Today, I would like to talk about the lyrical work of Hesse.

I must admit that I am not very fond of poems. Yet I’m not going as far as Ch. Bukowski who once said “Most books say too little with too many words. And most poems say too much with too little words.”

But it is true that I’m mostly overwhelmed by poetry, resulting in quick boredom. It’s the densely packed language and the density of images and emotions which make it hard for wordy prose fanciers like me to like them.


But Hermann Hesse, a man who had always considered himself a poet, is someone I would like to briefly introduce with a part of his work.

A few of his poems I actually do love, and those I would like to share with you. If you would like to know more about him, there are wonderful editions of his works. I can really recommend anyone to buy a complete edition of his poems and browse through them every once in a while. And if you come across one poem that speaks to you, take a moment and be absorbed by it.


The probably most popular poem of Hesse is “In the fog” (German: “ImNebel”)

To wander in fog—how queer!
Lonely are bush and stone,
No tree sees the other near,
Each is alone.

Once my world was full of friends,
When my life still had light;
Now that the fog descends,
Not one is in sight.

Only he is wise who knows
The steady gloom to fall
That slowly round him grows,
Severed from all.

To wander in fog—how queer!
Solitude is life’s own.
No man sees the other near,
Each is alone. 


One poem I am moved by personally is “Ravenna”. Hesse wrote this poemwhen he was travelling by foot through Italy, the country he loved so much.

Back then, there were dusty country roads, and no mass tourism with all the amenities we know today. Instead, everything Hesse explains in words seemed to be so much livelier. People spent their time outside, talking to neighbors or strangers passing by their village. Dirty children ran around playing, wild dogs sped through the yards, and a whole nation kept itself busy with singing, laughing, and little affairs.

This Italy was the same as Goethe or Stendhal had discovered it. A country full of music, happy people and feelings.



I, too, have been in Ravenna
Is is a little dead city
That has churches and many ruins
You can read about it in books

You walk back through it and look around you
The streets are so muddy and damp,
and so Dumbstruck for a thousand years
And moss and grass, everywhere.

That’s what old songs are like
You listen to them, and nobody laughs
And everybody draws back into
His own time till night falls into him

The women of Ravenna
With their deep gazes and affectionate gestures
Carry a knowledge of the days
Of the old city, their festivals

The women of Ravenna
Weep like children who won’t tell you: deep, light.
And when they laugh, a glittering song
Rises in the sludge of the text.

The women of Ravenna pray
Like children: gentle, fully contented.
They can speak love’s words without even knowing
Themselves they are lying

The women of Ravenna kiss
Rarely and deep, they kiss back.
And all they know about life is that
We all have to die

(translated by James Wright)


The lines affecting me the most are: “That’s what old songs are like–you listen to them, and nobody laughs, and everybody draws back into his own time till night falls into him.”

Do you know this, too? When you start thinking about something and you keep replaying the experience in your mind. Alone. At night.

This terrible loneliness. And yet, these moments are magically and wonderful. The whole world is at ease, and nothing but your blood is running. You are laying alone in your bed, re-experiencing everything over and over again. Just more intense and more beautiful, because it is the essence of the things you have experienced.

And even if it hurts, even if it hurts and burns, it’s life you feel.


Or to say it in Hesse’s words, which are so much more beautiful than mine:


Do you know this, too?

Do you know this, too
when sometimes in the midst of loud fun
at a party or in a cheerful hall
you suddenly quiet down and need to go?

Then you lay down although you cannot sleep
as if you feel a sudden heartsore
Fun and Laughing vanished like smoke,
You cry and cry – Do you know this, too?


And one of his last poems:


Creaking of a Bent Branch

Splintered bent branch,
Hanging there year for year,
Singing its song with its dry wood
Bare and barkless,
Leafless, pale, tired
of long life, and long death

Its song is hard and slow
And sounds defiant and fearful,
For another summer,
another winter.


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