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Authors: Hermann Hesse

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BOOK: Klingsor's Last Summer
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“Oh, then I'll keep you company.”

“This isn't the way you go, and there's no need either. What could happen to me?”

“Not to you, but to me. How easy it would be for some man to come along and strike your fancy and go with you and kiss your sweet mouth and your throat and your beautiful breast, someone else besides me. No, that can't be allowed.”

He had ringed her nape with his hand and would not let her go. “My little star. Sweetheart. My sweet little plum. Bite me, or I'll eat you.”

He kissed her on her strong, open mouth. Laughing, she bent back; between resisting and protesting she yielded, kissed him back, shook her head, laughed, tried to free herself. He held her tightly, his mouth on hers, his hand on her breast. Her hair smelled like summer, like hay, broom, fern, brambles. Taking a deep breath, for a moment he bent his head back and saw, small and white in the faded sky, the first star rising. The woman spoke no more; her face had become grave. She sighed, placed her hand on his and pressed it more firmly against her breast. He stooped gently, pressed his arm into the unresisting hollows of her knees, and bedded her down in the grass.

“Do you like me?” she asked like a little girl. “Povera me!”

They drank the cup. Wind brushed over their hair and carried their breath with it.

Before they parted he looked in his knapsack and his coat pockets to see if he had anything to give her. He found a small silver case, still half full of cigarette tobacco. He emptied it and gave it to her.

“No, not a present, certainly not!” he assured her. “Only a memento, so you won't forget me.”

“I won't forget you,” she said. And, “Will you come again?”

He became sad. Slowly he kissed her on both eyes. “I'll come again,” he said.

For a while he stood motionless, listening to her wooden clogs clacking downhill, over the meadow at the bottom, through the woods, clacking on earth, on rock, on leaves, on roots. Now she was gone. The woods stood black against the night, the wind brushed warmly over the invisible earth. Something, perhaps a mushroom, perhaps a withered fern, smelled acridly of autumn.

Klingsor could not make up his mind to go home. What was the point of climbing the mountain now, of going into the room with all the pictures? He stretched out in the grass and looked at the stars. At last he slept, and slept until late in the night the cry of an animal or a gust of wind or the coolness of the dew roused him. Then he climbed up to Castagnetta, found his house, his door, his room. Letters lay there, and flowers; friends had dropped by.

Tired as he was, he obeyed the tenacious old habit of every night, unpacking all his things and looking at the day's sketches by lamplight. That one of the depths of the woods was good; the plants and rocks in the light-flecked shade gleamed cool and precious like a treasure chamber. It had been a happy thought to have worked only with chrome yellow, orange, and blue and left out the chrome green. For a long while he studied the sheet.

But what for? What were all these sheets smeared with color for? Why all the toil, all the sweat, all the brief, drunken lust of creativity? Was there redemption? Was there tranquillity? Was there peace?

As soon as he had undressed he sank exhausted into bed, put out the light and sought sleep, softly humming Tu Fu's verses to himself:

Soon the wind keens

Over my brown grave.

Klingsor writes to Louis the Cruel

C
ARO
L
UIGI
, I
T IS LONG
since I have heard your voice. Do you still live in the light? Is the vulture already gnawing your bones?

Have you ever used a darning needle to poke at a stopped clock? I did so once, and suddenly the devil got into the works and rattled off all the time that had passed; the hands raced each other around the face, whirling madly away with an uncanny noise, prestissimo, until suddenly everything snapped and the clock gave up the ghost. It is just like that right now with us here: the sun and moon are running amok across the sky, the days flying by, time running away with me as if pouring out of a hole in a bag. I hope the end will come suddenly and this drunken world will cease instead of dropping back again into a respectable tempo.

All through the days I have been too busy to be able to think of anything (how funny that sounds, by the way, when I say such a so-called “phrase” aloud to myself: “to be able to think of anything”). But in the evenings I often miss you. Usually I sit in the forest at one of the many
caves
drinking the popular red wine, which for the most part is of very poor quality but still helps to make life bearable and brings on sleep. Several times I have actually fallen asleep at the table in the grotto, thus proving to the grinning natives that my neurasthenia really cannot be all that bad. Sometimes friends and girls are with me and I practice my fingers on the Plasticine of female limbs and chatter about hats and heels and art. Sometimes we're lucky enough to hit a good temperature; then we shout and laugh all night long and people are glad that Klingsor is such a jolly old fellow. There is a very pretty woman here who asks after you every time I see her, with passionate interest.

