Authors: Hermann Hesse
“You mean insane? No. Although that too would be possible.” He was distracted; thoughts welling up from within seized hold of him. With the beginnings of uneasiness he continued: “When we talk about such things, the simplest matters immediately become complicated and incomprehensible. We should not talk about them at all. People only do that, talk about such things, when they don't want to understand one another.”
“How do you mean that? I really want to understand. Believe me, I do. It interests me tremendously.”
He gave a lively smile.
“Yes, yes. You want to entertain yourself with this subject. You have experienced something and now want to talk about it. But it's no use. Talking is the surest way to misunderstand everything, to make everything shallow and dreary. You don't want to understand me, or yourself either. You want only to be left alone, not be troubled by the warning you've received. You want to dismiss me and the warning by finding the label you can fit to me. You've tried it with the idea of a criminal and a madman. You want to know my name and status. But all that only leads away from understanding. It's all a deception, my dear young lady; it's a bad substitute for understanding; it's an escape from wanting to understand, from being forced to understand.”
He broke off and tormentedly brushed his hand over his eyes. Then something pleasanter seemed to occur to him. He smiled again: “You know, yesterday when for a moment you and I felt exactly the same thing, we said nothing and asked no questions, did not even think anything either; suddenly we took each other's hands and all was well. But nowânow we are talking and thinking and explaining and everything has become odd and incomprehensible, everything that was so simple before. And yet it would be very easy for you to understand me just as well as I understand you.”
“Do you think you understand me so well?”
“Yes, of course. I don't know how you live. But you live as I too have done and as everybody does, mostly in darkness and self-oblivion, pursuing some purpose, some duty, some plan. Almost everybody does that; the whole world is sick of doing it and is doomed because of it. But sometimes, when dancing, for example, you lose touch with your plan or duty and suddenly you find yourself living another way entirely. You feel all at once as if you were alone in the world, or as if you might be dead tomorrow, and then everything you really are comes out. When you dance, you even infect others with that feeling. That is your secret.”
They walked on more quickly for a while. Where a spit of land thrust into the lake, they stood still.
“You are strange,” she said. “I can understand some of the things you say. Butâwhat do you really want of me?”
He bowed his head and for a moment looked sad.
“You are used to having people always want something of you, Teresina. I don't want anything of you that you yourself don't want and would not gladly do. That I love you need not matter to you. It is no happiness to be loved. Everyone loves himself, yet thousands of people torment themselves all their lives. No, to be loved is not happiness. But lovingâthat is happiness!”
“I would gladly do something that gives you pleasure, if I could,” Teresina said slowly, as if pitying him.
“You can do that if you allow me to fulfill some wish of yours.”
“Oh, what do you know about my wishes!”
“I grant you, you shouldn't have any. For you have the key to paradiseâyour dancing. But I know you do have wishes nevertheless, and I am glad of that. And so you ought to know this: here is someone who will take pleasure in fulfilling your every wish.”
Teresina considered. Her alert eyes turned sharp and cool again. What could he possibly know about her? Since she could not think what this might be, she began cautiously. “The first thing I'd like to ask you is to be honest. Tell me who has told you anything about me.”
“No one. I have never spoken with a soul about you. What I knowâit is very littleâI have learned from you yourself. I heard you say yesterday that you wish you could gamble in Castiglione once.”
Her face twitched. “Oh, I see. You were eavesdropping on me.”
“Yes, of course. I understood your wish. Because you are not always at one with yourself, you seek excitement and distraction.”
“Oh no, I'm not as romantic as you think. I'm not looking for distraction in gambling, but just for money. I'd like to be rich some day, or at any rate free of cares, without having to sell myself for it. That's all.”
“That sounds so right, and yet I don't believe it. But as you like. At bottom you know perfectly well that you need never sell yourself. Let's not talk about it. But if you want money, whether for gambling or anything else, please take it from me. I have more than I need, and believe me, I place no value on it.”
