A FULL DECADE has passed since I last shook Hermann Hesse's hand. Indeed the time seems even longer, so much has happened meanwhile -- so much has happened in the world of history and, even amid the stress and uproar of this convulsive age,
so much has come from the uninterrupted industry of our own hand. The outer events, in particular the inevitable ruin of unhappy Germany, both of us foresaw and both lived to witness -- far removed from each other in space, so far that at times no communication was possible, yet always together, always in each other's thoughts. Our paths in general take clearly separate courses through the land of the spirit, at a formal distance one from the other. And yet in some sense the course is the same, in some sense we are indeed
fellow pilgrims and brothers, or perhaps I should say, a shade less intimately, confreres; for I like to think of our relationship in the terms of the meeting between his Joseph Knecht and the Benedictine friar Jacobus in Glasperlenspiel which cannot take place without the "playful and prolonged ceremony of endless bowings like the salutations between two saints or princes of the church" -- a half ironic ceremonial, Chinese in character, which Knecht greatly enjoys and of which, he remarks, Magister Ludi Thomas von der Trave was also past master.
Alexander von Bernus (1880
– 1965) was a poet and alchemist. His first exposure to the
literary and artistic public occurred when he was still a
student. He became the publisher of the literary magazine
"Die Freistatt", for which renowned authors wrote, who, at
the turn of the century, had made the Munich district of
Schwabing famous. Among them were, to name but the most well
known, Karl Wolfskehl, Ricarda Huch, Else Lasker-Schüler,
Frank Wedekind, Franz Blei, Rainer Maria Rilke, Paul
Scheerbart, Stefan Zweig, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse,
with whom von Bernus had friendly relationships over the
years. Until 1926 he kept open for them Stift Neuburg, his
country residence near Heidelberg, to serve as a meeting and
working place over the summer months. Also among the
frequent visitors were Stefan George and his circle.
Only 23 years old, he went
public with his own literary works and met immediate
success. His first volume of poetry "Aus Rauch und Raum"
(roughly "Of Smoke and Space") was received positively by
the public. Together with, among others, Will Vesper, Karl
Wolfskehl, Rolf von Hoerschelmann, Karl Thylmann and Emil
Preetorius, he ran his own little theatre from 1907 to 1912,
the "Schwabinger Schattenspiele" (Schwabinger Shadowplay).
In 1912 he met Rudolf
Steiner and a close friendship developed between both of
them until Steiner's death. From 1916 to 1920 he published
the magazine "Das Reich" ("The Realm") for which Steiner was
one of the most important contributors. Over the course of
his life, Alexander von Bernus published over twenty volumes
of poetry, he wrote novellas, shadowplays, theatre plays,
mystery plays, prose texts, and an important work in the
fields of alchemy and natural science: "Alchymie und
Heilkunst" ("Alchemy and the Art of Healing").
Beside his literary work,
von Bernus dedicated himself to research in alchemy and the
natural sciences. In the year 1921 he founded his own
alchemical-spagyrical laboratory, in which, in decades of
concentrated work, he developed more than thirty healing
substances. Bernus continued the ancient tradition of
alchemy – which had more or less fallen into discontinuity
after Paracelsus –
in a practical way, hence returning to the natural sciences
their spiritual dimension. With the very effective healing
substances, which where the results of his work, he proved
to the 20th century that there is more to alchemy than
superstitions from the middle-ages
Alexander von Bernus' life
and work tell of a rich personality, and a combination of
many talents. He was both, a withdrawn, and in his spiritual
beliefs often lonely poet and researcher and a public
figure. He was a member of the PEN and of the Akademie für
Sprache und Dichtung (Academy of Language and Poetry), and
he was always in contact with other creative thinkers of his
time. Bernus entered three marriages, the last of which,
with Isa von Bernus, née Oberländer, was to bring the
fulfilment he had been looking for. Both of them lived and
worked together for 35 years until Alexander von Bernus'
death in 1965.
