Saturday, February 02, 2013

Herman Hesse

The story is told of the Chinese poet Han Fook that from early youth he was animated by an intense desire to learn all about the poet's art and to perfect himself in everything connected with it. In those days he was still living in his home city on the Yellow River and had become engaged - at his own wish and with the aid of his parents, who loved him tenderly - to a girl of good family; the wedding was to be announced shortly for a chosen day of good omen. Han Fook at this time was about twenty years old and a handsome young man, modest and of agreeable manners, instructed in the sciences and, despite his youth, already known among the literary folk of his district for a number of remarkable poems. Without being exactly rich, he had the expectation of comfortable means, which would be increased by the dowry of his bride, and since this bride was also very beautiful and virtuous, nothing whatever seemed lacking to the youth's happiness. Nevertheless, he was not entirely content, for his heart was filled with the ambition to become a perfect poet. I studied Hesse in college in the 70’s when his writings struck a chord with a questioning youth which would close campuses nationwide as youth began to flex its muscle in the Vietnam era. Hesse, a pacifist, connected with an exploring age and his books and stories made their way into the classrooms of the sympathetic professors of the time. What does it take to be a writer? Why is one person, a writer, a poet, an observer and most willing to just have a seat at the bar and order drinks and be part of the festivities? “The youth’s heart beat high as he took in all this beauty, a lonely observer in pursuit of his whim. But much as he longed to go across the river and be in the company of his bride to be and his friends, much deeper was his longing to absorb it all as a perceptive observer and to reproduce it as a wholly perfect poem….He realized that at all festivals and with all the 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. Thereupon he grew sad, and pondered this matter, and the conclusion of his thoughts was this, that true happiness and deep satisfaction could only be his is on occasion he succeeded in mirroring the world so perfectly in his poems that in these mirror images he would possess the essence of the world, purified and made eternal.”

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