It is trying to rain, over the lake the gray and flabby air hangs anxiously. I am walking on the beach, near the inn where I am staying.
There is a kind of rainy weather that is refreshing and cheerful. Today's weather is not. The dampness falls and rises endlessly in the dense air. The clouds constantly fall apart, and new ones are always there. Irresolution and a bad mood prevail in the sky.
I thought this evening was going to be much more pleasant for me, dinner and a night's lodging at the fisherman's inn, a walk on the beach, bathing in the lake, perhaps a swim in the moonlight. Instead of these, a morbid and dark sky nervously and ill-humoredly releases its morose shower of rain into the lake, and I creep along, no less nervous and ill-humored, through the changed landscape. Perhaps I drank too much wine last evening, or too little, or else I dreamed about troubling things. God knows what it is. The mood is devilish, the air is flabby and tormenting, my thoughts are gloomy, and there is not a gleam in the world.
Tonight I will have baked fish, and drink a good deal of the local red wine. We will soon bring something gleaming back into the world, and find life more bearable. We'll have a fire in the tavern fireplace, so I won't any longer have to see or bear this lazy, slack rain. I will be smoking good long Brissago cigars and holding my wine glass up to the fire, till it glitters like a blood-colored gem. We will make it all right. The evening will go past, I will be able to sleep, tomorrow everything will be different.
In the shallow water along the beach, raindrops are splashing; a cool and moist wind fusses in the damp trees, which glow leadenly like dead fish. The devil has spit in the soup. Nothing comes out even. Nothing sounds right. Nothing rejoices and warms. Everything is desolate, sad, foul. All strings out of tune. All colors faded.
I know why this is so. It is not the wine I drank yesterday, and it is not the bad bed I slept in, and it is not even the rainy weather. Devils have been here and shrilly untuned me, string by string. The anxiety was there again, anxiety from childhood dreams, from fairy tales, from the things a schoolboy had to go through. The anxiety, the being trapped by the unalterable, the melancholy, the aversion. How insipid the world tastes! How dreadful that one has to rise again tomorrow, to eat again, to live again! Then why does one go on living? Why are we so idiotically good-natured? Why didn't we jump in the lake a long time ago?
There is no escape. You can't be a vagabond and an artist and still be a solid citizen, a wholesome, upstanding man. You want to get drunk, so you have to accept the hangover. You say yes to the sunlight and your pure fantasies, so you have to say yes to the filth and the nausea. Everything is within you, gold and mud, happiness and pain, the laughter of childhood and the apprehension of death. Say yes to everything, shirk nothing, don't try to lie to yourself. You are not a solid citizen, you are not a Greek, you are not harmonious, or the master of yourself, you are a bird in the storm. Let it storm! Let it drive you! How much you have lied! A thousand times, even in your poems and books, you have played the harmonious man, the wise man, the happy, the enlightened man. In the same way, men attacking in war have played heroes, while their bowels twitched. My God, what a poor ape, what a fencer in the mirror, man is -particularly the artist - particularly the poet - particularly myself!
I will have baked fish, and I will drink Nostrano out of a thick glass, and draw slowly on long cigars, and spit into the glowing fireplace, think about my mother, and try to press a few drops of sweetness out of my anxiety and sorrow. Then I will lie down in the inadequate bed beside the thin wall, listen to wind and rain, struggle with the beating of my heart, wish for death, fear death, call out to God. Until it is all over, until doubt wears itself out, until something like sleep and consolation beckons to me. So it was when I was twenty years old, so it is today, and so it will go on, until it ends. Always, over and over, I will have to pay for my loved and lovely life with days like these. Always, over and over, these days and nights will come, the anxiety, the aversion, the doubt. And I will still live, and I will still love life.
Oh, how meanly and maliciously the clouds hang on the mountains! How false and tinny is the flat light mirrored in the lake! How stupid and comfortless everything is, everything that comes into my mind.
From "Hermann Hesse: Wandering",
translated by James Wright, © New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux,
1974 (Noonday 420 - out of print)
The watercolor by Hesse is taken from the same passage in the German edition "Wanderung", © Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1977
Posted on April 22, 2009 as a public educational service by HHP