-- Biographical Sketch of
Alexander von Bernus, by bernus.de
Thus it is only natural that our names should be mentioned together from time to time, and even when this happens in the strangest of ways it is agreeable to us. A well-known elderly composer in Munich, obstinately German and bitterly angry, in a recent letter to America called us both, Hesse and me, "wretches" because we do not believe that we Germans are the highest and noblest of peoples, "a canary among a flock of sparrows."
CANARY - can denote either
a joyful emotion or on the negative side a gossip situation.
SPARROW - denotes a gentle nature of an intellectual person
-- Animals, Birds, Insects and Reptiles and Their Meanings,
by greatdreams.com, by Joe Mason
On the left inner wing of
The Temptations of St. Anthony the following birds,
among others, appear as expressions of human moods of soul:
|Sparrow (Passer domesticus)
||Soul mood of the
|Crossbill (Loxia curvirostra)
||Mood of those
whose mouth is always full of Christianity and
the Cross, but who avoid the inner content of
|Heron (Ardea cinerea)
|Mood of the
person who is thinking of his death as something
that is inevitable, also symbol of death.
|Ibis (Ibis religiosa)
||Sacred mood of
|The bird of
Satan, in the Ahrimanic sense. For mood of soul
it is a picture of intellectual rigidity that
will only admit materialistic thoughts.
|Red-backed Shrike (Lanius
|The bird of
death. It does not appear on the right inner
wing, but on all the other wings.
|Mocking bird (cassicus
cristatus). This was a new phenomenon for Bosch
as it had only just been brought from South
America in his time.
|This appears on
the right inner wing to denote self-mockery, and
is the main motif for the mood of St. Anthony.
In the purgatory scene on the right inner wing
of The Hortus Deliciarum [ii] it is
standing as the "mocker within man" on the
mill-stone that is grinding the thoughts inside
the man's head.
The Pictorial Language of
Hieronymus Bosch, by Clement A. Wertheim Aymes
positioning of a monument to Spinoza at his place of birth
on the Zwanenburgwal in Amsterdam is a tribute to his
philosophical views, the influence of which on Western
thinking is invaluable.
The sculpture is a triad: a platform, an icosahedron, and a
statue of the philosopher form an inseparable whole. The
platform is playfully modeled after the laws of Newton, who,
coming after Galileo and Keppler, described how the planets
form an elliptical arc around the earth, like Spinoza wanted
to encompass and describe the spiritual universe in his
The bronze figure of the philosopher is wrapped in a cloak
that bears symbols which refer to his ideas on tolerance,
freedom of religion and freedom of speech, and which
simultaneously form a link with today’s multicultural
society (for Spinoza was also a son of immigrants). The
cloak is decorated with sparrows, ring-necked parakeets and
roses, lying on its folds in relief. The ring-necked
parakeet, which a few years ago chose the Vondel Park as its
biotope, has proved to be hardy: it has adapted to the
climate, eats what is available and now circulates
throughout the entire city. The sparrow, our most
archetypical bird, is having a difficult time, however – not
that the species is in danger of dying out, but its former
ubiquitousness is no more. And finally, the rose. Engraved
in Spinoza’s signet ring was a rose wreathed with the word
CAUTE (caution). The rose, universal metaphor for beauty,
also has thorns (‘spinoza’ literally means ‘thorn’).
The philosopher’s thinking is represented by an icosahedron,
a mathematical globular form comprised of twenty identical
triangular planes, twelve angular points, and thirty edges,
made of polished granite: a reference to his profession of
The statue stands on an ovular platform of terrazzo. Its
spiraling shape once again emphasizes the essence of things:
after all, every plant and flower branches off in a regular
spiral, as does our DNA. Carved into the side of the
platform is the philosopher’s name and the citation The
purpose of the state is freedom, a statement which makes
Spinoza, who was born 376 years ago at this spot, forever
Spinoza: Philosopher, Mystic, Rosicrucian, by Gary L.
