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Authors: Hermann Hesse

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BOOK: Klingsor's Last Summer
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La sua mamma alla finestra

Con una voce serpentina:

Vieni a casa, o Teresina,

Lasc' andare quel traditor!

Teresina! How he loved her. How glorious it was to love.

He laid his head on the table and dozed, fell asleep and awakened again, several times. It was evening. The woman who ran the tavern came and planted herself in front of the table, perplexed by this patron. He placed money on the table, asked for another glass of wine, and queried her about the song. She became friendly, brought the wine, and stood by. He had her repeat the words of the whole Teresina song, and was particularly delighted with the stanza:

Io non sono traditore

E ne meno lusinghero,

Io son' figlio d'un ricco signore,

Son' venuto per fare l'amor.

The woman said he could have soup now if he wanted some, she would be cooking it for her husband anyhow; she was expecting him home soon.

He ate vegetable soup and bread. The husband came home; the late sun faded on the gray stone roofs of the village. He asked for a room and was offered a small chamber with thick, bare stone walls. He took it. Never before had he slept in such a chamber; it seemed to him like the den in some story of robbers. Now he strolled through the village, found a small grocery store still open, bought chocolate and distributed it among the children who were swarming along the single street. They ran after him; parents greeted him; everyone wished him a good night, and he returned the greeting, nodded to all the old and young people who sat on the thresholds and front steps of the houses.

With pleasure he thought of his chamber in the tavern, that primitive, cavelike den where the ancient mortar was flaking from the gray walls on which nothing useless was hung, no pictures, no mirror, no wallpaper or curtain. He walked through the twilight village as if it were an adventure; everything glowed, everything was filled with secret promise.

Returning to the osteria, where the tiny public room was dark and deserted, he saw a light coming from a crack, followed it, and entered the kitchen. The room seemed like a cavern in a fairy tale. The sparse light flowed over a red tile floor and before it reached the walls and ceiling ebbed away in dense, warm dusk, and from the enormous, intensely black suspended chimney hood an inexhaustible spring of darkness seemed to flow out.

The innkeeper's wife was sitting with the grandmother. The two sat stooped, small, and weak on low, humble stools, their hands resting on their knees. The wife was weeping; both of them ignored Klein as he entered. He sat down on the edge of the table beside remnants of vegetables. A knife gleamed dully; in the glow of light, polished copper pans shone red on the walls. The woman wept; the gray-haired old woman murmured encouragement in the dialect. Gradually Klein understood that there was dissension in the house and that the husband had left again after a quarrel. Klein asked whether the man had struck her, but received no answer. After a while he began to offer consolations. He said the husband would certainly return shortly. The woman said sharply: “Not today and maybe not tomorrow either.” He gave up. The woman sat up straighter. Her weeping stopped. They sat in silence. The simplicity of it all, the lack of discussion, seemed to him wonderful. There had been a quarrel, she had been hurt, had wept. Now it was over; now she sat still and waited. Life would go on. As with children. As with animals. If only you did not talk, did not make simple things complicated, did not turn your soul inside out.

Klein requested the grandmother to make coffee for all three of them. The women revived; the grandmother promptly put twigs into the fireplace. There was a crackle of breaking wood, of paper, of flame catching. In the sudden flare of the firelight he saw the wife's face, illuminated from beneath, somewhat woebegone but calmer. She looked into the fire, smiling occasionally. Suddenly she stood up, went slowly over to the faucet, and washed her hands.

Then all three of them sat at the kitchen table drinking the hot black coffee and an aged juniper liqueur. The women became livelier, told stories and asked questions, laughed at Klein's painful and incorrect Italian. It seemed to him he had been here for a long, long time. Strange, how much room there was for so many things these days. Whole eras and periods of life fitted into an afternoon; every hour seemed overladen with the cargo of life. For brief seconds a fear flashed within him like sheet lightning that fatigue and consumption of his vitality might assail him with hundredfold intensity and burn him away like the sun licking a drop of water from a rock. In those fleeting but recurrent moments of alien lightning he saw himself living, felt and saw inside his brain, and observed there the quickened oscillations of an inexpressibly complicated, delicate, and precious apparatus vibrating with multiple tasks, like a highly sensitive watchworks shielded behind glass because a grain of dust suffices to disturb it.

