HERMANN HESSE IN THE GUTTER
‘We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars’ (Ocar Wilde).
fell, flat on his face, in the Tuebingen mud.
“That’s it! Get stuck into the shit!”,
an ageing Swabian yelled.
And the church bells throbbed along Lange Gasse,
and the dust fell on Heckenhauer’s Bookshop.
And, as young Hermann slithered to his fumbling feet
and cleaned his shitty glasses,
his first poems
shone in the moonlit gutter.
(as performed by Dr Keith Armstrong in the Williams Library, St Chad's College, University of Durham on Thursday 27th April with guest writers Manuela Schmidit and Florian Neuner (from Durham's twin city of Tuebingen) and fellow poet Katrina Porteous).
The cycle of discontent and early rebelliousness seemed to temporarily subside when Hesse began an apprenticeship in the Heckenhauer bookshop in in the university town of Tübingen on October 17, 1895. Hesse's literary career was about to begin.
While learning the publishing business, Hesse engaged himself with self-education, and to a degree, the many evening hours devoted to quiet thought and contemplation accorded deeper insight and clarity. Although Hesse on occasion attended social gatherings and went out with friends, overall the years in Tübingen were devoted to solitary activities. Hesse wrote at the time, "It's the work I do on my own that makes life worthwhile." Hesse spent much time reading alone, absorbing and forgetting himself in German Romantic literature, primarily Goethe who utterly captivated him.
During the Tübingen years, Hesse increasingly became enveloped in an atmosphere of aestheticism, finding faith and comfort in the world of beauty, and specifically the world of poetry. Hesse strived to familiarize himself with the history of literature, and the world of romanticism, and aestheticism was of key importance.
Heckenhauer's bookshop had a collection specializing in theology, philology, and law. Hesse's assignment there consisted of organizing, packing, and archiving the books. After the end of each twelve hour workday, Hesse pursued his own work further, and he used his long, free Sundays with books rather than social contacts. Hesse studied theological writings, and later Goethe, Lessing, Schiller, and several texts on Greek mythology. In 1896, his poem 'Madonna' appeared in a Viennese periodical.
In 1898, Hesse had a respectable income that enabled his financial independence from his parents. During this time, he concentrated on the works of the German Romantics, including much of the work from Clemens Brentano, Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff, Friedrich Holderlin and Novalis. In letters to his parents, he expressed a belief that "the morality of artists is replaced by aesthetics." This newfound faith in aestheticism formed the background of Hesse's first poems. It dominates in An Hour behind Midnight, as also in parts of Hermann Lauscher, and was finally beginning to fade away in Peter Camenzind.
In autumn 1898, Hesse released his first small volume of poetry, Romantic Songs and, in the summer of 1899, a collection of prose entitled One Hour After Midnight. Both works were a business failure. In two years, only 54 of the 600 printed copies of Romantic Songs were sold, and One Hour After Midnight received only one printing and sold sluggishly. Nevertheless, the Leipzig publisher Eugen Diederichs was convinced of the literary quality of the work.
As Hesse later suggested, the title, as well as the collection itself, "was the kingdom in which I lived, the dreamland of my
working hours and days that lay mysteriously anywhere between time and space."
I Know, You Walk by Hermann Hesse
I walk so often, late, along the streets,
Lower my gaze, and hurry, full of dread,
Suddenly, silently, you still might rise
And I would have to gaze on all your grief
With my own eyes,
While you demand your happiness, that's dead.
I know, you walk beyond me, every night,
With a coy footfall, in a wretched dress
And walk for money, looking miserable!
Your shoes gather God knows what ugly mess,
The wind plays in your hair with lewd delight-
You walk, and walk, and find no home at all.
Eternity is a mere moment, just long enough for a joke.
Happiness is how, not what: a talent, not an object.
If you hate a person, you hate something within him that is part of yourself. What isn't part of ourselves doesn't disturb us.
It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honour him for what he is.
Knowledge can be communicated, but not wisdom. One can find it, live it, be fortified by it, do wonders through it, but one cannot communicate and teach it.
People with courage and character always seem sinister to the rest.
The middle class prefers comfort to pleasure, convenience to liberty, and a pleasant temperature to the deathly consuming inner fire.
Words do not express thoughts very well. They always become a little different immediately after they are expressed, a little distorted, a little foolish.
The partnership with County Durham and the City of Tuebingen in South Germany was established in 1969.
Poet Doctor Keith Armstrong, who gained his doctorate at the University on Durham in 2007, following on from Bachelor's and Master's degrees there, first visited Tuebingen in November 1987, with the support of the County Council and the Kulturamt in Tuebingen, to give readings and talks for a period of a month. Since then he has travelled to the city over 30 times and helped arrange for Durham poets, musicians and artists and their counterparts in Tuebingen to visit their respective cultural twins.