Read Klingsor's Last Summer Online

Authors: Hermann Hesse

Klingsor's Last Summer (17 page)

In the bedroom he pulled off his shirt, slapped water over his shoulders so that it dripped down on the red tile floor, jumped into the high bed, and put out the light. Pale Monte Salute looked in through the window. A thousand times Klingsor had traced its forms from his bed. An owl cried from the wooded gorge, deep and hollow, like sleep, like forgetfulness.

He closed his eyes and thought of Gina, and of the portico with the washtubs. God in heaven, so many thousands of things were waiting, so many thousands of cups stood ready poured. Not a thing on earth that he should not have painted. Not a woman in the world whom he should not have loved. Why did time exist? Why always this idiotic succession of one thing after another, and not a roaring, surfeiting simultaneity? Why was he now lying alone in bed again, like a widower, like an old man? You could enjoy, could create, all through this short life; and yet at best you were always merely singing one song after another. The whole full symphony with all its hundred voices and instruments never sounded all at once.

Long ago, at the age of twelve, he had been Klingsor with the ten lives. The boys played a game of robbers, and each of the robbers had ten lives. Each time you were tagged by your opponent or touched by his thrown javelin, you lost one life. But the game went on as long as you had six, three, even one single life left. Only when you lost the tenth were you out. But he, Klingsor, had made it a matter of pride to win through without losing any of his ten lives and would consider himself disgraced if he came out with nine or with seven. That was how he had been as a boy, in that incredible period when nothing in the world was impossible, nothing in the world was difficult, when everybody loved Klingsor, when Klingsor commanded everyone, when everything belonged to Klingsor. And that was how he had gone on, always living with ten lives. And although the surfeit, the full roaring symphony, could never be attained—still his song had not been single-voiced and impoverished. He had always had a few more strings to his bow than others, a few more irons in the fire, a few more coins in his purse, a few more horses on his cart. Thank God!

How full and vibrant the dark stillness of the garden was, like the breathing of a sleeping woman. How the peacock screeched. How the fire burned in his breast, how his heart pounded and cried and suffered and rejoiced and bled. It had been a good summer after all up here in Castagnetta. He lived gloriously in his noble old ruin, looked gloriously out on the caterpillar backs of the innumerable chestnut groves below. It was lovely to descend eagerly now and then from this noble old world of woods and castles and look at the gay colorful toys down below and paint them in their good gay gaudiness: the factory, the railroad, the blue streetcars, the advertising column by the dock, the strutting peacocks, women, priests, automobiles. And how lovely and tormenting and incomprehensible was this feeling in his breast, this love and flickering craving for every bright ribbon and rag of life, this wild sweet compulsion to see and to shape, and yet secretly at the same time, under thin lids, the deep-felt knowledge of the childishness and vanity of all he did.

Fevered, the brief summer night melted away. Vapor rose from the green depths of the valley, sap simmered in a hundred thousand trees, a hundred thousand dreams swelled up in Klingsor's light slumber, his soul strode through his life's hall of mirrors where all images were multiplied and each time met one another with new faces and new meanings and entered into new associations, as though a firmament were being shaken in a dice cup.

One dream image among the many delighted and greatly stirred him. He lay in a forest and had a woman with red hair across his lap, and a black-haired woman leaned against his shoulder and another knelt beside him, holding his hand and kissing his fingers, and everywhere, all around, were women and girls, some still children, with long thin legs, some nubile, some mature and with the signs of knowledge and of fatigue in their restive faces, and all loved him and all wanted to be loved by him. Then war and fury erupted among the women, the red one thrust a raging hand into the black one's hair and pulled her to the ground and was herself dragged down, and all fell upon one another, each one screaming, each tearing, each biting, each hurting, each suffering pain. Laughter, cries of fury and howls of anguish rang out intertwined and tangled, blood flowed everywhere, nails dug bloodily into fat flesh.

With a feeling of sorrow and depression Klingsor awoke for a few minutes. His eyes, wide open, stared at the bright gap in the wall. The faces of the embattled women still lingered, and he recognized and named many of them: Nina, Hermine, Elizabeth, Gina, Edith, Berta, and in a hoarse voice, still caught up in the dream, he said: “Children, stop it! You're lying you know, you're deceiving me, you know; it's not each other you should be tearing to pieces but me, me!”


had dropped out of the blue. Suddenly he was there, Klingsor's old friend, the traveler, the unpredictable wanderer who lived in railroad cars and whose studio was his knapsack. Good times dripped out of the blue on these days, good winds came. They painted together, on the Mount of Olives and in Cartago.