The simile itself is peculiarly weak and fatuous quite apart from the ignorance, the incorrigible arrogance which it expresses and which one would think had brought misery enough to this ill-fated people. For my own part, I accept with resignation this verdict of the "German soul." Very likely in my own country I was nothing but a
gray sparrow of the intellect among a flock of emotional Harz songsters, and so in 1933 they were heartily glad to be rid of me, though today they make a great show of being deeply injured because I do not return. But Hesse?
What ignorance, what lack of culture, to banish this nightingale (for, true enough, he is no middle-class canary)
from its German grove, this lyric poet whom Moerike would have embraced with emotion, who has produced from our language images of purest and most delicate form, who created from it songs and aphorisms of the most profound artistic insight --
to call him a "wretch" who betrays his German heritage simply because he holds the idea separate from the form which so often debases it, because he tells the people from whom he sprang the truth which the most dreadful experiences still cannot make them understand, and because the misdeeds committed by this race in its self-absorption stirred his conscience.
If today, when national individualism lies dying, when no single problem can any longer be solved from a purely national point of view, when everything connected with the "fatherland" has become stifling provincialism and no spirit that does not represent the European tradition as a whole any longer merits consideration, if today the genuinely national, the specifically popular, still has any value at all -- and a picturesque value may it retain -- then certainly the essential thing is, as always, not vociferous opinion but actual accomplishment.
In Germany especially, those who were least content with things German were always the truest Germans.
And who could fail to see that the educational labors alone of Hesse the man of letters -- here I am leaving the creative writer completely out of account -- the devoted universality of his activities as editor and collector, have a specifically German quality?
The concept of "world literature," originated by
Goethe, is most natural and native to him. One of his works, which has in fact appeared in America, "published in the public interest by authority of the Alien Property Custodian, 1945," bears just this title: "Library of World Literature"; and is proof of vast and enthusiastic reading, of especial familiarity with the temples of Eastern wisdom, and of a noble humanistic intimacy with the "most ancient and holy testimonials of the human spirit." Special studies of his are the essays on Francis of Assisi and on Boccaccio dated 1904, and his three papers on Dostoevski which he called Blick ins Chaos (Glance into Chaos). Editions of medieval stories, of novelle and tales by old Italian writers, Oriental fairy tales, Songs of the German Poets, new editions of Jean Paul, Novalis, and other German romantics bear his name.
They represent labor, veneration, selection, editing, reissuing and the writing of informed prefaces -- enough to fill the life of many an erudite man of letters. With Hesse it is mere superabundance of love (and energy!), an active hobby in addition to his personal, most extraordinarily personal, work -- work which for the many levels of, thought it touches and its concern with the problems of the world and the self is without peer among his contemporaries.
Moreover, even as a poet he likes the role of editor and archivist, the game of masquerade behind the guise of one who "brings to light" other people's papers. The greatest example of this is the sublime work of his old age, Glasperlenspiel, drawn from all sources of human culture, both East and West, with its subtitle "Attempt at a Description of the Life of Magister Ludi Thomas Knecht, Together with Knecht's Posthumous Writings, Edited by Hermann Hesse." In reading it I very strongly felt (as I wrote to him at that time) how much
the element of parody, the fiction and persiflage of a biography based upon learned conjectures, in short the verbal playfulness, help keep within limits this late work, with its dangerously advanced intellectuality, and contribute to its dramatic effectiveness.
German? Well, if that's the question, this late work together with all the earlier work is indeed German, German to an almost impossible degree, German in its blunt refusal to try to please the world, a refusal that in the end will be neutralized, whatever the old man may do, by world fame: for the simple reason that
this is Germanic in the old, happy, free, and intellectual sense to which the name of Germany owes its best repute, to which it owes the sympathy of mankind. This chaste and daring work, full of fantasy and at the same time highly intellectual, is full of tradition, loyalty, memory, secrecy -- without being in the least derivative. It raises the intimate and familiar to a new intellectual, yes, revolutionary level -- revolutionary in no direct political or social sense but rather in a psychic, poetical one: in genuine and honest fashion it is prophetic of the future, sensitive to the future. I do not know how else to describe the special, ambiguous, and unique charm it holds for me. It possesses the romantic timbre, the tenuousness, the complex, hypochondriacal humor of the German soul -- organically and personally bound up with elements of a very different and far less emotional nature, elements of European criticism and of psychoanalysis. The relationship of this Swabian writer of lyrics and idyls to the erotological "depth psychology" of Vienna, as for example it is expressed in Narziss und Goldmund, a poetic novel unique in its purity and fascination, is a spiritual paradox of the most appealing kind.