He learned that the innkeeper put his money into uncertain ventures, stayed away from home a great deal, and had affairs with women. The couple had no children. While Klein made efforts to find the Italian words for simple questions, the delicate watchworks clicked restlessly away behind glass, in a subtle fever, instantly including every lived moment in its calculations and considerations.

Before the night wore on too long, he stood up to go to bed. He shook hands with both women, and the young wife looked probingly at him while the grandmother fought not to yawn. Then he groped his way up the dark staircase, finding the steps astonishingly high, to his room. There he found water in a pitcher, washed his face, for a moment felt the lack of soap, slippers, and nightshirt. He spent another quarter hour at the window, leaning on the granite sill, then undressed completely and lay down in the hard bed. The coarse sheets delighted him and brought a flood of pleasant rustic images. Was this not the only right thing, to live in a room consisting of four stone walls, without the ridiculous paraphernalia of wallpapers, ornaments, furniture, without all those exaggerated and basically barbarian incidentals? A roof overhead against the rain, a simple blanket over you against the cold, bread and wine or milk against hunger, the sun to wake you in the morning, the darkness to lull you to sleep at evening—did a man need more?

But as soon as he had put out the light, the house and the room and the village vanished. He was standing by the lake with Teresina again and talking with her. He had difficulty remembering today's conversation and was doubtful about what he had actually said to her, even wondered whether the whole meeting had not been a dream, an illusion of his. The darkness felt good—God only knew where he would wake in the morning.

A noise at the door waked him. Softly, the latch was moved; a thread of light entered and hesitated in the crack. Startled and yet at the moment understanding, he looked toward it, not yet fully in the present. Then the door opened; barefoot, a candle in her hand, the innkeeper's wife stood there, silent. She looked searchingly over at him, and he smiled and held out his arms, without thought. Then she was beside him and her dark hair lay beside his face on the rough pillow.

They did not say a word. Inflamed by her kiss, he drew her to him. The sudden nearness and human warmth against his chest, the strong, unfamiliar arm around his neck, moved him strangely—how alien, how unknown, how painfully new this warmth and closeness was for him—how alone he had been, how terribly alone, how long alone! Abysses and infernos had gaped between himself and all the rest of the world, and now a stranger had come to him, in wordless trust and in need of comfort, a poor, neglected woman just as he had for years been a neglected and intimidated man, and she clung to his neck and gave and took and greedily sucked a drop of delight out of the barrenness of life, drunkenly but shyly sought his mouth, let her sadly delicate fingers play in his, rubbed her cheek against his. He raised himself above her pallid face and kissed her on both closed eyes and thought: she thinks she is taking and does not know that she is giving; in her loneliness she has fled to me and does not suspect my loneliness. Only now did he see, for he had been sitting blindly beside her all evening long, that she had long slender hands and fingers, graceful shoulders, and a face full of anxiety over her fate and full of blind hunger for children, and found that she possessed a shy knowledge of little, delicious ways and practices of lovemaking.

He also realized, with sorrow, that he himself had remained a boy and a beginner in love, had become resigned in the course of a long, lukewarm marriage, was timid and yet without innocence, lustful yet full of guilt. Even while he clung with thirsty kisses to the woman's mouth and breast, even while he felt her hand tenderly and almost maternally on his hair, he was already anticipating disappointment and was conscious of a pressure around his heart. He felt the horror of anxiety returning, and with it there flowed through him like icy water the fear and the foreboding that deep within himself he was incapable of love, that love was a kind of evil spell that could bring him only torment. Even before the brief storm of lust had subsided, timidity and suspicion cast an evil eye upon his mind. Already he was disgruntled that he had been taken instead of taking and conquering. The anticipation of disgust came before disgust itself.

Silently, the woman slipped away, taking her candle. Klein lay in the darkness, and in the midst of satiation the moment arrived, that evil moment he had feared hours before during those premonitory flashes of sheet lightning. The excessively ornate music of his new life now found only tired and mistuned strings within him; his feelings of pleasure suddenly had to be paid for with lassitude and dread. With pounding heart, he felt all his enemies lurking in ambush; sleeplessness, depression, and the glimmerings of nightmares. The rough sheets burned against his skin; moonlight glared through the window. Impossible to stay here, helpless before the coming torments. Ah, here it was again, the guilt and the dread were coming again, the sadness and despair. All that he had overcome, the whole of the past, was returning. There was no salvation.

