Authors: Hermann Hesse
Gently, he drew the pillow more to his side, together with Teresina's sleeping head. Now he saw her face, so alien in sleep, so utterly absorbed, so utterly turned away from him. One shoulder and breast lay exposed; under the sheet her abdomen rounded softly with each breath. Odd, he thought, how in speaking of love, in love letters and love poems, people always talked of sweet lips and cheeks, and never of bellies and legs. Fraud! Fraud! He studied Teresina for a long time. With her lovely body, with those breasts and those white, strong, healthy arms and legs, she would still tempt him often and embrace him and derive pleasure from him and then rest and sleep deeply, satiated, without pain, without dread, without foreboding, beautiful and torpid and stupid as a healthy, sleeping animal. And he would lie beside her, sleepless, with fluttering nerves, his heart full of torment? Often? Often? Oh no, no longer often, not many times more, perhaps nevermore. He gave a start. No, he knew it was true: nevermore.
Groaning, he bored his thumb into his eye socket between eye and brow, where these devilish pangs were located. Undoubtedly Wagner had also had these pangs, his teacher Wagner. Surely he had had them, these insane pains, for many years, and had endured them and thought they were making him ripen and bringing him closer to God when all the while they were only useless tortures. Until one day he could no longer endure itâjust as he, Klein, could no longer endure it. The pain was the least of it, of course, but the thoughts, the dreams, the nightmares! And then one night Wagner had sprung up and had seen that there was no longer any sense to adding more, many more such nights of torture to one another, that they did not bring him any closer to God, and he had gone for the knife. Perhaps it was pointless, perhaps foolish and ridiculous of Wagner, to have killed. Those who did not know his torments, those who had not suffered his pain, could not understand it, of course.
Only recently he himself had stabbed a woman in a dream because her distorted face had been unbearable to him. But of course everything you loved was distorted, distorted and cruelly provoking when it no longer lied, when it was still, when it slept. Then you looked to the bottom of it and saw no sign of love in it, as you found no sign of love when you looked to the bottom of your own heart. There was only greed for living and dread, and out of dread, out of stupid childish dread of the cold, of loneliness, of death, two people fled to one another, kissed, embraced, rubbed cheek to cheek, put leg to leg, cast new human beings into the world. That was how it was. That was how he had once come to his wife. That was how the innkeeper's wife in a village had come to him, once upon a time, at the beginning of his present course, in a bare stone chamber, barefoot and silent, driven by dread, by greed for living, by need of comfort. That was how he had come to Teresina and she to him. It was always the same instinct, the same craving, the same misunderstanding. And it was also always the same disappointment, the same fierce suffering. You thought you were close to God and held a woman in your arms. You thought you had achieved harmony and had only shifted your guilt and your sorrow to a distant, future being. You held a woman in your arms, kissed her mouth, stroked her breast and begot a child with her, and some day the child would be caught up by the same fate, would likewise lie beside a woman some night and likewise awaken from the frenzy and stare with aching eyes into the abyss and curse the whole thing. Unbearable, to think this thought through to the end.
Attentively, he studied the sleeping girl's face, her shoulder and breast, her yellow hair. All that had delighted him, deceived him, allured him, all that had lied to him of pleasure and happiness. Now it was over, now came the reckoning. He had entered Wagner's theater; he had realized why every face, as soon as the illusion collapsed, was so distorted and unendurable.
Klein got up from the bed and went to look for a knife. As he stole along he brushed Teresina's long, tan stockings from the chairâand in a flash remembered how he had seen her for the first time, in the park, and how her gait, her shoe, and her taut stocking had sent the first stirrings through him. He laughed softly, with a gloating undertone of malice, and picked Teresina's clothes up piece by piece. He felt them and let them drop to the floor. Then he continued his search, but at moments forgetting everything again. His hat lay on the table; he took it thoughtlessly, turned it in his hands, felt that it was wet, and put it on his head. At the window he paused, looked out into the blackness, heard rain singing; it sounded a note of distant, forgotten times. What did all this mean to him, window, night rainâwhat concern was it of his, this old picture book of his childhood days.