It is no less remarkable and characteristic than this author's attraction to the Jewish genius of Prague, Franz Kafka, whom he early called an "uncrowned king of German prose," and to whom he paid critical tribute at every opportunity -- long before Kafka's name had become so fashionable in Paris and New York.
If he is "German," there is certainly nothing plain or homely about him. The electrifying influence exercised on a whole generation just after the First World War by Demian, from the pen of a certain mysterious Sinclair, is unforgettable.
With uncanny accuracy this poetic work struck the nerve of the times and called forth grateful rapture from a whole youthful generation who believed that an interpreter of their innermost life had risen from their own midst -- whereas it was a man already forty-two years old who gave them what they sought. And need it be stated that, as an experimental novel, Steppenwolf
is no less daring than Ulysses and The Counterfeiters?
For me his lifework, with its roots in native German romanticism, for all its occasional strange individualism, its now humorously petulant and now mystically yearning estrangement from the world and the times, belongs to the highest and purest spiritual aspirations and labors of our epoch. Of the literary generation to which I belong I early chose him, who has now attained the biblical age, as the one nearest and dearest to me and I have followed his growth with a sympathy that sprang as much from our differences as from our similarities. The latter, however, have sometimes astounded me. He has written things -- why should I not avow it? -- such as Badegast and indeed much in Glasperlenspiel, especially the great introduction, which I read and feel "as though 'twere part of me."
I also love Hesse the man, his cheerfully thoughtful, roguishly kind ways, the beautiful, deep look of his, alas, ailing eyes, whose blue illuminates the sharp-cut face of an old Swabian peasant. It was only fourteen years ago that I first came to know him intimately when, suffering from the first shock of losing my country, my house and my hearth, I was often with him in his beautiful house and garden in the Ticino. How I envied him in those days! -- not alone for his security in a free country, but most of all for the degree of hard-won spiritual freedom by which he surpassed me, for his philosophical detachment from all German politics. There was nothing more comforting, more healing in those confused days than his conversation.
For a decade and more I have been urging that his work be crowned with the Swedish world prize for literature. It would not have come too soon in his sixtieth year, and the choice of a naturalized Swiss citizen would have been a witty way out at a time when Hitler (on account of Ossietzky) had forbidden the acceptance of the prize to all Germans forevermore. But there is much appropriateness in the honor now, too, when the seventy-year-old author has himself crowned his already rich work with something sublime, his great novel of education. This prize carries around the world a name that hitherto has not received proper attention in all countries and it could not fail to enhance the renown of this name in America as well, to arouse the interest of publishers and public. It is a delight for me to write a sympathetic foreword of warm commendation to this American edition of Demian, the stirring prose-poem, written in his vigorous middle years. A small volume; but it is often books of small size that exert the greatest dynamic power -- take for example Werther, to which, in regard to its effectiveness in Germany, Demian bears a distant resemblance.
The author must have had a very lively sense of the suprapersonal validity of his creation as is proved by the intentional ambiguity of the subtitle "The Story of a Youth" which may be taken to apply to a whole young generation as well as to an individual.
This feeling is demonstrated too by the fact that it was this particular book which Hesse did not wish to have appear over his own name which was already known and typed.
Instead he had the pseudonym Sinclair -- a name selected from the Holderlin circle -- printed on the jacket and for a long time carefully concealed his authorship.
Because Goethe's nature was
complete, fully sure of itself, he could unhesitatingly
absorb all alien things, create the concept of world
literature, and entertain the belief that though the great
literatures of the world spring from different roots, their
branches rise into the lofty atmosphere which belongs to
all, into the realm of space up to the very stars!