Hastily, he dressed, without light, found his dusty shoes at the door, stole down the stairs and out of the house, and walked swiftly, desperately, on weary, sagging legs, through the village and the night, despising himself, lashing himself, hating himself.

4

S
TRUGGLING, DESPAIRING
, Klein fought with his demon. All the new understanding and sense of redemption this fateful time had yielded had surged, in the course of this past day, to such a wave of thought and clarity that he had felt he would remain forever on the crest even while he was beginning to drop down. Now he was in the trough again, still fighting, still secretly hoping, but gravely injured. For one brief, glowing day he had succeeded in practicing the simple art known to every blade of grass. For one scant day he had loved himself, felt himself to be unified and whole, not split into hostile parts; he had loved himself and the world and God in himself, and everywhere he went he had met nothing but love, approval, and joy. If a robber had attacked him yesterday, or a policeman had arrested him, that too would have been approval, harmony, the smile of fate. And now, in the midst of happiness, he had reversed course and was cutting himself down again. He sat in judgment on himself while his deepest self knew that all judgment was wrong and foolish. The world, which for the span of one day had been crystal clear and wholly filled with divinity, once more presented a harsh and painful face; every object had its own meaning and every meaning contradicted every other. The inspiration of this day had been so perishable. It had been mere whim, and what had happened with Teresina was all imagination, and the adventure in the tavern a dubious and disreputable affair.

He already knew that the choking feeling of dread would pass only if he stopped condemning and admonishing himself, if he stopped poking around in the old wounds. He knew that all pain, all stupidity, all evil became its opposite if he could recognize God in it, if he pursued it to its deepest roots, which extended far beyond weal and woe and good and evil. He knew that. But there was nothing to do about it; the evil spirit was in him, God was a word again, lovely but remote. He hated and despised himself, and this hatred came over him, when the time was ripe, as involuntarily and inexorably as love and trustfulness at other times. And this was how it always must be. Again and again and again he would experience the grace and blessing, and again and again the accursed contrary. His life would never follow the path that his own will prescribed for him. A plaything and a floating cork, he would eternally be bandied back and forth. Until the end came, until sooner or later a wave broke over him, and death or madness received him. If only that might be soon!

Compulsively, the bitterly familiar thoughts returned, useless cares, useless anxieties, useless self-accusations, and realizing their folly was only one more torment. An idea recurred that he had had on his recent journey (months had passed since then, so it seemed): how good it would be to throw himself headfirst under a train. He pursued the image greedily, inhaling it like ether: headfirst, everything smashed and ground to splinters, wrapped around the wheels and crushed to powder on the rails. His anguish devoured these visions; with approval and voluptuous pleasure he saw and tasted the complete destruction of Friedrich Klein, felt his heart and brain being rent, splashed, crushed, the aching head bashed open, the aching eyes squeezed out, the liver flattened, the kidneys smashed, the hair torn away, the bones, knees, and chin pulverized. That was what the killer Wagner had wanted to feel when he drowned his wife, his children, and himself in blood. That was it exactly. Oh, he understood him so well. He himself was Wagner, a man of excellent qualities, capable of sensing divinity, capable of loving, but much too burdened, much too reflective, much too easily fatigued, much too well versed in his defects and afflictions. What in the world should such a man, such a Wagner, such a Klein, do? Forever seeing before his eyes that chasm separating him from God, forever feeling the crack in the world running through his own heart, exhausted, worn out by that eternal soaring toward God that everlastingly ended in falling back—what else should such a Wagner, such a Klein do but extinguish himself, himself and everything that could possibly be a reminder of him, cast himself back into the dark womb out of which the Inconceivable forever and ever expelled the transitory world of forms? No, nothing else was possible! Wagner must go, Wagner must die, Wagner must erase himself from the book of life. It might be useless to kill yourself, might be ridiculous. Perhaps everything respectable people in that world he had left said about suicide was altogether right. But was there anything at all for a man in this state which would not be useless, not be ridiculous? No, nothing. Far better to have your head under the wheels of a train, to feel the skull crack, to plunge deliberately into the abyss.

BOOK: Klingsor's Last Summer
10.09Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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