“I wonder whether all this painting business has any real value,” Louis said on the Mount of Olives, lying naked in the grass, his back red from the sun. “You know we only paint for lack of anything better to do, my friend. If you always had the girl you like best on your lap at the moment and your favorite soup in your plate, you wouldn't bother with this senseless childish game. Nature has ten thousand colors and we've taken it into our heads to reduce the spectrum to twenty. That's what painting is. We're never satisfied and on top of everything else we have to help the critics earn their livings. On the other hand, a good Marseilles bouillabaisse, caro mio, and a simple lukewarm Burgundy along with it, and afterwards a piccata Milanese, pears and Gorgonzola for dessert, and Turkish coffee—those are realities, dear sir, those are values! How badly people eat in your Palestine here! Ah, I wish I were in a cherry tree and the cherries were growing into my mouth and just above me on the ladder stood the sun-tanned, spirited girl we met this morning. Klingsor, give up painting! I'm inviting you to a good meal in Laguno. It's getting to be about time.”

“Do you mean it?” Klingsor asked, screwing up his eyes.

“I mean it. Only first I have to hurry over to the station. You see, to be truthful, I've telegraphed a woman friend that I am dying. She may arrive by the eleven o'clock train.”

Laughing, Klingsor tore the unfinished study off his easel.

“You're right, my boy. Let us go to Laguno! Put on your shirt, Luigi. There's great innocence to the morals here, but unfortunately you cannot go into town naked.”

They went into town, they went to the station; a beautiful woman arrived; they ate well in a restaurant and Klingsor, who had forgotten during his months in the country, was astonished that all these things still existed, these dear, cheerful things: trout, smoked ham, asparagus, Chablis, Valais Dôle, Benedictine.

After the meal all three of them took the cable railway up through the steep city, passing right between the houses, by windows and hanging gardens. It was very pretty. They stayed in their seats and rode down again, and up and down still again. The world was strangely beautiful and rare, highly colorful, somewhat dubious, somewhat improbable, but lovely. But Klingsor was a bit embarrassed; he put on an air of indifference, for he did not want to fall in love with Luigi's beautiful friend. They dropped in at a café, they walked in the park, deserted in the afternoon heat, they lay down by the water under the huge trees. They saw a great deal that deserved to be painted: red houses like gems set in deep green, snakewood trees and smoke trees seared blue and brown.

“You have painted delightful and jolly things, Luigi,” Klingsor said, “things I'm very fond of: flagpoles, clowns, circuses. But to me, the most precious of all is a spot on your picture of the carousel after dark. You know, high up in the night, far above the violet tent and far from all the lights is a cool, small flag, pale pink, so beautiful, so cool, so lonely, so horribly lonely! It's like a poem by Li Po or Paul Verlaine. All the sorrow and all the resignation of the world is in that small, silly pink flag, and all good laughter at sorrow and resignation. Your life is justified for having painted that little flag. I count it one of your major achievements, that flag.”

“Yes, I know how you like it.”

“You like it yourself. Look, if you hadn't painted a few such things, all the good food and wine and women and coffee would do you little good, you'd be a poor devil. But as it is you're a rich devil and a hell of a good fellow whom people are fond of. You know, Luigi, I often think as you do: that all our art is merely a substitute, a painful substitute bought ten times too dearly for missed life, missed animality, missed love. But it really isn't so. It's altogether different. If we regard the things of the mind as merely paltry substitutes for missing sensuality, we're overestimating the things of the senses. Sensuality isn't worth a hair more than spirituality, and it's the same the other way around. It's all one, everything is equally good. Whether you embrace a woman or make a poem, it's the same. So long as the main thing is there, the love, the burning, the emotion, it doesn't matter whether you are a monk on Mount Athos or a man about town in Paris.”

Louis looked slowly across at him, his eyes mocking. “My boy, you're gettin' too fancy for me.”