At this level the poet has
indeed achieved fame. As soon as the magic word "fame" is
uttered, it is time to look not only at things but through
A man whose fame is spread
by foreigners, whom one plays off against his people and
fatherland, or whom one esteems because he has denied his
people and his fatherland and betrayed them in spirit, is a
pathetic ghost, a Herostratus, a deception, not a man with a
The fame of a poet must
reflect as much on his people, country, and Reich as on
himself. Otherwise he must reject it like a poisoned shirt!
A German of our militant age achieves the most honorable
fame when he steps forward as an accuser before the world,
and lashes it for an outrage, an injustice, a fundamental
criminal attitude, when he hurls a lightning-like, flaming
thought into the stifling expanse around him, and when
through the strength of his reasoning, the tone of truth,
the force of the accusation, he compels the adversary to
respond, against his will and in the agony of confessing his
The dying Chamberlain had
this feeling: a novum has come into the world, and
new too in the way in which it came. A book was written, not
poetry in a low common sense, and yet a poem, a view of a
new people in a new state! The man who wrote it is called
Adolf Hitler! At last the stirring, noble Holderlin, who
wandered through his Germany with the question "Will the
books soon come to life?" has received an answer, an
unhoped-for answer: Yes, the books live, and not only the
books -- living men emerge and charge them with life! Here
is the primordial and model image of the future German
being! The spirit journeys forth before the deed as the
morning wind goes before the sun! Before he embarks upon his
work, the great statesman of the Germans is a kind of poet
and thinker, his mind clarifies for itself how things ought
to be in the world of things! A prose comes into being with
a surging quality uniquely its own, a march-like step, with
tensions and projections of that attitude which Nietzsche
had in mind when he said: "I love him who hurls forth the
great word of his deed, since he wills his fall!" But since
the spirit of Hitler lives in Germany, one no longer seeks
the tragic, ultimately sweet decline and fall, but the
tough, day-bright, enduring upward thrust and drive. Neither
the individual nor all are to go under....
Everything is possible in
Germany, except the tragedy of the whole! To prevent this
tragedy, as the curse of curses, is precisely the meaning of
Being and hence of the meaning of poetry. Poetry and this
direction of life are as one! The European mission of German
poetry is one with the European mission of the German Reich.
The Reich of the poets lies in the German world, and its
shrine is in Weimar!
A new man has emerged from
the depth of the people. He has forged new theses and set
forth new Tables and he has created a new people, and raised
it up from the same depths out of which the great poems rise
-- from the mothers, from blood and soil.
Belong to the People, by Hermann Burte
MUCH wit has been spent in
defining the difference between man and beast, but the
distinction between man and man seems to me to be even more
important, preparing the way, as it does, for the
recognition of a fact of greater significance. The moment a
man awakens to a consciousness of freely creative power, he
crosses a definite boundary and breaks the spell which
showed how closely, in spite of all his talent and all his
achievements, he was related even in mind to other living
creatures. Through art a new element, a new form of
existence, enters into the cosmos.
In expressing this as my conviction, I put myself on the
same footing as some of Germany's greatest sons. This view
of the importance of art corresponds, too, if I am not
mistaken, to a specific tendency of the German mind; at any
rate so clear and precise a formulation of this thought, as
we find in Lessing and Winckelmann, Schiller and Goethe,
Holderlin, Jean Paul and Novalis, in Beethoven and Richard
Wagner, would hardly be met with among the other members of
the related Indo-Teutonic group.
