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I got this collection of poems by Hermann Hesse as a Christmas present from one of my favourite friends. I didn’t know that Hesse wrote poems, till I saw this book.

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This book has 31 poems in bilingual form, with the original German version on the left and the English translation on the right. The poems are about love, loss, friendship, war, the yearning for a beautiful, mythical, innocent past, imaginary cities, the beauty of nature, about nights and dreams, about life and death. The poems are beautiful, lyrical, poignant. It is to be expected because it is Hesse. When Hesse pokes his finger gently at modernity and technology and today’s godless world, irrespective of our beliefs, we can’t resist taking his side. For example, when he says this :

“Nobody knows you, my friend; this new age had driven
Far away from the silent magic of Greece.
Without prayer, and cheated out of gods,
People stroll reasonably in the dust.”

And when he says this :

“But we, your younger brothers,
Stagger godless through a confusing life,
Our trembling souls stand eagerly, opened
To all the sufferings of passion,
To every burning desire.”

There are beautiful lines throughout the book, like this :

“To listen to the song forever in blessed pain”

and this :

“The summer lightning of shy human friendship”

and this :

“But sleep has turned into a frightened bird,
Difficult to catch, to hold, yet easy to kill;”

And thought-provoking lines like this :

“And one day you will know
That the sweet breath of this life,
The precious possession of the heartbeat,
Is only a loan”

and this :

“And that for every hair on your head
Somebody endured one struggle, one pain, one death.”

And inspiring lines like this :

“And as flowers die,
So we die, too,
Only the death of deliverance,
Only the death of rebirth.”

And these lines were so beautiful that they made me cry :

“But the mild night,
That bows with its gentle clouds above me,
Has my mother’s face,
Kisses me, smiling, with inexhaustible love,
Shakes her head dreamily
As she used to do, and her hair
Waves through the world, and within it
The thousand stars, shuddering, turn pale.”

I loved most of the poems in the book. It was vintage Hesse. There is a translator’s note at the beginning of the book which is five pages long. In that note, the translator James Wright, talks about what is the common theme among the poems of the book, and brings forth examples and supporting evidence to build his case, including excerpts of a review of Hesse’s ‘Narcissus and Goldmund‘ and an excerpt from Hesse’s ‘Steppenwolf‘. (In case, you are curious, Wright says that the common theme binding the poems in the book is homesickness and argues elegantly on why that is the case. He ends that discussion with these beautiful lines – “That is what I think Hesse’s poetry is about. He is homesick. But what is home? I do not know the answer, but I cherish Hesse because he at least knew how to ask the question.“) This ‘translator’s note’ is one of the most brilliant introductions to a poetry collection that I have ever read – it is accessible and insightful. And I have to repeat it again, brilliant.

I loved reading this collection of Hermann Hesse’s poems. I am delighted to discover that one of my favourite novelists wrote poetry too. I can’t wait to read more of his poems now. If you like Hesse’s novels, you will like this.

Have you read this collection of Hermann Hesse’s poems? What do you think about it?

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