*   *   *

They roamed the vicinity with their beautiful companion. Both of them were good at seeing; that they could do. Within the circuit of a few towns and villages they saw Rome, Japan, the South Seas, and rubbed out the illusions again with sportive fingers. Their whims kindled stars in the sky and extinguished them again. Through the lush nights they sent their globes of light rising. The world was a soap bubble, opera, joyous nonsense.

Louis the Bird flew on his bicycle through the hilly landscape, went here and there while Klingsor painted. Klingsor threw away a good many days; then again he would sit resolutely outside and work. Louis did not want to work. Louis left all of a sudden, together with his woman friend; he sent a postcard from far away. Suddenly he was back, when Klingsor had already given him up for lost. He stood at the door in straw hat and open shirt as if he had never been away. Once again Klingsor drained the drink of friendship from the sweetest cup of his youth. He had many friends, many loved him; he had given much to many, opened his impulsive heart to many. But this summer only two of his friends heard the old cry of his heart fall from his lips: the painter Louis and the writer Hermann, called Tu Fu.

Many a day Louis sat in the field on his painting stool, in the shade of the pear tree, in the shade of the plum tree, and did not paint. He sat and thought, kept paper clipped to the easel and wrote, wrote a great deal, wrote many letters. Are people who write so many letters happy? He wrote strenuously, Louis the Nonchalant; for hours at a time his eyes clung devotedly to the paper. Much that he concealed churned within him. Klingsor loved him for that.

Klingsor behaved differently. He could not keep silent. He could not conceal what lay in his heart. He let his intimates know the secret pangs of his life. Often he suffered from anxiety, from melancholia; often he lay bound and gagged in the dungeon of darkness. Sometimes shadows from his earlier life fell upon his days, casting them in gloom. Then it did him good to see Luigi's face. Then, sometimes, he would vent his feelings to him.

But Louis did not like to see these weaknesses. They pained him, they demanded sympathy. Klingsor made it a practice to reveal his heart to his friend, and realized too late that in so doing he was losing him.

Again Louis began to talk of departure. Klingsor knew that he would be able to hold him only for a few days, for three, perhaps five. Then suddenly Louis would show him his packed suitcases and leave, and not be back for a long time. How short life was, how irrevocable everything was. Louis was the only one of his friends who fully understood his art, whose own art was close to his and equal to it. Now he had spoiled things with this only friend, had chilled him and put him out of sorts, merely out of stupid infirmity and slackness, merely out of the childish and unseemly impulse to spare himself trouble, to keep no secrets, to throw aside dignity. How silly, how boyish that had been. Thus Klingsor berated himself—too late.

On the last day they tramped together through the golden valleys. Louis was in excellent humor; departure was the spring of life to his migratory bird's heart. Klingsor fell in with his mood. Once again they had found the old, easy, playful and mocking tone, and this time they did not let it slip. In the evening they sat in the tavern garden. They had fish baked specially for them, had rice with mushrooms to go with it, and poured maraschino over peaches.

“Where are you bound for tomorrow?” Klingsor asked.

“I don't know.”

“Are you going to join that beautiful woman?”

“Yes. Perhaps. Who can tell? Don't ask too many questions. Now, at the end, let's have another good white wine. I'm in favor of a Neuchâtel.”

They drank. Suddenly Louis exclaimed: “It's a good thing I'm leaving, old seal. Sometimes, when I sit beside you like this, like now, for instance, something utterly silly occurs to me. It occurs to me that here and now the only two painters our good country can boast of are sitting together, and then I have a horrible feeling in my knees, as if the two of us were cast in bronze and standing hand in hand on a monument, you know, like Goethe and Schiller. After all, it's not their fault that they're condemned to stand there forever holding each other's bronze hands and that they gradually come to seem so odious and such a damned nuisance to us. Maybe they were perfectly decent fellows—years ago I read a play by Schiller that was pretty good. And yet this is what's happened to him now, he's become a monument and has to stand beside his Siamese twin and you see their collected works standing on shelves and hear them analyzed in the schools. It's gruesome. Imagine a professor a hundred years from now preaching to his students: Klingsor, born in 1877, and his contemporary Louis, nicknamed The Glutton, innovators in painting, liberation from the naturalism of color, when we examine this pair of artists closely we find three clearly distinguishable periods! I'd rather throw myself under a locomotive right here and now!”

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