Suddenly he stood still. He had picked up something that lay on a table, and now he looked at it. It was an oval silver hand mirror, and out of the mirror a face was looking at him, Wagner's face, a madly twisted face with deep, shadowy hollows and shattered, seamed features. It happened so curiously often nowadays that he found himself abruptly looking into a mirror; it seemed to him that earlier he had not looked into one for decades at a time. This, too, it seemed, belonged to the Wagner Theater.
He stood rigid and gazed into the glass for a long time.
This face belonging to the former Friedrich Klein was done for and used up; it had served its time. Doom screamed out of every furrow. This face must vanish, it must be extinguished. It was very old, this face; far too much had been reflected in it, too much deception, too much dust and rain had passed over it. It had once been smooth and handsome; he had once loved and tended it and taken pleasure in it, and had also often hated it. Why? He could no longer understand either emotion.
And why was he standing here now, at night, in this small, unfamiliar room, with a mirror in his hand and a wet hat on his headâa weird clown. What was the matter with him? What did he want? He sat down on the edge of the table. What had he wanted? What was he looking for? He had been looking for something, something very important.
Oh yes, a knife.
Suddenly horribly shocked, he leaped to his feet and ran to the bed. He stooped over the pillow, saw the sleeping girl lying in her yellow hair. She was still alive! He had not done it yet! Horror flowed icily over him. My God, now it had come! Now he, Wagner, stood by the bed of a sleeping woman and was seeking the knife! No, he would not. No, he was not insane! Thank God he was not insane. Now all was well.
Peace descended upon him. Slowly he dressed, put on his trousers, his jacket, his shoes. Now all was well.
As he was about to step over to the bed once more, he felt something soft underfoot. There lay Teresina's clothing on the floor, the stockings, the light-gray dress. Carefully, he took them up and laid them over the chair.
He put out the light and left the room. Outside rain was falling, cool and quiet. Nowhere was there a light, nowhere a person, nowhere a sound, only the rain. He turned his face up and let the rain run over his forehead and cheeks. No sky visible. How dark it was. How glad he would have been to see a star.
Quietly, he walked through the streets, soaked by the rain. He met not a soul, not a dog; the world was lifeless. At the lake shore he went from boat to boat. All were drawn far up on land and fastened tightly with chains. Not until he had wandered far into the city's outskirts did he find one that hung loosely on a rope and could be untied. He cast it loose and placed the oars in the oarlocks. Swiftly, the shore vanished; it fell away into grayness as if it had never been. Only grayness and blackness and rain remained in the world, gray water, wet water, gray lake, wet sky, all of it without end.
Far out in the lake, he drew in the oars. The time had come, and he was content. Formerly, at moments when dying seemed inevitable to him, he had always gladly delayed a little longer, postponed the thing until the next day, given living one more try. There was no more of that. His little boat, that was it, was his small, limited, artificially guarded lifeâbut the expanse of grayness all around was the world, was the universe and God. It was not hard to let himself drop into that; it was easy, it was gladdening.
He sat on the edge of the boat with his feet dangling into the water. Slowly he leaned forward, leaned forward, until the boat behind him slid briskly away. He was in the universe.
Into the small number of moments he continued to live, far more experience was packed than into the forty years in which he had been on the way to this goal.
It began this way: At the moment he fell, when for the fraction of a second he hung between the edge of the boat and the water, it came to him that he was committing suicide, a piece of childishness, something not bad, certainly, but comical and rather foolish. The pathos of wanting to die and the pathos of dying itself coalesced within him. It amounted to nothing. His dying was not necessary, not any more. It was desirable, it was fine and welcome, but it was no longer necessary. Since that flashing fraction of a second in which he had let himself drop from the side of the boat with his whole volition, with complete renunciation of all volition, with total surrender, dropping into the maternal womb, into the arm of Godâsince that moment dying had ceased to have any meaning. It was all so simple, all so wonderfully easy, after all; there were no longer any abysses, any difficulties. The whole trick was to let yourself go. That thought shone through his whole being as the result of his life: let yourself go. Once you did that, once you had given up, yielded, surrendered, renounced all props and all firm ground underfoot, once you listened solely to the counsel in your own heart, everything was gained. Then everything was good, there was no longer any dread, no longer any danger.
