April 3rd, 2007
herman hesse speaks to the trees!

For years I have been searching for a copy of “Wandering” by Herman Hesse. Long out of print, it is a hard title to find, and on occasion very expensive due to it’s elusiveness. While browsing contentedly in the RPI library I found an old copy of it, to my delight. Not only was this title there, but with it a whole shelf devoted to mr. hesse himself, full of old volumes, (for these are the ones i covet most). On this particular day there were two co-incidences that occurred (if indeed there are such things). but as I have mentioned before, my life seems full of them, one thing linked to another in some endless cycle of connectedness.
the first connection was that on this day I had been watching a short video of Milton Glaser, and later reading aloud a quote of his to my husband. When i picked up the hesse book i noticed that it was none other than glaser that had desgined the cover.
the second connection was that as you will notice in the previous post i spoke in earnest about the importance of talking to the trees. so i was excited to open up the hesse book to an excerpt precisely on this subject. not only advocating the practice of it but also interpreting the language in a very distinct way. I found this passage to be wonderfully profound, and while the references to god at times push my own more secular beliefs (read: non-religious), I think mr. Hesse in his interpretation has brilliantly presented a metaphor for life and sprirituality that many of us would benefit from hearing (at a time when we are feeling somewhat out of touch with the natural world/sense of spirituality). And I think it deserves to be read by as many people as possible, and even passed around at will.
(note to the publisher: if you do not like that fact that I am reproducing this text here, PLEASE PUT THE BOOK BACK IN PRINT! until you do i will be quoting passages at length, because quite honestly you could quote almost the whole thing. had i my own copy it would most definitely be underlined in it’s entirety. and dog eared.)
And so for my readers, an excerpt from Herman Hesse’s “Wandering”:
(forgive me for quoting the whole thing, but i really couldn’t cut any of it.) Read on if you feel so inclined. and then read it again. memorize it so that it’s truth can live on in your body and you will always know it.
Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. The 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 neighter here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.
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’ 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 thought, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives that ours. The 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 and incomparable joy. Whoever has leaned 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.

Apr 4 2007
12:55 am
Tina writes:

I just purchased two copies from Amazon at $2.50 and $2.51 based on your quote. One for me and one for a friend. Thank you!

Apr 4 2007
1:11 am
Kat writes:

i’ve always loved trees – watch them, smell them, listen to them and when there aren’t too many ants crawling up their magestic trunks, venture to hug them. heehee.
now i’m enthralled by the passages you’ve shared! i will scrounge around my library here in t.o., too. thanks for sharing, keri.

Apr 4 2007
1:13 am
Kat writes:

eeek…”majestic”! (my anal side talking…er…typing!))

Apr 4 2007
3:21 am
Sueee writes:

ahh, coincidences!
Unable to find my favourite artist’s calendar for work this year, I decided to make my own, and have chosen for April a quote from Wendell Berry, who says “If we represent knowledge as a tree, we know that things that are divided are yet connected. We know that to observe the divisions and ignore the connections is to destroy the tree.” To me we could substitute the word ‘knowledge’ with anything- humankind, say.
You know how some things you read resonate so much that you never really forget them? in The Celestine Prophesy (also a bit challenging towards the end for us non-religious types) the idea that there’s no such thing as coincidence really struck me and stuck with me. Coincidences suggest connections between people. Seeing coincidences is my way of feeling connected (otherwise it’s too easy to feel isolated). How much better would everything be if everyone saw the connections rather than the divisions?

Apr 4 2007
4:52 am
Nadine writes:

strange to read Hermann Hesse in english when you’re a german girl like me :-)

Apr 4 2007
6:33 am
Kat (another one) writes:

My Amazon wishlist has grown so much since finding the wish jar…

Apr 4 2007
7:07 am
soren writes:

thank you, Keri.

Apr 4 2007
8:41 am
&rea writes:

Hello Keri,
This is yet another wonderful entry. I stop by your page almost everyday to see the gems that you share.
I am a HUGE fan of Milton Glaser. I studied graphic design and I actually got to meet him last year in New York. I’m curious, what does the cover of your version look like?

Apr 4 2007
8:41 am
&rea writes:

Hello Keri,
This is yet another wonderful entry. I stop by your page almost everyday to see the gems that you share.
I am a HUGE fan of Milton Glaser. I studied graphic design and I actually got to meet him last year in New York. I’m curious, what does the cover of your version look like?

Apr 4 2007
11:17 am
ALexandra writes:

I have had this for years! if I had known you were searching for it, I could have lent it to you! I came across a dilapidated old copy of it when I lived in Israel and I cherish it. I’m so glad you are sharing it here for others.

