Read Klingsor's Last Summer Online

Authors: Hermann Hesse

Klingsor's Last Summer (20 page)

“Ersilia,” he said with reverence, “you are our lucky star.”

Up the mountain through the steep dark woods, clinging to branches and roots, they sought their homeward path, reached the margin of the woods, boarded a field like pirates on a ship. The narrow path through the cornfield breathed night and homecoming, moon glancing against the shiny leaves of corn, rows of grapevines slanting away. Now Klingsor sang, softly, in his somewhat hoarse voice, sang many murmuring songs, German and Malay, with and without words. Singing low he poured out all that had accumulated within him, as a brown wall at evening radiates the stored daylight.

Here one of the friends took his leave, another there, vanishing along narrow paths in the shadow of the grapes. Each left, each went by himself, heading home, alone under the sky. A woman kissed Klingsor good night; burning, her mouth sipped at his. They rolled away, they melted away, all of them. When Klingsor, alone, climbed the stairs to his dwelling, he was still singing. He sang the praises of God and himself; he praised Li Po and the good wine of Pampambio. Like an idol, he rested upon clouds of affirmation.

“Inwardly,” he sang, “I am like a ball of gold, like the dome of a cathedral; people kneel in it, people pray, gold gleams from the wall, the Saviour bleeds in an old painting, the heart of Mary bleeds. We bleed too, we others, we errant souls, we stars and comets; seven and fourteen swords pierce our blessed chests. I love you, blond and dark women, I love all, even the philistines; you are all poor devils like myself, all poor children and misbegotten demigods like drunken Klingsor. Beloved life, I greet you! I greet you, beloved death!”

Klingsor to Edith

D
EAR STAR IN THE SUMMER SKY
,

How well and truly you have written to me, and how painfully your love calls to me, like eternal song, like eternal reproach. For you are on a good course when you confess to me, when you confess to yourself, every stirring of the heart. But do not call any emotion petty, any emotion unworthy. Every one is good, very good, even hatred, even envy, even jealousy, even cruelty. All we live on are our poor, lovely, glorious feelings, and each one we wrong is a star we have extinguished.

I don't know whether I love Gina. I doubt it very much. I would not make any sacrifices for her. I do not know whether I can love at all. I can desire and can seek myself in others; I can listen for an echo, demand a mirror, seek pleasure, and all that can look like love.

Both of us, you and I, are wandering in the same maze, in the maze of our feelings, which have been scanted in this sorry world, for which reason we take revenge on this evil world, each in his own fashion. But let us, each of us, let the other's dreams remain, because we know how sweet and red the wine of dreams tastes.

Clarity about their feelings and about the “importance” and consequences of their actions is something that only good, self-assured people have, those who believe in life and take no step that they will not be able to approve tomorrow and the day after as well. I am not lucky enough to be one of them, and I feel and act like a man who does not believe in tomorrow and regards every day as his last.

Dear Sylph, I am unlucky in my efforts to express my thoughts. Expressed thoughts are always so dead. Let us allow them to live! I feel deeply and gratefully that you understand me, that something in you is akin to me. I don't know under what heading that should be placed in the book of life, whether our feelings are love, sex, gratitude, or sympathy, whether they are maternal or childish. Often I look at every woman like a cunning old libertine, and often like a little boy. Often the chastest woman tempts me most, and often the lushest. Everything I am permitted to love is beautiful, holy, infinitely good. But why, how long, to what degree I may love—that I cannot judge.

I do not love you alone, as you well know, nor do I love Gina alone. Tomorrow and the day after tomorrow I shall love other women, paint other pictures. But I shall not regret any love I have ever felt, and any wise or foolish act that I have committed for those loves' sakes. Perhaps I love you because you are like me. I love others because they are so different from me.

It is late in the night; the moon stands over Salute. How life smiles, how death smiles!