The art we both practice still depends, as a professor would say, too much upon the object (how nice it would be to paint a picture puzzle). We are still—though in a somewhat free handwriting and a way that's upsetting enough to the bourgeois—painting the things of “reality”: people, trees, country fairs, railroads, landscapes. In that respect we're still obeying a convention. The bourgeois calls those things “real” which are seen and described pretty much the same way by everybody, or at least by many people. As soon as this summer is over, I have in mind to paint nothing but fantasies for a while, especially dreams. Some of it will be the way you like it, zany and surprising, something like Collofino the Rabbit Hunter's tales of Cologne Cathedral. Even though I feel that the ground under my feet has somewhat thinned out and even though on the whole I have little craving for more years and more accomplishments, still I'd like to send a few more violent rockets into the maw of this universe. A collector recently wrote me that he was delighted to observe that I was experiencing a second youth in my latest works. There's something to that. It seems to me I've only begun to really paint this year. But what I'm experiencing is not so much a springtime as an explosion. Amazing how much dynamite there's still left in me. But dynamite is hard to burn in one of those ranges that make the most of every stick of wood.

Dear Louis, I'm often amused that we two old libertines are at bottom so touchingly shamefaced and would rather throw our wine glasses at each other's heads than show anything of our feelings. May it remain so, old hedgehog!

Lately we had a grand party on bread and wine at that grotto near Barengo. Our singing echoed gloriously in the tall woods at midnight, the old Roman songs. We need so little for happiness when we grow older and begin freezing down at the feet: eight to ten hours' work a day, a bottle of Piedmontese, a half pound of bread, a cigar, a few girls, and of course warmth and good weather. That we have; the sun is doing its duty splendidly. My head is as tanned as a mummy's.

Some days I have the feeling that my life and work are just beginning, but sometimes it seems to me I've slaved away for eighty years and can soon lay claim to peace and rest. Everybody reaches an end some day, my Louis, and so will I, so will you. God knows what I'm writing you; it's plain that I'm not feeling well. Probably hypochondria; my eyes hurt a great deal, and sometimes a treatise that I read years ago on detachment of the retina preys on my mind.

When I look down from my balcony door, at the view you know, I realize that we have to go on working hard for a good while yet. The world is inexpressibly beautiful and various; it clangs up to me day and night through this high green door, screaming and demanding, and I run out again and again and snatch a piece of it for myself, a tiny piece. The dry summer has done great things to the greenery hereabouts; I never would have thought that I would have to resort to English red and burnt sienna again. And then the whole autumn is waiting, stubble fields, wine harvest, corn harvest, crimson forests. I'll go through all that once more, day after day, and do a few hundred more studies. But then, I feel it, I shall be turning inward and once again, as I did for a while as a young fellow, paint entirely from memory and imagination, make poems and spin dreams. That also needs to be done.

A great Parisian painter whom a young artist asked for advice once said: “Young man, if you want to be a painter, don't forget that above all it's necessary to eat well. Second, digestion is important; make sure your bowels move regularly. And third, always keep a pretty little mistress.” One would think I'd learned these rules and would scarcely ever break them. But this year, it's a curse, even in these simple matters things won't go right for me any more. I eat little and badly, often nothing but bread for whole days on end; I sometimes have stomach trouble (the most useless affliction to have, let me tell you!) and I don't have the right little mistress, but keep busy with four or five women and am just as exhausted as I am hungry. Something is wrong in the clockworks. Ever since I probed it with the needle it's been running again, but fast as the devil, and making such a damnable unfamiliar rattle as it does. How simple life is when health is good. You've never received such a long letter from me before, except perhaps at the time we were arguing about the palette. I'm going to stop; it's nearly five o'clock and the lovely light is beginning. Warm greetings from

Your

Klingsor.

Postscript:

I recalled that you liked a little painting of mine, the most Chinese one I've done, with the cottage, the red path, the Veronese-green jagged trees and the distant toy town in the background. I cannot send it to you now because I don't know where you are. But it is yours—I want you to know that just in case.

 

 

Klingsor sends his friend Tu Fu a poem

(
DONE IN THE DAYS HE WAS WORKING ON HIS SELF-PORTRAIT
)

Drunk, I sit at night in the wind-whipped woods.