Apr 4 2007
12:51 pm
desmene writes:

I understand the slight push away from the “g-word” but maybe just substitute “Source” as you read and it might be relaxing.
I’ve often felt that a religion of tree veneration could be very healing. Not worship, per se (all organized religion seems to degrade into issues of power at some point) but a humility and reverence– a sense that we humans could step back and feel the larger forces at play in our world. Trees are indeed wonderful for that.
thank you…

Apr 4 2007
1:24 pm
eb writes:

reading this gave me a sense of peace in a moment of anxiety – remembering… connecting in a moment of disconnect…
there is a large tree nearby that I have been know to hug – my arms might reach maybe half way around the trunk of this dear BEing – I press my chest into the area that has been rubbed smooth (relatively) by passing deer – this is my Mother – always there to absorb, to take me in…
this passage bears reading many, many times
thank you
xox – eb.

Apr 4 2007
3:07 pm
Sabine writes:

The fact that something like this is out of print is totally insane and appalling.

Apr 4 2007
4:29 pm
julia writes:

Oh, Hesse is so wonderful. Thank you for quoting this passage.
One of my favorite books of poetry is Hesse’s. I haven’t had a copy in years — I’ll have to start looking again.

Apr 4 2007
4:38 pm
Syd writes:

Wonderful. Two points of synchronicity. First, I just finished Steppenwolf and I like Hesse quite a bit–just beginning to explore his work. This excerpt is extraordinary and compels me to read more.
Second, last night I was feeling rather blue because regardless of my belief in the Goodness, the evils of the world still seem to tie me down. I was feeling fatigued and empty and I said out loud, “Maybe it’s not about having things be good all the time, maybe I should stop struggling and accept that fact—be more neutral.”
So, this reading speaks to me and shows me that indeed, good and bad are elementary concepts and home isn’t found on a path that includes resistance to your own personal nature. Or as Joseph Campbell put it, “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with nature.” And isn’t this like speaking with trees about the truth.
I hope you don’t mind, I’ve cross posted this excerpt on my site. It is important and I don’t want to forget.

Apr 4 2007
6:10 pm
Shannon writes:

I think the day my ex stopped loving me was the day I told her I could hear the trees sing. And then, I thought, maybe I don’t want to be with someone who doesn’t know of that song. How could I make a life with someone who doesn’t hear that amazing sound?
I hope someday she hears it. It is breathtaking.

Apr 5 2007
12:30 am
s writes:

wow, it is such a coincidence that someone on my livejournal friendlist posted the exact same passage.
so beautiful.

Apr 5 2007
6:52 am
switchsky writes:

Oh keri! Thank you.
There was a time when Hermann Hesse was my one and only. His books now stored in a box in my basement. It’s a snow day here today and I’m going down there right now and rescue him.

Apr 5 2007
9:28 am
alyssa writes:

So beautiful and so rich. I haven’t read this since college, and for some unknown reason, had let it slip from my mind. Thanks for sharing!

Apr 5 2007
1:10 pm
d.chedwick writes:

that kind of …synchronicity? coincidence? happens to me so often people always comment to me on it.
I posted it about one incidence today even.
I agree about the earth calming us…I love to take pre-dawn walks so I can be alone with trees and so forth–before people come out.

Apr 5 2007
1:31 pm
Kim writes:

I have that book – the translation by James Wright with the Glaser cover. It cost $1.95 when I bought it new back in 1972. I was fifteen years old, and Hesse not only spoke to the trees, but to me as well. It is a most cherished book – thank you for letting me know that it is also a treasure.

Apr 5 2007
4:48 pm
Angelique writes:

I’ve had to cut & paste this quote into notepad in order to “paste” onto my desktop. Thanks for printing it here in its entirety. Hesse was a secret crush of mine while I was in college. I felt so lucky to have scored four hardbacks by him during a library discard sale, all with jacket covers designed by Milton Glaser (unfortunately not this title) I haven’t taken these books of my shelves in awhile. Time to dust them off and revisit that old crush. Thanks for the reminder.

Apr 5 2007
5:38 pm
Tori writes:

Thank you for sharing this. It is a keeper for me. What an amazing word journey.

Apr 5 2007
7:56 pm
nina beana writes:

this is inspiring me to get outside and hug myself some serious tree.

Apr 5 2007
11:00 pm
Sarah writes:

“note to the publisher: if you do not like that fact that I am reproducing this text here, PLEASE PUT THE BOOK BACK IN PRINT! until you do i will be quoting passages at length, because quite honestly you could quote almost the whole thing.”
I imagine it’s well out of copyright by now.