Teresina drew away from him. “I hardly know you. How can I take money from you?”
He suddenly pulled his hat off, as if attacked by a pain, and did not answer.
“What's the matter?” Teresina exclaimed.
“Nothing, nothing. Permit me to leave now. We've talked too much, much too much. People should never talk so much.”
He was already walking off, without saying goodbye, speeding down the lane of trees as if blown by despair. Teresina looked after him with choked-up, divided feelings, astonished at him and at herself.
He was not running away out of despair but out of unbearable tension and charged emotions. It had suddenly become impossible for him to say another word, to hear another word; he had to be alone, could not be other than alone, thinking, listening to himself, probing himself. The whole conversation with Teresina had thrown him into a state of amazement at himself. The words had come without his willing them; he had been overcome by a violent need to communicate his experiences and thoughts, to form them, say them, tell them to himself. He was astonished at every word he had heard himself saying; but more and more he could feel that he had been talking himself into something that was no longer simple and right, that he had been uselessly trying to explain the inexplicable. And suddenly the whole thing had become unbearable to him, so that he had to stop it.
But now, when he tried to recall these past fifteen minutes, he gratefully felt the experience to have been a joyful one. It was progress, a step toward release, a confirmation.
The doubts he had been feeling about his whole customary world had tormented him and terribly wearied him. He had experienced the miracle that life becomes more meaningful precisely when we lose our grasp of all meanings. But again and again had come the painful doubt whether these experiences were really significant, whether they were no more than minor ripples on the surface of his fatigued and sick mind, basically whims, petty nervous stirrings. Now, last night and today, he had seen that his experience was real. It had radiated out of him and changed him, had drawn another person to him. His solitude was shattered; he was in love again; there was someone whom he could serve, someone to whom he wanted to give pleasure. He could smile again, laugh again.
The wave passed through him like pain and like voluptuous delight. He trembled with sheer emotion. Life roared in him like surf. Everything was incomprehensible. He opened his eyes wide and saw: trees on a street, slivers of silver in the lake, a running dog, bicyclistsâand everything was strange, like a fairy tale, and almost too beautiful. Everything looked as if it had come brand-new out of God's toy box. Everything existed for him alone, for Friedrich Klein, and he himself existed solely to feel this stream of wonder and pain and joy pouring through himself. There was beauty everywhere, in every rubbish heap by the wayside; there was deep suffering everywhere; God was everything. Yes, all this was God, and in the unimaginably distant past, as a boy, he had once felt Him that way, and had sought Him with his heart whenever he thought “God” and “Almighty.” Let not my heart break with overflowing.
Once more, from all the forgotten shafts of his life, released memories rushed forth. They came without number: conversations, the period of his engagement, clothes he had worn as a child, vacation mornings during his student days. The memories arranged themselves in circles around certain fixed points: the image of his wife, his mother, Wagner the murderer, Teresina. Passages from classical writers occurred to him, and Latin proverbs that had once moved him in his schooldays, and foolish, sentimental lines from folk songs. The shadow of his father stood behind him. Once again he lived through the time of his mother-in-law's death. Everything that had ever passed into him through eyes or ears, through people or books, all the delight and the anguish that had been buried within him, seemed to be present again, all at the same time, all stirred together and whirling chaotically but meaningfully. It was all there, all significant; nothing had been lost.
The pressure became a torture that could not be distinguished from extreme voluptuous pleasure. His heart beat rapidly. Tears filled his eyes. He realized that he was on the verge of madness and yet knew that he would not go mad, while at the same time he was peering into this new psychic landscape of madness with the same astonishment and rapture as into the past, as into the lake or the sky. There too everything was enchanted, mellifluous and full of meaning. He understood why madness, in the minds of great-hearted peoples, was considered sacred. He understood everything; everything spoke to him, everything was revealed to him. There were no words for this state. It was wrong and hopeless to cogitate about it and try to apprehend it in words. The thing was to be receptive, to hold yourself in readiness; then all things, the whole world, could enter into you in an infinite parade as if you were a kind of Noah's Ark. And then you possessed the world, understood it, were one with it.