Autumn has gnawed at the singing branches;

Murmuring, the tavern keeper runs to the cellar

To fill my empty bottle of wine.

Tomorrow, tomorrow pale death will hack

My red flesh with his ringing scythe.

I have long known that the fierce foe

Lies lurking, lies in wait for me.

To mock him I sing half the night through,

Babble drunken song to the weary woods;

To laugh at his menace I sing,

To scoff at his warnings I drink.

Wandering long, I have done and suffered much,

Now at evening I sit, drink, and wait

Fearfully till the flashing scythe

Parts my head from my leaping heart.

The Self-portrait

I
N THE FIRST DAYS OF
S
EPTEMBER
, after many weeks of an unusually dry spell of torrid sun, there were a few days of rain. During this time Klingsor, in the high-windowed salon of his palazzo in Castagnetta, painted his self-portrait, which now hangs in Frankfurt.

This frightening, yet so magically beautiful painting, the last of his works to be entirely finished, came at the end of that summer's labors, at the end of an incredibly fervid, tempestuous period of work, and was its crowning glory. It has caused much comment that everyone who knew Klingsor recognizes him immediately and infallibly in this picture, although no portrait was ever so remote from a naturalistic likeness.

Like all of Klingsor's later works, this self-portrait can also be regarded from a wide variety of viewpoints. To some, especially those who did not know the painter personally, the picture is above all a symphony of colors, a marvelously harmonized tapestry that in spite of its brilliant hues gives a sense of tranquillity and nobility. Others see in it a last bold and even desperate attempt to win freedom from the object. The face is painted like a landscape, the hair reminiscent of leaves and the bark of trees, the eye sockets like clefts in rock. They say that this painting is reminiscent of nature only as some mountain ridges remind us of human faces, some branches of trees remind us of hands and legs—all very remotely, merely symbolically. But there are many who, on the contrary, see only the object in this work, only Klingsor's face, analyzed and interpreted by the artist himself with unsparing psychological insight—an enormous confession, a ruthless, crying, moving, terrifying peccavi. Still others, and these included some of his bitterest opponents, see in this portrait merely a product of and the evidence for Klingsor's alleged madness. They compare the head in the picture with the naturalistic original, with photographs, and detect in the distortions and exaggerations of the shapes negroid, degenerate, atavistic, animal features. Some of these critics dwell on the idolatrous and fantastic aspects of this picture; they see in it a kind of monomaniac self-adoration, a blasphemous self-glorification, a kind of religious megalomania. All such interpretations are possible, and many more.

During the days he was painting this portrait Klingsor did not go out, except to drink wine at night. He ate only bread and fruit that the housekeeper brought him, went about unshaven, and with his tanned brow and deep-sunken eyes truly looked alarming. He painted seated and from memory; only now and then, and almost always during pauses in the work, would he go to the large, old-fashioned mirror on the north wall, its frame painted with climbing roses. Standing before the mirror he would stretch his head forward, open his eyes wide, and make faces.

He saw many, many faces behind the Klingsor face in the big mirror, between those silly twining roses, and he painted many faces into his picture: sweet and wondering children's faces, young manhood's brow and temples, full of dreams and ardor, scoffing drinker's eyes, lips of a thirsting, persecuted, suffering, seeking libertine, of an
enfant perdu.
But he built up the head majestically and brutally, made it into a jungle idol, a jealous, self-infatuated Jehovah, a totem to whom firstborn babes and virgins might be sacrificed. Those were a few of his faces. Another was the face of the doomed and decaying man who accepted his fate: moss grew on his skull, the old teeth stood askew, cracks ran through the white skin, and scales and mold grew in the cracks. These are the features that some friends particularly love the painting for. They say: this is man, ecce homo, here is the weary, greedy, wild, childlike, and sophisticated man of our late age, dying European man who wants to die, overstrung by every longing, sick from every vice, enraptured by knowledge of his doom, ready for any kind of progress, ripe for any kind of retrogression, submitting to fate and pain like the drug addict to his poison, lonely, hollowed-out, age-old, at once Faust and Karamazov, beast and sage, wholly exposed, wholly without ambition, wholly naked, filled with childish dread of death and filled with weary readiness to die.

BOOK: Klingsor's Last Summer
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