Hermann Hesse (1877-1962)
Hymn to Old Age
A WALK IN THE SPRING
ONCE MORE the little teardrops stand shining on the resinous leaf buds, the first peacock butterflies open and close their fine velvet cloaks, and boys play with spinning tops and marbles.
It’s Holy Week, filled to overflowing with sounds, charged with memories of dazzling coloured Easter eggs, Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus on Golgotha, the St Matthew Passion, youthful enthusiasms, first loves, first young taste of melancholy. Anemones nod in the moss, and buttercups glow warmly on the banks of streams.
On my lonely wanderings, I do not distinguish between the instincts and urges within me and the concert of growing things whose thousand voices encompass me from without. I have come from the city, where after a long absence I was once more among people, and I have sat in a train, seen pictures and sculptures and heard wonderful new songs by Othmar Schoeck.
Now the joyful breeze brushes my face just as it caresses the nodding anemones, but as it whirls up a swarm of memories in me like a dust cloud, a reminder of pain and transience rises from my blood into my conscious mind.
Stone on the path, you are stronger than me ! Tree in the meadow, you will outlast me, and perhaps so will you, little raspberry bush, and perhaps even you, rose-scented anemone. For a single breath I sense more profoundly than ever the transience of my form, and I feel drawn into transformation — to the stone, the earth, the raspberry bush, the tree root. My thirst is for the signs of passing, for the earth, the water and the withering of the leaves.
Tomorrow, the day after, soon, soon I shall be you, I shall be leaves, I shall be earth, I shall be roots, I shall write no more words on paper, I shall no longer smell the regal wallflower, I shall no longer carry the dentist’s bill around in my pocket, I shall no longer be pestered by menacing officials demanding proof of citizenship, and so — swim cloud in the blue, flow water in the brook, bud leaf on the bough, I have sunk into oblivion and into my thousand-times-longed-for transformation.
Ten and a hundred times more you will grasp me, enchant me and imprison me, world of words, world of opinions, world of people, world of increasing pleasure and feverish fear. A thousand times you will delight me and terrify me, with songs sung at the piano, with newspapers, with telegrams, with obituaries, with registration forms and with all your crazy odds and ends, you, world full of pleasure and fear, sweet opera full of melodic nonsense.
But never more, may God grant, will you be completely lost to me, devotion to transience, passionate music of change, readiness for death, desire for rebirth. Easter will always return, pleasure will always become fear, fear will always become redemption, and the song of the past will accompany me on my way without grief, filled with affirmation, filled with readiness, filled with hope.
Sometimes when the wind is howling
Or a songbird sings its song
Or a dog barks in the distance
I stay still and listen long.
My soul flies back a thousand years
To a past long left behind
When the singing bird and the howling wind
And I were brothers, all one kind.
My soul’s an animal, a tree
A cloud that’s drifting in the sky.
A stranger, changed, it now returns
And asks me. How should I reply?
WATCHING AND LISTENING
A sound so sweet, a breeze so shy —
Through grey of day they waft
Like birds’ wings fluttering in the sky
Like scents of spring so soft.
Out of life’s early morning hours
Come memories of yore
Like oceans spawning silver showers
That shine, then are no more.
Yesterday seems far from me
The long-gone past is near.
Is an open garden here.
Perhaps my ancestor awakes
From a thousand years of calm
And now with my own voice he speaks
And in my blood keeps warm.
I’ll be going home.
Perhaps a messenger attends
And soon to me he’ll come;
Perhaps before the long day ends.
THE FLOWERING BRANCH
To and fro, to and fro
The flowering branch blows wild
Up above and down below
My heart swings like a child
Between the darkness and the light
Between dejection and delight.
Until the blossoms blow away
Until the branch with fruit is blessed
Until the heart at last can rest
Weary of its childish play
Life’s hectic game, it will maintain
Was full of joy and was not played in vain.