HHP, Nov 2005

The Rectory

Hermann Hesse

It makes me lonely and homesick to wander past this beautiful house — I want silence, peace, and a middle-class life, I long for good beds, a garden bench and the fragrance of a fine kitchen, and also for a study, tobacco, and old books.  And when I was young how much I despised and mocked theology!  Today I know it is a discipline graceful and magical, it has nothing to do with the trivialities of meters and measures, nothing to do with the narrow history of the world, with its incessant shooting, proclamations of victory, betrayals; theology deals tenderly with inward, beloved things, grace and salvation, angels and sacraments.


How wonderful it would be for a man like me to make his home here, to be a priest!  Especially a man like me!  Wouldn't I be just the right kind — walking back and forth in a fine black habit, caring tenderly, even spiritually and symbolically, for the pear trellises in the garden, soothing the dying in the villages, reading old books in Latin, giving gentle orders to the cook, and on Sundays strolling across the flagstones to the church, with a good sermon in my head?


In bad weather I would make up a good fire and now and then lean against one of the green- or bluish-tile ovens, and then sometimes take my place at the window and shake my head at the weather.


But then in good weather I would walk often in the garden, to cut and bind the vines on the trellises, or stand at the open window and look out over the mountains as they become rose and gleaming out of their gray and black.  Oh, I would gaze down lovingly at every wanderer who passed my quiet house, I would follow him affectionately, wishing him well, approving because he has chosen a better way than mine, because he is really and truly a guest and pilgrim on earth, instead of playing lord and master like me.


I would be that kind of priest, maybe.  But maybe I would be a different kind, killing nights in my depressing study with heavy Burgundy, scuffling with a thousand devils, or waking up, terrified, from nightmares caused by my conscience, guilty because of secret sins committed with young women who came to me for confession.  Or I would lock my garden's green gate and let the sexton go on ringing the bell, and I would not give a damn about my position in the church or my position in the world, and I would lie down on a fat sofa and smoke, and just be lazy.  Too lazy at night to undress and, in the morning, too lazy to get up.


To put it plainly, I wouldn't really be a priest in this house.  I would only be the same inconstant, harmless wanderer, the same man I am now.  I wouldn't ever really be a priest, but perhaps a slightly wild theologian, a gourmet sometimes, sometimes almost obscenely lazy, surrounded by wine bottles, obsessed with nubile girls, sometimes a poet, a mime, sometimes homesick, anxious, with pain in my poverty-stricken heart.


So it is all one to me whether I gaze at the green gate, the trellises, the lovely rectory from within or without, whether from the street I gaze longingly up to the window where the spiritual man lives, or whether I gaze enviously down from the window toward the wanderers.  What does it have to do with life, whether I am a priest or a vagabond in the street?


It's all one to me — except for a few deep things: I feel life trembling within me, in my tongue, on the soles of my feet, in my desire or my suffering, I want my soul to be a wandering thing, able to move back into a hundred forms, I want to dream myself into priests and wanderers, female cooks and murderers, children and animals, and, more than anything else, birds and trees; that is necessary, I want it, I need it so I can go on living, and if sometime I were to lose these possibilities and be caught in so-called reality, then I would rather die.


I leaned on the fountain and made a sketch of the rectory with its green gate, which I really like best, and with the steeple in the background.  Possibly I've made the gate greener than it really is, and I may have made the steeple taller than it really is.  All right. All that matters is that for a quarter of an hour this building was my home.  Some day I will think of this rectory and grow homesick, though I just stood outside and looked at it, though I knew no one who lived in it — it will make me homesick as if it were really my home, one of the places where I was a child, happy.  Because here, for a quarter hour, I was a child, and I was happy.


Hermann Hesse, “Rectory” in: Wandering, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1972  (Noonday N 420), pp. 41-44.
  Translated by James Wright.  Water color: "Pfarrhaus" by Hermann Hesse, © Hesse Editionsarchiv, Offenbach a.M., 2004.

The book is out of print!