet mouth?
Now I drink pain in every delight
And poison in every wine;
I never knew it would be so bitter
To be alone,
Alone, without you.
A poem of love and despair, about the lover who in solitude wonders what happened and why his beloved is no longer with him; about how empty and alien he feels his house, her bed and his very soul.
5. Thinking Of A Friend At Night.
In this evil year, autumn comes early…
I walk by night in the field, alone, the rain clatters,
The wind on my hat…And you? And you, my friend?
You are standing—maybe—and seeing the sickle moon
Move in a small arc over the forests
And bivouac fire, red in the black valley.
You are lying—maybe—in a straw field and sleeping
And dew falls cold on your forehead and battle jacket.
It’s possible tonight you’re on horseback,
The farthest outpost, peering along, with a gun in your fist,
Smiling, whispering, to your exhausted horse.
Maybe—I keep imagining—you are spending the night
As a guest in a strange castle with a park
And writing a letter by candlelight, and tapping
On the piano keys by the window,
Groping for a sound…
You are already silent, already dead, and the day
Will shine no longer into your beloved
Serious eyes, and your beloved brown hand hangs wilted,
And your white forehead split open—Oh, if only,
If only, just once, that last day, I had shown you, told you
Something of my love, that was too timid to speak!
But you know me, you know…and, smiling, you nod
Tonight in front of your strange castle,
And you nod to your horse in the drenched forest,
And you nod to your sleep to your harsh clutter of straw,
And think about me, and smile.
Maybe some day you will come back from the war,
and take a walk with me some evening,
And somebody will talk about Longwy, Luttich, Dammerkirch,
And smile gravely, and everything will be as before,
And no one will speak a word of his worry,
Of his worry and tenderness by night in the field,
Of his love. And with a single joke
You will frighten away the worry, the war, the uneasy nights,
The summer lightning of shy human friendship,
Into the cool past that will never come back.
Hesse was a pacifist, so in some of his texts he spoke out against the war. In this poem he thinks of the friend who went to battle and despite wanting to imagine him alive and happy, he does not rule out that he might have fallen.
6. Across The fields.
Across the sky, the clouds move,
Across the fields, the wind,
Across the fields the lost child
Of my mother wanders.
Across the street, leaves blow,
Across the trees, birds cry —
Across the mountains, far away,
My home must be.
A longing for home, for her mother’s love, a memory of a happy childhood that feels increasingly distant.
7. On A Journey.
Don’t be downcast, soon the night will come,
When we can see the cool moon laughing in secret
Over the faint countryside,
And we rest, hand in hand.
Don’t be downcast, the time will soon come
When we can have rest. Our small crosses will stand
On the bright edge of the road together,
And rain fall, and snow fall,
And the winds come and go.
It speaks about the calm that is found at the end of a road, after a short trip of a day, or as long as a lifetime can mean. An ending that is happier if you arrive accompanied.
8. Lying In Grass.
Is this everything now, the quick delusions of flowers,
And the down colors of the bright summer meadow,
The soft blue spread of heaven, the bees’ song,
Is this everything only a god’s
The cry of unconscious powers for deliverance?
The distant line of the mountain,
That beautifully and courageously rests in the blue,
Is this too only a convulsion,
Only the wild strain of fermenting nature,
Only grief, only agony, only meaningless fumbling,
Never resting, never a blessed movement?
No! Leave me alone, you impure dream
Of the world in suffering!
The dance of tiny insects cradles you in an evening radiance,
The bird’s cry cradles you,
A breath of wind cools my forehead
Leave me alone, you unendurably old human grief!
Let it all be pain.
Let it all be suffering, let it be wretched-
But not this one sweet hour in the summer,
And not the fragrance of the red clover,
And not the deep tender pleasure
In my soul.
For the poet, each moment can become a reflection, a philosophical dissertation on pain, on God, on humanity. Despite this, he sometimes struggles to break free from all his questions in order to just enjoy, without looking beyond, a moment thrown on the grass.
9. How Heavy The Days
How heavy the days are.
There’s not a fire that can warm me,
Not a sun to laugh with me,
Everything cold and merciless,
And even the beloved, clear
Stars look desolately down,
Since I learned in my heart that
Love can die.
Love may die, but it is better not to know it or not to recognize it, because once you realize it seems that there is no point in living. Loneliness floods everything and what once seemed beautiful no longer provides any satisfaction.
10. At Night On The High Seas.
At night, when the sea cradles me
And the pale star gleam
Lies down on its broad waves,
Then I free myself wholly
From all activity and all the love
And stand silent and breathe purely,
Alone, alone cradled by the sea
That lies there, cold and silent, with a thousand lights.
Then I have to think of my friends
And my gaze sinks into their gazes
And I ask each one, silent, alone:
“Are you still mine”
Is my sorrow a sorrow to you, my death a death?
Do you feel from my love, my grief,
Just a breath, just an echo?”
And the sea peacefully gazes back, silent,
And smiles: no.
And no greeting and now answer comes from anywhere.
A contemplative moment from the poet, where peace is not absolute. Even on the calm sea and under the bright stars, he is assailed by doubt, the uncertainty, while the sea seems to mock his apprehensions.