Hermann Hesse

The childhood of Hermann Hesse, (born the 2nd July, 1877 in the Black Forest town of Calw in Württemberg, Germany) couldn't have been particularly smooth and serene.  Neither was his mother's, Marie Gundert, born in an Indian missionary (1842). In fact her parents left her in Europe to return to India when she was only four years old. She later tried to assert herself against her tyrannical father, Hermann Gundert, but to no avail.

Johannes Hesse, Hermann's father, was also authoritative, but in the course of time he was prone to suffer from depression. This could also have been aggravated by the family's having to share his father-in-law's restricted accomodation. in fact Hermann's father suffered from headaches, bouts of melancholy and tearfulness for the rest of his life.

As Johannes Hesse was from a German community in the Baltic region of Estonia, the town of Plaide (Weissenstein), his son was both Russian and German.
Hermann was greatly effected by his father's spiritual 'Estonian tales' which seemed to evoke a blissful and colourful paradise for him.

The communal, bourgeois, Swabian house-hold standards that he had to contend with as a child gradually induced him to seek the easier company of his grandmother, Julie Gundert, (maiden name Dubois) of French-Swiss origins who was most likely more natural, tolerant and worldly.

Furthermore his grandfather Hermann Gundert, a doctor in philosophy and fluent in several languages, allowed Hermann the use of his impressive library, and encouraged him to read as much as possible.

Before returning to Calw, the family stayed for six years in Basel, Switzerland, from 1881. Hermann was then only four years old.

Although he benefited well enough from his education, (writing essays and translating classical Greek poetry into German) young Hermann had a rebellious nature. This apparently provoked serious conflicts with his parents. At one time he even attempted to commit suicide. This led to him being confided to a mental institution, (Stetten im Remstal) then to a boy's institution in Basel.

This condensed, simplified account of his early life has been gleaned from sources such as Wikipedia.
It would no doubt be instructive and interesting to gather more detailed information and continue to write about his adult life, his travels, (Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Sumatra, Borneo, Burma) and his experiences, trials and tribulations as a poet, novelist and semi-naive aquarelliste, and of his eventual, well deserved success, world wide recognition and acclaim. Naturally one can relatively easily obtain such information to establish a more complete biography.

Perhaps it's important to simply add here that although he volunteered to fight with the Imperial army, (First World War) but was judged physically unfit for the task, he was naturally detached from any patriotic zeal. He in fact wrote: 'That love is greater than hate, understanding greater than ire, peace nobler than war, this exactly is what this unholy World War should burn into our memories, more so than ever before.'
How right he was, but such a pacific attitude wouldn't have made him popular at that fatally stupid, tragic epoch. Yet considering his origins, childhood travels and upheavals, how could he have otherwise reacted in view of such folly?

This, in fact is the point of this little allusion and homage to Hermann Hesse. Just the account of his childhood seems already enough to suggest that here was a boy who belonged everywhere and nowhere. A young man who had unrestricted access to a library of ancient civilisations, of international history and of the genius of the great masters of world literature. Here was a budding writer who had a profound understanding of humanity, human nature and spirituality. A mature man who quite often, through his written thoughts, dreams and aspirations, lovingly indicated the way 'home'. The truth of the spiritual return to the source, which perhaps, despite his knowledge and worldliness, Hermann Hesse as a child had been somewhat deprived of. Could his life have also been a painful search for an imagined lost paradise, felt as a missing part of his identity, or even of his soul? To find the way home, to rediscover the peace, solace and the secure nucleus of one's inner identity.
It seems likely in fact that Hermann Hesse was his own model for 'Harry Haller'. The lonely, nostalgic, slightly cynical, paradoxical, confused and perhaps bipolar Steppenwolf.

For many of his readers, those who are children at heart, or who still have enough childhood memories to shed a tear when Hermann Hesse tenderly, generously shows them the way home, perhaps there are far fewer obstacles that prevent them from finding their way.

Could it be that part of the mastery of Hesse stems from his own unsettled childhood experiences and the identification difficulties he may have consequently suffered from? The lack of that unique family 'home' which in principle should be an essential part of one's infancy. For where was his own Iris garden?

Naturally it would be nice to believe that however modest one's own written efforts may be, they are nevertheless appreciated. But this of course, should never be the criterion. The artist, poet, writer, composer, is the only real authority capable of judging his or her own work. Should anyone else ever really assume that right?
When artists gauge their work according to their followers' opinions, of those who see and either approve or disapprove of the results, then they can never claim to be artists.

Quite a few of my own written efforts were jotted down just before the birth of my daughter, over three decades ago.
For me the approaching event in itself was the cause of a fabulous surge of inspiration. Like a child I was transported, gliding naively and blissfully in glorious cumulous-cloud heights. But then what I joyfully, feverishly wrote during that brief period in England, was absolutely spontaneous and sincere. Whatever faults they may have, the little stories came from the heart, and were totally devoid of any conscious influence.

I refer to this now because naturally I'm aware of how 'the return' was often the underlying theme of some of my own modest efforts. 'The Rainbow series'  reflects this in content as well as in its own completed circle'. 'The Silver Mirror'  equally reflects this theme. As does the simple, romantic 'Vision', and even 'The little boat', (written when I was still at college, as a theme for a screen print).
'The Autumn of Ambrosios'  which came later, is a parody of the vanity of obsessional, illusive ambitions, the realisation of which can sometimes bring far greater riches of wisdom, humility and awareness. But perhaps most precious of all, it can finally bring peace of mind.

The most important wave of little stories that balmily bathed my mind was washed in by the surfy idealistic euphoria caused by the prospect of finally becoming a father.

Perhaps this is because the 'return theme' reflects an appreciation of the fabulous, eternal circle of life and all the circumstantial (never accidental) nuances that contribute to all evolutive cycles.

That may be one explanation. Another might simply be because I too am a déraciné .
The simplest way of appreciating the meaning of this is by understanding that when one has lived in different countries or States for long enough periods, one often leaves a small part of oneself behind before continuing the wonderful voyage of life. And in doing so perhaps one also leaves a small part of one's soul.

For such people the return (sometimes comparable to that of The Prodigal Son) to the old homestead, to self-reconciliation, the essential discovery of oneself, of one's limits, and of one's soul within the infinite depths of the sublime, perfumed Iris of Hesse, for example, to the maternal womb, to finally be gently covered by the sweet, welcoming earthen warmth of Gaea; can only be a dream. But then perhaps it's one of the most beautiful and inherently natural of all dreams.

And often dreams and reality have a strange and mysterious intercomplimentary relationship. Relative to the clin d'œil of universal chronology, perhaps a life-time is merely a fleeting dream. Far  better in any case, than an eternal nightmare.

Text © Mirino, from various sources including Wikipedia, with many thanks. Top photo (with additional tint) of Hermann Hesse painting (photographer unknown). Water-colours (mise en valeur davantage) of Hermann Hesse. February, 2013

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