Throw this silly letter into the fire, and throw into the fire

Your Klingsor

The Music of Doom

T
HE LAST DAY OF
J
ULY
had come, Klingsor's favorite month; Li Po's grand festival had faded, had not been repeated. Sunflowers in the garden brashly raised their gold to the blue. Together with his faithful Tu Fu, Klingsor tramped through a region that he loved: the parched outskirts of a town, dusty roads beneath high rows of trees, red and orange little houses facing the sandy shore, trucks and quays, long violet walls, colorful poor folk. In the evening he sat in the dust at the edge of the town and painted the colored tents and wagons of an itinerant carnival; he crouched by the side of the road on scruffy, parched greensward, beguiled by the strong colors of the tents. He clung fast to the faded lilac of a tent tassel, to the jolly greens and reds of the clumsy trailer homes, to the blue-and-white framing poles. Fiercely, he wallowed in cadmium, savagely in cool sweet cobalt, drew melting lines of crimson lake through the yellow and green sky. Another hour, no, less, then he would knock off, night would come, and tomorrow August would be starting, August the burning fever month which mixes so much fear of death and timorousness into its ardent cup. The scythe was sharpened, the day declined; death laughed, concealed among the parching leaves. Ring high and blast your trumpet, cadmium! Boast loudly, lush crimson lake. Laugh glaringly, lemon yellow! Come here, you deep-blue mountain in the distance. Come to my heart, you matt dusty green trees. How tired you are, how you let your pious branches droop submissively. I drink to you, lovely things of the world! I give you semblance of duration and immortality, I who am the most transitory, the most believing, the saddest of all, who suffer from the fear of death more than all of you. July is burned out, soon August will be burned out; suddenly the great ghost chills us from the yellowed leaves in the dew-wet morning. Suddenly November sweeps across the woods. Suddenly the great ghost laughs, suddenly the chill settles around our hearts, suddenly the dear pink flesh falls from our bones, the jackal howls in the desert, the vulture hoarsely sings his accursed song. An accursed newspaper in the city publishes my picture, and under it the words: “Outstanding painter, expressionist, great colorist, died on the sixteenth of this month.”

Full of hatred he ripped a furrow of Paris blue under the green gypsy wagon. Full of bitterness, he broke the chrome-yellow edge of the curbstones. Full of deep despair, he dashed vermilion in an empty spot, annihilating the challenging white; bleeding, he fought for continuance. He screamed in bright green and Neapolitan yellow to inexorable God. Groaning, he threw more blue into the dreary dusty green; imploringly, he kindled deeper lights in the evening sky. The little palette full of pure unmixed colors, intensely luminous, was his comfort, his tower, his arsenal, his prayer book, his cannon. From it he fired upon wicked death. Purple was denial of death, vermilion was mockery of decay. His arsenal was good; his brave troop stood lined up brilliantly, the rapid rounds from his cannon flashed. But it was no use, all shooting was in vain; and yet shooting was good, was happiness and consolation, was still living, still triumphing.

Tu Fu had left to visit a friend who had his magic citadel over there between the factory and the wharf. Now he returned, bringing with him the Armenian astrologer.

Klingsor, finished with the painting, drew a deep breath of relief when he saw the two faces close by, the good fair hair of Tu Fu and the black beard with white teeth in the smiling face of the magus. With them came the shadow also, the long dark shadow with receding eyes in deep sockets. Welcome, you too, Shadow, fine fellow!

“Do you know what day today is?” Klingsor asked his friend.

“The last day of July, I know.”

“I cast a horoscope today,” the Armenian said, “and I saw that this evening is going to bring me something. Saturn stands strangely, Mars neutral, Jupiter is dominant. Li Po, aren't you a Leo?”

“I was born on July the second.”

“I thought so. Your stars stand confusedly, Friend; only you yourself can interpret them. Fertility surrounds you like a cloud about to burst. Your stars stand oddly, Klingsor; I'm sure you can't help feeling it.”

Klingsor packed up his gear. The world he had painted was faded, the green and yellow sky extinguished, the bright blue flag drowned, the lovely yellow slain and withered. He was hungry and thirsty; his throat felt full of dust.

“Friends,” he said cordially, “let us spend this evening together. We shall no longer be together again, all four of us; I am not reading that in the stars, but I find it written in my heart. My July moon is over; its last hours glow darkly; in the depths the Great Mother calls. Never has the world been so beautiful, never have I painted so beautiful a picture. Heat lightning flashes; the music of doom has begun. Let us sing along with it, the sweet forbidding music. Let us stay together and drink wine and eat bread.”

Beside the carousel, whose tent had just been taken down in preparation for the evening (for it was there as a sunshade), a few tables stood under the trees. A lame waitress was going back and forth; there was a small tavern in the shade. Here they sat at the plank table; bread was brought, and wine poured into the earthenware vessels. Lights glowed into life under the trees. A short distance away the carousel's hurdy-gurdy began to jingle, loosing its shrill music into the evening.

“I mean to drain three hundred cups tonight!” Li Po cried, and toasted the Shadow. “Greetings, Shadow, steadfast tin soldier! Greetings, friends! Greetings, electric lights, arc lamps and sparkling merry-go-round spangles! Oh, if only Louis were here, the fugitive bird! Perhaps he's already flown on ahead of us to heaven. Or perhaps he'll come back tomorrow, the old jackal, and no longer find us and laugh and plant arc lamps and flagpoles upon our grave.”

Quietly, the astrologer went and returned with fresh wine, his white teeth smiling gladly in his red mouth.

“Melancholia,” he said with a glance at Klingsor, “is a thing we should not carry around. It's so easy—it's the work of an hour, a single intensive hour with clenched teeth, and then one is through with melancholia forever.”

Klingsor looked closely at his mouth, at the bright, straight teeth that had once upon a time, in some fervid hour, crunched melancholia and bitten it to death. Could he too do what the astrologer had succeeded in doing? O sweet brief glance into distant gardens: life without dread, life without melancholia! But he knew these gardens were unattainable for him. He knew his destiny was different, Saturn lowered differently upon him, God wanted him to play different tunes upon his strings.

“Each has his stars,” Klingsor said slowly. “Each has his faith. I believe in only one thing: in doom. We are driving in a carriage on the edge of an abyss, and the horses have already shied. We are immersed in doom, all of us; we must die, we must be born again. The great turning point has come for us. It is the same everywhere: the great war, the great change in art, the great collapse in the governments of the West. For us in old Europe everything we had that was good and our own has already died. Our fine-feathered Reason has become madness, our money is paper, our machines can do nothing but shoot and explode, our art is suicide. We are going under, friends; that is our destiny. Music in the Tsing Tse key has begun.”

The Armenian poured wine.

“As you like,” he said. “One can say yes and one can say no; that is only a child's game. Doom is something that does not exist. For doom or resurgence to exist there must be a top and a bottom. But there is no top or bottom; these exist only in man's brain, which is the home of illusion. All paradoxes are illusions: white and black are illusion, death and life are illusion, good and evil are illusion. It is the work of an hour, a single fervent hour with clenched teeth, and one has overcome the kingdom of illusions.”

Klingsor listened to his good voice.

“I am speaking of us,” he retorted. “I am speaking of Europe, our old Europe that for two thousand years thought itself the world's brain. It is going under. Do you think, Magus, that I don't know you? You are a messenger from the East, a messenger to me also, perhaps a spy, perhaps a warlord in disguise. You are here because the end is beginning, because the scent of doom is in your nostrils. But we are glad to go under, you know, we die gladly, we do not defend ourselves.”

“You may also say: we are glad to be born,” the Asiatic said, laughing. “To you it seems doom, perhaps to me it seems birth. Both are illusion. The man who believes in the earth as a fixed disk under heaven also sees and believes in sunrise and sunset, in dawn and doom—and all, almost all men believe in that fixed disk! The stars themselves know nothing of rising and setting.”

“Have not the stars set, are not the stars doomed too?” Tu Fu cried.

“For us, for our eyes.”

He filled the cups; it was always he who undertook to pour, attentively, smilingly. He went away with the empty pitcher to bring more wine. The carousel music blared.

“Let's go over there, it's so lovely,” Tu Fu pleaded, and they went over to the carousel, stood by the painted barrier, watched the carousel turn its giddy circles in the piercing glitter of spangles and mirrors. They saw a hundred children with eyes greedily fixed on the brilliance. For a moment Klingsor felt, with deep amusement, the primitiveness and African quality of this whirling machine, this mechanical music, these garish pictures and colors, mirrors and insane ornamental columns. Everything bespoke medicine men and shamans, magic and age-old pied-piperism, and all that wild weird sparkle was at bottom nothing but the darting glitter of the tin lure that the pike thinks is a minnow.

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