This was achieved, this great thing, this only thing: he had let himself fall. That he was letting himself fall into water and into death would not have been necessary; he could just as well have let himself fall into life. But that did not matter much, was not important. He would live, he would come again. But then he would no longer need suicide or any of these strange detours, any of these toilsome and painful follies, for then he would have overcome the dread.
Wonderful thought: a life without dread! To overcome dread: that was bliss, that was redemption. How he had suffered from dread all his life, and now, when death already had him by the throat, he no longer felt it, no dread, no horror, only smiles, release, consent. He suddenly knew what dread was, and that it could be overcome only by one who recognized it. You dreaded a thousand things, pain, judgment, your own heart. You felt dread of sleep, dread of awakening, of being alone, of cold, of madness, of deathâespecially of that, of death. But all these were only masks and disguises. In reality there was only one thing you dreaded: letting yourself fall, taking the step into uncertainty, the little step beyond all the securities that existed. And whoever had once surrendered himself, one single time, whoever had practiced the great act of confidence and entrusted himself to fate, was liberated. He no longer obeyed the laws of earth; he had fallen into space and swung along in the dance of the constellations. That was it. It was so simple. Every child could understand that, could know that.
He did not think this as one thinks thoughts. He lived, felt, touched, smelled, and tasted it. He tasted, smelled, saw, and understood what life was. He saw the creation of the world and saw the downfall of the world, like two armies moving in opposite directions, never stopping, eternally on the march. The world was constantly being born and constantly dying. All life was a breath exhaled by God. All dying was a breath inhaled by God. One who had learned not to resist, to let himself fall, died easily, was born easily. One who resisted, who suffered dread, died hard, was born reluctantly.
In the gray darkness of the rain above the nocturnal lake the drowning man saw the drama of the world mirrored and represented: suns and stars rolled up, rolled down; choirs of men and animals, spirits and angels, stood facing one another, sang, fell silent, shouted; processions of living beings marched toward one another, each misunderstanding himself, hating himself, and hating and persecuting himself in every other being. All of them yearned for death, for peace; their goal was God, was the return to God and remaining in God. This goal created dread, for it was an error. There was no remaining in God. There was no peace. There was only the eternal, eternal, glorious, holy being exhaled and inhaled, assuming form and being dissolved, birth and death, exodus and return, without pause, without end. And therefore there was only one art, only one teaching, only one secret: to let yourself fall, not to resist God's will, to cling to nothing, neither to good nor to evil. Then you were redeemed, then you were free of suffering, free of dreadâonly then.
His life lay before him like a landscape with woods, valleys, and villages that could be viewed from the ridge of a high mountain range. Everything had been good, simple and good, and everything had been converted by his dread, by his resisting, to torment and complexity, to horrible knots and convulsions of wretchedness and grief. There was no woman you could not live withoutâand there also was no woman with whom you could not have lived. There was not a thing in the world that was not just as beautiful, just as desirable, just as joyous as its opposite. It was blissful to live, it was blissful to die, as soon as you hung suspended alone in space. Peace from without did not exist; there was no peace in the graveyard, no peace in God. No magic ever interrupted the eternal chain of births, the endless succession of God's breaths. But there was another kind of peace, to be found within your own self. Its name was: Let yourself fall! Do not fight back! Die gladly! Live gladly!
All the figures of his life were with him, all the faces of his love, all the guises of his suffering. His wife was pure and as guiltless as himself. Teresina smiled childishly. The murderer Wagner, whose shadow had fallen so heavily across Klein's life, smiled earnestly into his face, and his smile said that Wagner's act, too, had been one way to redemption; it too had been breath, it too a symbol, and that even killing and blood and atrocities were not things that truly existed, but only assessments of our own self-tormenting souls. He, Klein, had spent years of his life dealing with Wagner's murder, rejecting and approving, condemning and admiring, despising and imitating. Out of this murder he had created endless chains of torments, dreads, miseries. A hundred times, full of dread, he had attended his own death, had seen himself dying on the scaffold, had felt the razor blade cutting into his own throat and the bullet in his own templeâand now that he was dying the death he had feared, it was so easy, so simple, was joy and triumph. Nothing in the world need be feared, nothing was terribleâonly in our delusions do we create all this fear, all this suffering for ourselves, only in our own frightened souls do good and evil, worth and worthlessness, craving and fear arise.