of the Nineteenth Century, by Houston Stewart Chamberlain
The Draft continues:
"Why should our spirit not take upon itself
torment and restlessness for the sake of sanctification? But all this
will come over you, for I already hear the steps of those who bear the
keys to open the gates of the depths. The valleys and mountains that
resound with the noise of battles, the lamentation arising from
innumerable inhabited sites is the omen of what is to come. My visions
are truth for I have beheld what is to come. But you are not supposed to
believe me, because otherwise you will stray from your path, the right
one, that leads you safely to your suffering that I have seen ahead. May
no faith mislead you, accept your utmost unbelief, it guides you on your
way. Accept your betrayal and infidelity, your arrogance and your better
knowledge, and you will reach the safe and secure route that leads you
to your lowest; and what you do to your lowest, you will do to the
anointed. Do not forget this: Nothing of the law of love is abrogated,
but much has been added to it. Cursed unto himself is he who kills the
one capable of love in himself, for the horde of the dead who died for
the sake of love is immeasurable, and the mightiest among these dead is
Christ the lord. Holding these dead in reverence is wisdom. Purgatory
awaits those who murder the one in themselves who is capable of love.
You will lament and rave against the impossibility of uniting the lowest
in you with the law of those who love. I say to you: Just as Christ
subjugated the nature of the physical to the spirit under the law of the
word of the father, the nature of the spirit shall be subjugated to the
physical under the law of Christ's completed work of salvation through
love. You are afraid of the danger; but know that where God is nearest,
the danger is greatest. How can you recognize the anointed one without
any danger? Will one ever acquire a precious stone with a copper coin?
The lowest in you is what endangers you. Fear and doubt guard the gates
of your way. The lowest in you is the unforeseeable for you cannot see
it. Thus shape and behold it. You will thus open the floodgates of
chaos. The sun arises from the darkest, dampest, and coldest. The
unknowing people of this time only see the one; they never see the other
approaching them. But if the one exists, so does the other" (pp.
409-10). Jung here implicitly cites the opening lines of Friedrich Holderlin's "Patmos," which was one of his favorite poems: "Near is /
the God, and hard to grasp. / But where danger is, / salvation also
grows." Jung discussed this in Transformations and Symbols of the
(1912, CW B, §651f ).
The Red Book: Liber Novus, by
soul mood of the bourgeois Philistine works especially
strongly against the sound development of the basic
personality. A Philistine is the opposite of a human being,
who finds his satisfactions in the free expression of his
native capacities. The Philistine will grant validity to
this expression only to the extent that it adapts to a
certain average of human ability. As long as the Philistine
remains within his boundaries, no objection is to be made
against him. The one who wants to remain an average human
being will have to settle this with himself. Among his
contemporaries Nietzsche found those who wanted to make
their narrow-minded soul mood the normal soul mood of all
men; who regarded their narrow-mindedness as the only true
humanity. Among these he counted David Friedrich Strauss,
the aesthete, Friedrich Theodore Vischer, and others. He
thinks Vischer, in a lecture which the latter held in memory
of Holderlin, set aside this Philistine faith without
conquering it. He sees this in these words: “He, (Holderlin)
was one of those unarmed souls, he was the Werther of
Greece, hopelessly in love; it was a life full of softness
and yearning, but also strength and content was in his
willing, and greatness, fullness, and life in his style,
which reminds one here and there of Aeschylus. However, his
spirit had too little hardness: it lacked humor as a weapon;
he could not tolerate it that one was not a barbarian if
one was a Philistine.”
Fighter for Freedom, by Rudolf Steiner
Sinclair had belonged to a
secret society in Jena called "The Black Brothers."
Friedrich Holderlin, by
I wrote at that time to his publisher, who was also mine, S. Fischer in Berlin, and urgently asked him for particulars about this striking book and who "Sinclair" might be. The old man lied loyally: he had received the manuscript from Switzerland through a third person. Nevertheless, the truth slowly became known, partly through critical analysis of the style, but also through indiscretions. The tenth edition, however, was the first to bear Hesse's name.
Toward the end of the book (the time is 1914)
Demian says to his friend Sinclair: "There will be war.... But you will see, Sinclair, that this is just the beginning. Perhaps it will become a great war, a very great war. But even that is just the beginning. The new is beginning and for those who cling to the old the new will be horrible. What will you do?"
The right answer would be: "Assist the new without sacrificing the old." The best servitors of the new -- Hesse is an example -- may be those who know and love the old and carry it over into the new.
THOMAS MANN April, 1947
Go to Next Page