The German-Swiss poet Hermann Hesse is one of the many writers who was rewarded with the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hesse grew up in a changing world and wrote some beautiful poetry.
About the poet
Hermann Hesse (full: Hermann Karl Hesse) was born when Germany was still an empire. He was born on July 2nd 1877 in Calw. Since his father, Johannes Hesse, held both the Russian and German nationality, Hesse was also a citizen of the Russian- and German Empire.
In 1895 Hesse began to work in a bookshop in Tübingen. This shop specialised itself in theology, philology and law. He became interested in the works of writers like Goethe and Lessing. One year later he published his first poem called Madonna. This led to the publication of his first novel containing several poems under the name Romantic Songs. This got the attention of Helene Voigt, who was married to Eugen Diederichs. She had convinced her husband to publish the works of Hesse. It lead to the publication of One hour after midnight and was not a success. Only 54 copies were sold of the 600 printed books. That wasn’t the biggest shock for Hesse. His mother did not approve of this type of poetry. She called it sinful poetry.
It wasn’t until 1903 before another book was published, Peter Camenzind. This book was received with more enthusiasm and made sure that Hesse could devote his life to writing. Many publications would follow in the years after.
Even though he was a supporter of the German Empire and listed as a volunteer soldier, he watched the rise of the Third Reich of Adolf Hitler with suspicion. He helped the writers Berthold Brecht and Thomas Mann to exile. He Nazis claimed that his work was what they called Entartete Kunst. This was an definition made up by the Nazis of every art form that was not allowed. Therefore Hesse’s work wasn’t allowed to be published. His last publication was the novel The glass bead game. After that he only wrote short stories and poems.
After the war the committee responsible for awarding the Nobel Prize in Literature saw in Hesse the personification of a new generation. A generation that wasn’t like the one before.
Hesse died on August 9th 1962 at the age of 85.
My Pillow gazes upon me at night
Empty as a gravestone;
I never thought it would be so bitter
To be alone,
Not to lie down asleep in your hair.
I lie alone in a silent house,
The hanging lamp darkened,
And gently stretch out my hands
To gather in yours,
And softly press my warm mouth
Toward you, and kiss myself, exhausted and weak-
Then suddenly I’m awake
And all around me the cold night grows still.
The star in the window shines clearly-
Where is your blond hair,
Where your sweet mouth?
Now I drink pain in every delight
And poison in every wine;
I never knew it would be so bitter
To be alone,
Alone, without you.
The original poem is (of course in German):
Mein Kissen schaut mich an zur Nacht
leer wie ein Totenstein;
So bitter hatt ich’s nie gedacht,
Allein zu sein
Und nicht in deinem Haar gebettet sein!
Ich lieg allein im stillen Haus,
die Ampel ausgetan,
Und strecke sacht die Hände aus,
die deinen zu umfahn,
Und dränge leis den heißen Mund
Nach Dir und küss mich matt und wund—
und plötzlich bin ich aufgewacht
und ringsum schweigt die kalte Nacht,
der Stern im Fenster schimmert klar—
o du, wo ist dein blondes Haar,
wo ist dein süßer Mund?
Nun trink ich Weh in jeder Lust
Und Gift in jedem Wein;
So bitter hat ich’s nie gewußt,
allein zu sein,
allein und ohne dich zu sein!