The Wandering and Watercolours of Hermann Hesse

“This wind, into which I am climbing, is fragrant of beyonds and distances, of watersheds and foreign languages, of mountains and southern places. It is full of promise.” Hermann Hesse, Wandering

I was very lucky yesterday, while mooching through piles of 2nd hand books at a Spanish fleamarket,  to spy and purchase a copy of  “El Caminante” – the Spanish version of Hermann Hesse’s book “Wanderung”, known in English as “Wandering; prose, poems and sketches.”

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The prose and poems of this volume are counted among the most beautiful works of Hermann Hesse. They were written after a long period of literary abstinence.  During the First World War, Hesse had registered himself as a volunteer with the Imperial army, saying that he could not sit inactively by a warm fireplace while other young authors were dying on the front. He had been found unfit for combat duty, due to an eye condition, and was assigned to service involving the care of prisoners of war.

His Prose and Poems – and watercolours – document one of the most important phases of his evolution: distancing himself from the rituals and security of bourgeois life and the passage from active life to the contemplative life.

On May 2, 1919, Hesse wrote to Romain Rolland: “I have had to bear a very heavy burden in my personal life in recent years. Now I am about to go to Ticino once again, to live for a while as a hermit in nature and in my work.” In 1920, after settling in the Ticino mountain village of Montagnola, he published Wandering/ The Wanderer, a love letter to this magic-garden world that can be read as a meditation on his attempt to begin a new life. His pure prose, his heartfelt lyricism, and his love for the old earth, for its blessings that renew themselves, all sing in this serene book.

wikipedia tells us “By the time Hesse returned to civilian life in 1919, his marriage had shattered. His wife had a severe episode of psychosis, but, even after her recovery, Hesse saw no possible future with her. Their home in Bern was divided, their children were accommodated in pensions and by relatives, and Hesse resettled alone in the middle of April in Ticino. He occupied a small farm house near Minusio (close to Locarno), living from 25 April to 11 May in Sorengo. On 11 May, he moved to the town Montagnola and rented four small rooms in a castle-like building, the Casa Camuzzi. Here, he explored his writing projects further; he began to paint, an activity reflected in his next major story, “Klingsor’s Last Summer”, published in 1920. This new beginning in different surroundings brought him happiness, and Hesse later called his first year in Ticino the fullest, most prolific, most industrious and most passionate time of my life”

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The first German edition of Wandering included facsimiles of fourteen watercolour landscapes. Hesse’s painting had blossomed in the southern countryside and he even toyed with the idea “that I might still succeed in escaping literature entirely and making a living at the more appealing trade of painter.”

Bridge
Bridge – Hermann Hesse

In his time, Hesse was a popular and influential author in the German-speaking world; worldwide fame only came later. Hesse’s first great novel, Peter Camenzind, was received enthusiastically by young Germans desiring a different and more “natural” way of life at the time of great economic and technological progress in the country (see also Wandervogel movement; Wandervogel was the name adopted by a popular movement of German youth groups from 1896 onward. The name can be translated as rambling, hiking, or wandering bird and the ethos is to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom.) The revival in popularity of Hesse’s works in the 1960s has been credited to their association with some of the popular themes of the ’60s counterculture movement.

I like to think his “Wanderings” fits very neatly into current counterculture, and the ever present need to shake off the restrictions of society and get back to nature and freedom.

Here are some well-known – and less-well-known – quotes taken from “Wanderings”, and also, I’ve inserted a few of his watercolours among the quotes. The Spanish copy I found yesterday also includes the colour facsimiles of his paintings.

Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse
Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse

I’ve tried to find them online as my photos of them aren’t great, but the ones I wanted to post here aren’t easy to find online, so I’ll post mine and then replace them if I find good versions.

Wandering Quotes:

“What is the world doing? Have new gods been discovered, new laws, new freedoms? Who cares! But up here a primrose is blossoming and bearing silver fuzz on its leaves, and the light sweet wind is singing below me in the poplars, and between my eyes and heaven a dark golden bee is hovering and humming—I care about that. It is humming the song of happiness, humming the song of eternity. Its song is my history of the world.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“The world has become lovelier. I am alone, and I don’t suffer from my loneliness. I don’t want life to be anything other than what it is”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, the longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“I feel life trembling within me, in my tongue, on the soles of my feet, in my desire or my suffering, I want my soul to be a wandering thing, able to move back into a hundred forms, I want to dream myself into priests and wanderers, female cooks and murderers, children and animals, and, more than anything else, birds and trees; that is necessary, I want it, I need it so I can go on living, and if sometime I were to lose these possibilities and be caught in so-called reality, then I would rather die.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

Arboles
Arboles – Trees by Hermann Hesse
“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfil themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

 

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Lake, tree, mountain by Hermann Hesse

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

Rain
Rain – by Hermann Hesse

Soft rain, summer rain
Whispers from bushes, whispers from trees.
Oh, how lovely and full of blessing
To dream and be satisfied.

I was so long in the outer brightness,
I am not used to this upheaval:
Being at home in my own soul,
Never to be led elsewhere.

I want nothing, I long for nothing,
I hum gently the sounds of childhood,
And I reach home astounded
In the warm beauty of dreams.

Heart, how torn you are,
How blessed to plow down blindly,
To think nothing, to know nothing,
Only to breathe, only to feel.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

“It would be wholly impossible for me to say whether this cloudy, silently disturbed, unraveled sky is mirrored in my soul or the reverse, whether or not I read the image of my own inner life in this sky. Sometimes everything is so completely uncertain! There are days when I am convinced that no man on earth can recognize certain moods of air and cloud, certain tones of color, certain fragrances and movements of moisture as finely, as exactly, and as truly as I can, with my old, nervous sense of poet and wanderer. And then again, as today, it can be doubtful to me whether I have seen, heard, and smelled anything after all, whether everything that I took to be true is not merely an image cast outward, the image of my inner life.”
Hermann Hesse, Wandering

 

 

 

 

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