Read Klingsor's Last Summer Online

Authors: Hermann Hesse

Klingsor's Last Summer (23 page)

And still more remotely, still deeper behind all these faces, slept remoter, deeper, older faces, prehuman, animal, vegetable, stony, as if the last man on earth in the moment before death were recalling once again with the speed of dream all the forms of past ages when the universe was young.

In those madly intense days Klingsor lived like an ecstatic. Nights, he loaded himself with wine, and then would stand, candle in his hand, before the old mirror, study his face in the glass, the woefully grinning face of the habitual drinker. One night he had a girl with him on the couch in the studio, and while he pressed her naked body against his he stared with reddened eyes over her shoulder into the mirror, saw beside her unbound hair his distorted face, full of lust and full of abhorrence of lust. He told her to come back next day, but she had become frightened and did not return.

He slept little at night. Often he awoke from dreadful dreams, his face sweaty, in savage temper and weary of life. But soon he would jump up and stare into the mirror, reading the desolate landscape of those distraught features, examining it gloomily, hatefully, or smilingly, as if gloating over its devastation. He had a dream in which he saw himself being tortured; nails were driven into his eyes, his nostrils pulled apart with hooks. And on the cover of a book that lay to hand he made a charcoal drawing of this tortured face, with the nails in the eyes. We found the strange drawing after his death. Another time, attacked by a bout of facial neuralgia, he hung writhing over the back of a chair, laughing and screaming with pain, but still holding his distorted face to the glass of the mirror, studying the twitches, ridiculing the tears.

And it was not only his face, or his thousand faces, that he painted into this picture, not only his eyes and lips, the pained ravine of his mouth, the cleft cliffs of his forehead, his rootlike hands, his twitching fingers, the mockery of reason, the death in his eyes. In his idiosyncratic, overcrowded, concise, and jagged brush script he painted his life along with it, his love, his faith, his despair. He painted a band of naked women along with it, driven by in the raging wind like birds, slaughtered victims for the idol Klingsor, and he painted a youth with a suicide's face, also temples and woods, an old bearded god, mighty and stupid, a woman's breast split open by a dagger, butterflies with faces on their wings, and at the back of the picture, on the brink of chaos, Death, a gray ghost driving a spear small as a needle into the brain of Klingsor.

When he had painted for hours, restlessness drove him to his feet. Uneasily, unsteadily, he paced his rooms, the doors slamming behind him, pulled bottles from the cupboard, pulled books from the shelves, rugs from the tables, lay on the floor reading, leaned out of the windows, breathing deeply, rummaged for old drawings and photographs and piled floors and tables and beds and chairs in all the rooms with papers, pictures, books, letters. Everything blew about sadly when the rain-filled wind entered the windows. Among old things he found the picture of himself as a child, a photograph taken at the age of four; he was dressed in a white summer suit and under his light blond, almost white hair a sweetly defiant boy's face looked out. He found the pictures of his parents and photographs of old sweethearts of his youth. Everything occupied, excited, tensed, and tormented him, pulled him back and forth. He snatched up everything, threw the things away again, until his arm twitched once more and he bent over his wooden panel and went on painting. Deeper and deeper he drew the furrows through the clefts of his portrait, broadened the temple of his life, more and more forcefully addressed the eternity of all existences, louder and louder bemoaned his transitoriness, gave sweeter touches to his smiling likeness, more scornfully mocked his condemnation to decay. Then he sprang to his feet again, a hunted stag, and tramped the prisoner's walk through his rooms. Gladness flashed through him, and the deep delight of creation, like a drenching joyous rainstorm, until pain threw him to the floor again and smashed the shards of his life and his art into his face. He prayed before his picture and spat at it. He was insane, as every creator is insane. But with the infallible prudence of a sleepwalker, in the insanity of creativity he did everything that furthered his work. He sensed with a deep faith that in this cruel struggle with his self-portrait more than the fate and the final accounting of an individual was involved, that he was doing something human, universal, necessary. He felt that he was once again confronting a task, a destiny, and that all the preceding anxiety and his efforts to escape and all the tumult and frenzy had been merely dread of his task and attempts to escape it. Now there was neither dread nor escape, nothing but pushing on, cut and slash, victory and defeat. He conquered and was defeated, he suffered and laughed and fought his way through, killed and died, gave birth and was born.

A French painter paid a call on him. The housekeeper led the visitor into the disorder and filth of an overcrowded room. Klingsor came out of the studio, paint on his sleeves, paint on his face, gray, unshaven. He loped with long strides across the room. The stranger brought him regards from Paris and Geneva, expressed his deep respect. Klingsor walked back and forth, seemed not to be listening. Abashed, the guest fell silent and began to take his leave. Then Klingsor went up to him, placed his paint-stained hand on his shoulder, and looked deep into his eyes. “Thank you,” he said slowly, with effort. “Thank you, dear friend. I'm working, I can't talk. People always talk too much. Don't be angry, and give my friends my regards. Tell them I love them.” And he vanished again into the other room.

At the end of that scourged day he placed the finished painting in the unused empty kitchen and locked the door. He never showed it to anyone. Then he took Veronal and slept through a whole day and night. Then he washed, shaved, put on clean clothes, rode into town, and bought fruit and cigarettes to give to Gina.

By Hermann Hesse














Translation © 1970 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Inc.

All rights reserved

Library of Congress catalog card number: 77-122825

Translated from the German,
Klingsors letzter Sommer,
Copyright S. Fischer Verlag, 1920; included in
Gesammelte Schriften,
published by Suhrkamp Verlag, Berlin und Frankfurt/M, 1957

eISBN 9781466835108

First eBook edition: January 2013

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