Sadness swept him. If only all men knew this, could experience this! How carelessly people lived, carelessly sinned; how blindly and immoderately people suffered. Had he not been annoyed with Teresina only yesterday? Had he not, only yesterday, hated his wife, hurled accusations against her and tried to blame her for all the suffering in his life? How sad, how stupid, how hopeless. Why, everything was so simple, so good, so meaningful, as soon as you saw things from inside, as soon as you saw the essence dwelling behind everything, saw him, God.
Here a road forked off to new gardens of the imagination, new forests of imagery. If he turned his present feeling toward the future, a hundred realms of happiness rose up like fireworks and spread open for him and for everyone. There was no need to lament, to accuse, to judge his apathetic, ruined life. Rather, it could be transformed into its opposite, could be seen as full of meaning, full of joy, full of kindliness, full of love. The grace he had just experienced must be radiated out and affect others. Phrases from the Bible came into his mind, and everything he knew about the blessed and the saints. This was how it had always begun, for all of them. They had been led the same harsh and gloomy way as himself, had been cowardly and full of fears until the hour of conversion and illumination. “In the world ye have fear,” Jesus had said to his disciples. But one who had overcome fear no longer lived in the world, but in God, in eternity.
They had all taught this, all the sages of the entire world, Buddha and Schopenhauer, Jesus, the Greeks. There was only one wisdom, only one faith, only one philosophy: the knowledge that God is within us. How that was twisted and mistaught in schools, churches, books, and scholarly disciplines!
Klein's mind flew through the realms of his inner world, his knowledge, his education. Here too, as in his outward life, treasure upon treasure was stored, wellspring upon wellspring; but each was by itself, isolated, dead and worthless. Now, however, struck by the ray of illumination, order, meaning, and shape suddenly appeared in the chaos, creation began, life and relevance leaped from pole to pole. The statements of abstruse contemplation became obvious, obscurities appeared bright, and the multiplication table was transformed into a mystical experience. This world, too, acquired animation and glowed with love. The works of art that he had loved in his younger years reverberated in his mind with fresh enchantment. He saw now that the same key opened the mysterious sphere of art. Art was nothing but regarding the world in a state of grace: illumination. Art was revealing God behind all things.
Afire with this new blessing, he strode through the world. Every twig on every tree shared in an ecstasy, pointed upward more nobly, hung downward more delicately, was symbol and revelation. Violet shadows of clouds played over the surface of the lake, quivering with frail sweetness. Every stone lay significantly beside its shadow. Never had the world been so beautiful, so deeply and sacredly lovable, or at least never since the mysterious, legendary years of early childhood. “Unless you become as little childrenâ¦” occurred to him, and he felt: I have become a child again, I have entered into the Kingdom of Heaven.
When he began to be conscious of fatigue and hunger, he found himself far from the city. Now he remembered where he had come from, what had happened, and that he had run away from Teresina without a word of parting. In the next village, he looked for a restaurant. A small rural tavern with a wooden table in a tiny garden, beneath a cherry laurel, attracted him. He asked for a meal, but they had nothing but wine and bread. How about soup, he asked, or eggs, or ham. No, they did not have such things here. People here were not ordering anything of the sort in these dear times. He had talked first with the woman who ran the tavern, then with a grandmother who was sitting on the stone threshold at the door of the house, mending linen. Now he sat down in the garden, under the deep shade of the tree, with bread and tart red wine. In the adjoining garden, invisible behind a grape arbor and washing on the line, he heard two girls singing. Suddenly a word of the song stabbed his heart, without his grasping what it was. It was repeated in the next verse; it was the name Teresina. The song, a partly comic one, dealt with a girl named Teresina. He made out: