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Authors: Hermann Hesse

Klingsor's Last Summer (21 page)

BOOK: Klingsor's Last Summer
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Every child must ride the carousel. Tu Fu gave money to the children; the Shadow beckoned to all the children to come nearer. They clustered around their benefactor, clung to him, begged, thanked. There was a pretty blond girl of twelve who asked repeatedly; she rode on every round. In the glitter of the lights her short skirt blew up around her boyish legs. One child cried. Boys fought. The cymbals clanged sharply along with the organ, poured fire into the beat, opium into the wine. For a long while the four stood amid the tumult.

Then they returned to their quiet table under the trees. The Armenian filled the cups with wine, stirred up doom, smiled brightly.

“Let us empty three hundred cups today,” Klingsor sang. His sun-bleached hair glowed yellow, his laughter boomed. Melancholia knelt, a giant, upon his twitching heart. He held up his glass in a toast, he hailed doom, hailed the desire for death, the Tsing Tse key. The carousel music surged and roared. But inside his heart, dread lurked. The heart did not want to die. The heart hated death.

Suddenly more music assaulted the night, shrill, intemperate, from the tavern. In the nook beside the chimney piece, whose shelf was lined with neatly arranged wine bottles, a player-piano blazed, machine-gun fire, wild, hectoring, impetuous. Sorrow cried from discordant strings, steam-roller rhythm flattened groaning dissonances. There was a crowd here too, light, noise, young men and girls dancing, the lame waitress too, and Tu Fu. He danced with the blond little girl. Klingsor watched. Lightly, sweetly, her short summer dress whirled around the pretty skinny legs. Tu Fu's face smiled amiably, filled with love. The others sat at the chimney piece; they had come in from the garden, were close to the source of the music, in the very midst of it. Klingsor saw tones, heard colors. The magus took one and another bottle from the shelf, opened them, poured. His smile never wavered on his brown intelligent face. The music thumped fearfully in the low-ceilinged hall. Slowly the Armenian opened a breach in the row of old bottles on the mantle, like a temple robber removing, chalice by chalice, the precious utensils from an altar.

“You are a great artist,” the astrologer whispered to Klingsor as he filled his cup. “You are one of the greatest artists of this age. You are quite entitled to call yourself Li Po. But, Li Po, you are a poor, harried, tormented, and anxiety-ridden man. You have struck up the music of doom; you sit singing in your burning house, which you yourself have set afire, and you do not feel happy about it, Li Po, even if you empty three hundred cups every day and drink with the moon. You are not happy about it, you are very sorry about it, singer of doom. Won't you stop? Don't you want to live? Don't you want to continue?”

Klingsor drank and whispered back in his somewhat hoarse voice: “Can a man change fate? Is there freedom of the will? Can you, astrologer, guide my stars differently?”

“I cannot guide them, only interpret them. Only you yourself can guide. There is freedom of the will. It is the wisdom of the Magi.”

“Why should I practice the wisdom of the Magi when I can practice art? Isn't art just as good?”

“Everything is good. Nothing is good. The wisdom of the Magi abolishes illusions. It abolishes that worst of illusions which we call ‘time.'”

“Doesn't art do that also?”

“It tries to. Is your painted July, which you have there in your portfolio, enough for you? Have you abolished time? Are you without fear of the autumn, of the winter?”

Klingsor sighed and fell silent. Silently, he drank. Silently, the magus filled his cup. Hectically, the unleashed mechanical piano rumbled. Angelically, Tu Fu's face floated among the dancers. July was over.

Klingsor toyed with the empty bottles on the table, arranging them in a circle.

“These are our cannon,” he exclaimed. “With these cannon we shoot time to pieces, death to pieces, misery to pieces. I have also shot at death with paints, with fiery green and explosive vermilion and sweet scarlet lake. Often I have hit him on the head; I have driven white and blue into his eye. I have often sent him scurrying. I shall meet him often again, overcome him, outwit him. Look at the Armenian; he is opening another old bottle and the imprisoned sun of past summers shoots into our blood. The Armenian, too, helps us shoot at death; the Armenian, too, knows no other weapon against death.”

The magus broke bread and ate.

“I need no weapon against death because there is no death. There is only one thing: dread of death. That can be cured; there is a weapon to use against that. It is a matter of an hour to overcome that dread. But Li Po does not want to. For Li loves death; he loves his dread of death, his melancholy, his misery. Only his dread has taught him all that he can do and all we love him for.”

Mockingly, he raised his cup to Klingsor's; his teeth flashed, his face grew more and more jovial. Sorrow seemed alien to him. No one answered. Klingsor shot his wine cannon against death. Death loomed at the open doors of the tavern, which was swollen with people, wine, and dance music. Death loomed at the doors, softly shook the black acacia, lurked darkly in the garden. Everything outside was full of death, filled with death; only here in the crowded hall they still fought on, fought gloriously and bravely against the black besieger who whimpered at the windows.

Mockingly, the magus looked across the table; mockingly, he filled the cups. Klingsor had already broken many cups; the magus had given him new ones. The Armenian had also drunk a great many, but he sat as erect as Klingsor.

“Let us drink, Li,” he said in low-voiced mockery. “You love death, you know, you want to be doomed, you are glad to die the death. Didn't you say so, or have I deceived myself—or have you after all deceived me and yourself? Let us drink, Li, let us be doomed.”

Rage bubbled up in Klingsor. He stood up, stood erect and tall, the old sparrow hawk with his chiseled face, spat into the wine, hurled his full cup on the floor. The red wine splashed out into the hall; his friends paled, strangers laughed.

But smiling silently the magus fetched a new cup, smilingly filled it, smilingly offered it to Li Po. Then Li smiled, he too smiled. A smile flickered like moonlight over his distorted face.

“Friends,” he cried out, “let this foreigner talk! The old fox knows a great deal; he has come out of a deep and hidden den. He knows a great deal, but he does not understand us. He is too old to understand children. He is too wise to understand fools. We who are about to die know more about death than he. We are men, not stars. See my hand, holding a small blue cup of wine! This hand, this brown hand, can do many things. It has painted with many brushes, has wrested fresh segments of the world from the darkness and placed them before men's eyes. This brown hand has stroked many women under the chin and seduced many girls. Many have kissed it, tears have fallen on it, Tu Fu has written a poem to it. This dear hand, friends, will soon be full of earth and maggots; none of you would touch it then. Very well, that is the reason I love it. I love my hand, I love my eyes, I love my soft white belly; I love them with regret and with scorn and with great tenderness because they must all wither and decay so soon. Shadow, dark friend, old tin soldier on Andersen's grave, you too will meet the same fate, dear fellow. Drink with me: Three cheers for our limbs and guts! Long may they live!”

They drank the toast. The Shadow smiled darkly from his deep eye sockets—and suddenly something passed through the hall like a wind, like a spirit. Abruptly the music stopped, the dancers vanished, as if swallowed by the night, and half the lights went out. Klingsor looked at the black doors. Outside stood death. He saw death standing there. He smelled him. Like raindrops in the leaves by the highroad, that was how death smelled.

Then Li Po pushed the cup away, knocked back the chair, and walked slowly out of the hall into the dark garden and on, in the darkness, heat lightning flashing over his head, alone. His heart lay heavy in his breast like the stone upon a grave.

Evening in August

K
LINGSOR HAD SPENT
the afternoon at Manuzzo and Veglia, painting in sun and wind. In the gathering twilight he had crossed over Veglia, very tired, to a small, sleeping village. He succeeded in routing out a gray-haired innkeeper's wife; she brought him wine. He sat down on the stump of a walnut tree outside the door, unpacked his knapsack, found a piece of cheese and a few plums still left, and had his supper. The old woman sat by, stooped and toothless, and with wrinkled throat working and quiescent old eyes spoke of the life of her hamlet and her family, of the war and the rising prices, and of the state of the fields, of wine and milk and what they cost, of dead grandchildren and emigrant sons. All the constellations and seasons of the farm woman's life lay spread out before Klingsor, clearly, pleasingly, coarsely in their sparse beauty, full of gladnesses and concerns, full of anxiety and life. Klingsor ate, drank, rested, listened, asked about children and livestock, priest and bishop, amiably praised the wretched wine, offered a last plum to her, shook hands, wished her a happy night, and leaning on his stick, laden with his knapsack, climbed slowly up the mountain through the thin woods to his bed for the night.

It was that glorious hour, with the daylight still glowing everywhere but the moon already gleaming and the first bats dipping in the green, shimmering air. One edge of woods stood dissolving in the last light, bright chestnut trunks against black shadows. A yellow cottage softly radiated the daylight it had absorbed, glowing gently like a topaz. The small paths, pink and violet, led through meadows, vineyards, and woods. Here and there an acacia twig had already yellowed. The western sky hung golden and green above the velvet blue mountains.

Oh, to be able to work now, in this last enchanted quarter hour of the ripe summer's day which would never come again! How inexpressibly beautiful everything was now, how peaceful, good, and giving, as if filled with God.

Klingsor sat down in the cool grass, mechanically reached for his pencil, then smilingly let his hand drop again. He was dead tired. He fingered the dry grass, the dry crumbly earth. How much longer, and then this wonderful game was over! How much longer, and then hand and mouth and eyes would be full of earth! A few days ago Tu Fu had sent him a poem. He remembered it now and spoke it slowly under his breath:

Leaf after leaf descends

From my life's tree.

O world's magnificence

How you fill me,

How you fill and satiate,

How you inebriate.

What burns today

Is soon decay.

Soon the wind keens

Over my brown grave.

The mother leans

Over the child's face.

Let me see her eyes again,

My star is in her eyes.

Nothing else need remain,

All that dies gladly dies.

Only the eternal Mother stays

From whom we came,

Lightly her finger plays,

Inscribes in air: our name.

Well, it was good that it was so. How many of his ten lives did Klingsor have left? Three? Two? It was still more than one, still more than one respectable, ordinary, everyday, commonplace life. And how much he had seen, how much paper and canvas he had covered, how many hearts he had stirred in love and hate, in art and life, how much vexation and fresh wind he had brought into the world. He had loved many women, destroyed many traditions and sanctuaries, dared many new things. He had emptied many full cups, breathed in many days and starry nights, grown tanned under many suns, swum in many waters. Now he sat here, in Italy or India or China; the summer wind puffed whimsically at the crowns of the chestnuts, the world was good, was perfect. It did not matter whether he painted another hundred pictures or ten, or whether he lived another twenty summers or one. He was tired, tired. All that dies gladly dies. Dear, good Tu Fu!

It was time to go home. He would totter into the room, be received by the breeze through the balcony door. He would strike a light and unpack. The heart of the woods with all that chrome yellow and chinese blue might be good; it would make a picture some day. Get going then, it was time.

Nevertheless, he stayed where he was, the wind in his hair, sitting in his flapping, paint-stained linen jacket, a smile and a grief in his twilight heart. Softly, slackly, the wind blew, softly, silently, the bats dipped against the fading sky. All that dies gladly dies. Only the eternal Mother stays.

He might sleep here, at least for an hour. It was warm, after all. He pillowed his head on his knapsack and looked up into the sky. How beautiful the world is, how it satiates.

Footsteps sounded, descending the mountain, walking strongly on loose wooden soles. Between the fern and the broom a figure appeared, a woman; it was already so dark that he could not make out the colors of her dress. She approached closer, with sound, even steps. Klingsor jumped up and called out good evening. She started a little, and paused for a moment. He looked into her face. He knew her but could not remember where he had seen her. She was pretty and dark; her fine, firm teeth flashed. “Well, well!” he exclaimed, holding out his hand to her. He sensed that something linked him with this woman, some small recollection. “Don't we know each other?”

“Madonna! Why, you're the painter from Castagnetta. Do you still remember me?”

Yes, now he knew. She was a peasant woman from the Taverne valley. Once upon a time, in the shadowy and confused past of this summer, he had painted near her house for a few hours, had taken water from her well, had napped for an hour in the shade of the fig tree, and at the end received a glass of wine and a kiss from her.

“You never came back,” she complained. “And you promised so that you would.”

There was wantonness and provocation in her deep voice. Klingsor revived.

“Ecco, so much the better that you've come to me now. What luck I have, just now, when I'm so lonely and sad.”

“Sad? Don't try to fool me, signore, you're a joker, a woman can't believe a word you say. I must go on now.”

BOOK: Klingsor's Last Summer
11.62Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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