[Illustration by Hermann Hesse, n.d., © Hesse Editionsarchiv Offenbach, 2004]

The Bridge

Hermann Hesse

(Translated by © James Wright, 1972)

The road leads across a bridge over a mountain stream and past a waterfall.  One time I walked across this stream – many times, as a matter of fact, but one walk was very special.  The war was still going on, and my leave was just over, and I had to get moving again, had to hurry on country roads and railroads, to return to my duties in good time.  War and responsibility, leaving and having to go back, those red certificates and green certificates, excellencies, ministers, generals, bureaucratic offices - what an improbable and shadowy world it was, and yet it went on living, it was still strong enough to poison the land, it had trumpets that could summon forth this small myself, a wanderer and painter of watercolors, it could blast me out of my refuge.  The meadow lay there, and the vineyard, and beneath the bridge - it was evening - the stream wept in the darkness, and the damp reeds shivered, and the diminishing sky of evening spread out, a rose growing cold; soon the time for fireflies began.  Not a stone here that I did not love.  Not a drop of water in the waterfall that I wasn't grateful for, that didn't come falling from the secret chambers of God.  But this was all nothing, my love for the sagging, wet bushes was just sentimental, and reality was something else, it was the war, and it rang through the general's mouth, the sergeant's mouth, and I had to run, and out of all the valleys of the world thousands of others had to run with me, and a great time had dawned.  And we poor obedient beasts ran as fast as we could, and the time became even greater.  But on the whole journey, the stream beneath the bridge sang in me, and echoed the gentle exhaustion of the evening heaven, and everything was altogether crazy and unhappy.

Now we are walking again, each one of us walking beside his own stream and down his own street, and we see the same old world, bushes and sloping meadows, we see them with eyes grown quieter and wearier.  We think about friends who are buried, and all we know is that it had to be, and we bear it, our own sorrow.

But the lovely water, white and blue, goes on flowing down from the brown mountain, and it sings the old song, and the bushes still sit full of blackbirds.  No trumpets shriek at us from the distances, and the great time consists once more of days and nights that are full of magic, and mornings and evenings, noons and twilights, and the patient heart of the world goes on beating.  When we lie down in the meadow, an ear pressed to the earth, or lean out from the bridge over the water, or gaze long and long into the brilliant sky, this is our way of listening to it, the huge serene heart, and it is the heart of the mother, whose children we are.

Today, if I think about that evening when I departed from this place, I hear grief across a distance whose blueness and fragrance know nothing of battles and screams.

And some day there will be nothing left of everything that has twisted my life and grieved it and filled me so often with such anguish.  Some day, with the last exhaustion, peace will come and the motherly earth will gather me back home.  It won't be the end of things, only a way of being born again, a bathing and a slumber where the old and the withered sink down, where the young and new begin to breathe.

Then, with other thoughts, I will walk along streets like these, and listen to streams, and overhear what the sky says in the evening, over and over and over.

From: Hermann Hesse: Wandering, Translated by © James Wright, Farrar, Straus & Giroux, New York, 1972,  ISBN 0-374-50975-1 (Noonday 420) -
Out of Print!
Original copyright: © 1920 S. Fischer Verlag; now All Rights with Suhrkamp Verlag, Frankfurt a.M. 1977