Hermann Hesse: Tree Reverence

“Hermann Hesse was a German-Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature. His best known works include Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game (also known as Magister Ludi) which explore an individual’s search for spirituality outside society.” —from goodreads Hesse author page

“Wandering” book cover, translation by James Wright

Following below is a passage on trees from Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) in his book Wandering, Notes and Sketches (1920); translated by James Wright. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1972:

There is a comprehensive review of the book at Hermitary.com.  It begins, “Hermann Hesse composed his little book Wanderung: Aufzeichnungen as fiction, but it reads as autobiography, as do most of his little sketches wherein a personable narrator reveals his convoluted emotions.  Wandering finds the fictional narrator at a psychological crossroads, and Hesse’s clear, simple, and heartfelt prose makes the book a a candid and attractive reflection.”


From the Trees chapter in Wandering by Hermann Hesse:

Hermann Hesse painting: Kirschbaum (Cherry Tree) 1938  (Click image for full view at Sparkasse Pforzheim Calw gallery.)

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone. They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves. Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree. When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured. And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and nobleest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

1926 Watercolor Painting by Hermann Hesse: “Cortivallo” (Click image for full view at Sparkasse Pforzheim Calw gallery.)

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

“A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

“A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

“When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent. You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

Hesse watercolor “Hauser am Waldrand Kirschbaum” (House at Forest Edge Cherry Tree) 1929 (Click image for full view at Sparkasse Pforzheim Calw gallery.)

“A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning. It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

“So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts. Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them. But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.”

Read Hesse’s autobiographical statement (from Nobel Lectures, Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1969).  Their brief biographical note about Hesse for the 1946 Nobel Prize in Literature says:

Hermann Hesse (1877-1962) received the Goethe Prize of Frankfurt in 1946 and the Peace Prize of the German Booksellers in 1955. A complete edition of his works in six volumes appeared in 1952; a seventh volume (1957) contains essays and miscellaneous writings. Beschwörungen (1955) [Evocations], a volume of late prose, and his correspondence with Romain Rolland (1954) were published separately.

Trees text above is from Hesse: Trees on Kelly Jones’ website Natural Thinker; Everything is Nature.  “My purpose in life is to help people awaken to Nature.”  -Kelly Jones  [This is not an endorsement of Kelly Jones by Balsamea.]

Images of Hesse above are from Wikimedia Commons.

Paintings source: Hermann Hesse: Schriftsteller, Maler & Nobelpreisträger (Writer, Painter & Nobel Prize Winner), many more paintings in the gallery there.  They write:

In his early years as a painter, Hesse experimented with a variety of painting techniques yet soon developed a predilection for watercolours. By the end of his life, he had painted some 3,000 watercolours, and the majority of these works have since been recovered and presented to the world in countless exhibitions around the world. The Sparkasse Pforzheim Calw owns one of the largest collections of watercolours by Hesse. The most attractive works from the bank’s holdings have been selected for display in our virtual gallery. The original size of the works is roughly that of a sheet of writing paper. A selection of the works is available in the form of high-quality reproductions from our Poster shop.

Where did Hermann Hesse meet you in your journeys to or through or around solitary self-discovery?  What work of his influenced you?  Did you know he was a painter?  If he were here right now, what would you like to ask him?

Is your relationship with trees similar to Hesse’s?  What part(s) of his essay about trees caught you in a special way?

If you prefer not to comment publicly here, contact The Balsamean privately.

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