Apr 6 2007
9:17 am
Mukund R. Dave writes:

Wonderful to have Hesse quoted in this web pages.
My first art appreciation was on Hesse’s illustration on the jacket of “Wandering”. Wish, I could share it here. I do not know how to do it!
Mukund R. Dave

Apr 6 2007
12:28 pm
Mukund R. Dave writes:

Chitra Darshan
Picture on the title-page of Hermann Hesse’s WANDERING:
Inside of a room. A barred window slightly on the right side of the upper wall. A chair and a few oil-paint containers on the floor. A couple of brushes on the top of one of the containers. A palette standing upright against the wall. A striped dress in black and white over-hanging across the chair.
A picture within this picture done in a big, oblongish white patch on the wall.
An image of the back side of the bare-bodied painter poet in shorts. His bonny, mascular physique, anatomical contours and conspicuously balded head showing him in his early 50’s. His right foot still on the floor, and his left stepping onto the lowest end of a track stretching across a grass-field to a church (surrounded by some lush-green trees) and further to a snow-clad mountain.
An ingenious depiction of the world of reality juxtaposed with that of imagination.
The striped dress and the iron-barred window – both in identical pattern and colour-scheme – achieve a visual rhythm and give a hint of the situation in Germany under Hitler’s fascist regime. Also there is something that may remind you of the lines from Richard Lovelace’s TO ALTHEA, FROM PRISON: “Stone walls do not a prison make/ Nor iron bars a cage/ Minds innocent and quiet take/ That for an hermitage…”
The bare-bodied Hesse dissolves the wall, as though to be on a ‘tryst’ in all possible informality. The movement along the ascending track to the church and farther to the snow-clad mountain is one of transcendence and sublimation through which a communion with the Supreme Being may be possible.
Depiction of a shapely, wide spread out world in the awkwardly shaped patch on the wall. An act of stepping into the self-created world of infinite freedom from the walled confinement of the prison.
Sometimes the walled environs are so soul-shattering that a sensitive being like Hesse chooses to resort to creative imagination for a heart-pleasing terrain to stroll out…Creativity is, in a sense, an armour against the onslaught of ugly realities of life.
The daffodils in Wordsworth’s poem – portrayed by creative imagination – are far more charming than the real daffodils many of us may have actually seen.
The chief characteristic of a great poet/artist, according to S. T. Coleridge, is his imaginative faculty – his ability to forge images and combine them with deep feeling and profound thought. He uses the term esemplastic for a true artist’s shaping imagination.
When you approach a work of art as an appreciator, you step into a world envisioned or created by the artist. How much of it you will discover for yourself and how much you will be able to communicate to others depends upon your sensitivity and imagination combined in a perceptive act of letting your consciousness flow into and out of the work.
 Mukund R. Dave (India)
March 18, 1999

Apr 6 2007
4:33 pm
caroline writes:

what a treat to read this, keri. thank you. it reminds me of the parts that i love of leaves of grass’s “song of myself” by whitman. might be a nice treat if you haven’t read it.
i appreciate your irreverence in sharing. it has been a gift to many to read this- as you can see from all of us who are so grateful. keep it up!

Apr 6 2007
4:51 pm
elsa writes:

hi keri. i love you even more now that i know you are a fan of hermann hesse. i love him too and for almost 17 years siddhartha has been my favorite book. thank you for sharing. for always sharing.

Apr 6 2007
9:04 pm
kim writes:

such a beautiful post. gee i too would love to have a copy of that book. one of my best friends from childhood was a little pine tree…speaking of this to others i have found they too had tree friends in childhood. this reminds me of this time, and of todays walk with my dear little dog Owen, we entered a ravine full of treeness and both stopped and felt that it was a sacred and special place. indeed the trees talk. thank you for this.

Apr 7 2007
11:55 pm
Mukund R. Dave (India) writes:

To have a tree on the campus
To have an educational institution
Grown—perfect in itself.
Standing for a while
Underneath or facing it
Means to be well educated,
Following a lush green system forever.
A term of wordless, ample quietude
Isn’t only a means of education:
It is an initiation in itself.
Translated from the original
In Gujarati by Mukund R. Dave (India)

Apr 8 2007
3:08 pm
romanlily writes:

This also calls to mind the wonderful Annie Dillard:
“Trees have a curious relationship to the subject of the present moment. There are many created things in the universe that outlive us, that outlive the sun, even, but I can’t think about them. I live with trees. There are creatures under our feet, creatures that live over our heads, but trees live quite convincingly in the same filament of air we inhabit, and, in addition, they extend impressively in both directions, up and down, shearing rock and fanning air, doing their real business just out of reach. A blind man’s idea of hugeness is a tree. They have their sturdy bodies and special skills; they garner fresh water; they abide.” — Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Apr 8 2007
11:48 pm
melissa writes:

Keri, I really enjoy reading your blog, but only the first few lines show up when I read it using google reader. Would you consider changing your settings so the whole post is sent to feedreaders?

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