DEMIAN: THE STORY OF EMIL SINCLAIR'S YOUTH
Chapter 8: The End Begins
I HAD PERSUADED my parents to allow me the summer semester in H. My friends and I now spent almost all our time in the garden by the river instead of the house. The Japanese, who had been duly beaten in the boxing match, had departed; the disciple of Tolstoi had gone, too. Demian kept a horse and went for long rides day after day. I was frequently alone with his mother.
There were times when I was simply astonished how peaceful my life had become. I had so long been accustomed to being alone, to leading a life of self-denial, to battling strenuously with my agonizing difficulties, that these months in H. seemed to me altogether like a magic dream island on which I was allowed to lead a comfortable, enchanted existence among beautiful and agreeable surroundings. I had a presentiment that this was a foretaste of that new and higher community which we speculated about so much. Yet at any moment this happiness could produce in me the deepest melancholy, for I knew very well that it could not last. It was not my lot to breathe fullness and comfort, I needed the spur of tormented haste. I felt that one day I would waken from these beloved images of beauty and stand, alone again, in the cold world where there was nothing for me but solitude and struggle -- neither peace nor relaxation, no easy living together.
At those moments I would nestle with redoubled affection close to Frau Eva, glad that my fate still bore these beautiful calm features.
The summer weeks passed quickly and uneventfully, the semester was nearly over and it would soon be time for me to leave. I dared not think of it, but clung to each beautiful day as the butterfly clings to his honeyed flower. This had been my happy time, life's first fulfillment, my acceptance into this intimate, elect circle -- what was to follow? I would battle through again, suffer the old longings, dream dreams, be alone.
One day foreboding came over me with such force that my love for Frau Eva suddenly flared up painful within me. My God, how soon I must leave here, see her no more, no longer hear her dear assured steps throughout the house, no longer find her flowers on my table! And what had I achieved? I had dreamed, had luxuriated in dreams and contentment, instead of winning her, instead of struggling to clasp her forever to myself! Everything she had told me about genuine love came back to me, a hundred delicate admonitions, as many gentle enticements, promises perhaps -- what had I made of them? Nothing. Absolutely nothing!
I went to the center of my room and stood still, endeavoring to concentrate the whole of my consciousness on Frau Eva, summoning all the strength in my soul to let her feel my love and draw her to me. She must come, she must long for my embrace, my kiss must tremble insatiably on her ripe lips.
I stood and concentrated every energy until I could feel cold creeping up my fingers and toes. I felt strength radiating from me. For a few moments I felt something contract within me, something bright and cool which felt like a crystal in my heart -- I knew it was my ego. The chill crept up to my chest.
Relaxed from this terrible tension I felt that something was about to happen. I was mortally exhausted but I was ready to behold Eva step into the room, radiant and ecstatic.
The clattering of hooves could be heard approaching along the street. It sounded near and metallic, then suddenly stopped. I leaped to the window and saw Demian dismounting below. I ran down.
"What is it, Demian?"
He paid no attention to my words. He was very pale and sweat poured down his cheeks. He tied the bridle of his steaming horse to the garden fence and took my arm and walked down the street with me.
"Have you heard about it?"
I had heard nothing.
Demian squeezed my arm and turned his face toward me, with a strangely somber yet sympathetic look in his eyes.
"Yes, it's starting. You've heard about the difficulties with Russia."
"What? Is it war?"
He spoke very softly although no one was anywhere near us.
"It hasn't been declared yet. But there will be war. You can take my word for that. I didn't want to worry you but I have seen omens on three different occasions since that time. So it won't be the end of the world, no earthquake, no revolution, but war. You'll see what a sensation that will be! People will love it. Even now they can hardly wait for the killing to begin -- their lives are that dull! But you will see, Sinclair, that this is only the beginning. Perhaps it will be a very big war, a war on a gigantic scale. But that, too, will only be the beginning. The new world has begun and the new world will be terrible for those clinging to the old. What will you do?"
I was dumfounded, it all sounded so strange, so improbable.
"I don't know -- and you?"
He shrugged his shoulders.
''I'll be called up as soon as the mobilization order comes through. I'm a lieutenant."
"You, a lieutenant! I had no idea."
"Yes, that was one of the ways I compromised. You know I dislike calling attention to myself so much I almost always went to the other extreme, just to give a correct impression. I believe I'll be on the front in a week."
"Now don't get sentimental. Of course it's not going to be any fun ordering men to fire on living beings, but that will be incidental. Each of us will be caught up in the great chain of events. You, too, you'll be drafted, for sure."
"And what about your mother, Demian?"
Only now my thoughts turned back to what had happened a quarter of an hour before. How the world had changed in the meantime! I had summoned all my strength to conjure up the sweetest of images and now fate looked at me suddenly with a threatening and horrible mask.
"My mother? We don't have to worry about her. She is safe, safer than anyone else in the world today. Do you love her that much?"
"Didn't you know?"
He laughed lightly, relieved.
"Of course I knew. No one has called my mother Frau Eva who hasn't been in love with her. You either called me or her today."
"Yes, I called her."
"She felt it. She sent me away all of a sudden, saying I would have to go see you. I had just told her the news about Russia."
We turned around and exchanged a few words more. Demian untied his horse and mounted.
Only upstairs in my room did I realize how much Demian's news, and still more the previous strain, had exhausted me. But Frau Eva had heard me! My thoughts had reached her heart. She would have come herself -- if ... How curious all this was, and, fundamentally, how beautiful! And now there was to be war. What we had talked about so often was to begin. Demian had known so much about it ahead of time. How strange that the stream of the world was not to bypass us any more, that it now went straight through our hearts, and that now or very soon the moment would come when the world would need us, when it would seek to transform itself. Demian was right, one could not be sentimental about that. The only remarkable thing was that I was to share the very personal matter of my fate with so many others, with the whole world in fact. Well, so be it!
I was prepared. When I walked through town in the evening every street corner was buzzing, everywhere the word was war.
I went to Frau Eva's. We ate supper in the summer house. I was the only guest. No one said a word about the war. Only later on, shortly before I was to leave, Frau Eva said: "Dear Sinclair, you called me today. You know why I didn't come myself. But don't forget: you know the call now and whenever you need someone who bears the sign, you can appeal to me."
She rose to her feet and preceded me into the garden twilight. Tall and regal she strode between the silent trees.
I am coming to the end of my story. Everything went very rapidly from then on. Soon there was war, and Demian, strangely unfamiliar in his uniform, left us. I accompanied his mother home. It was not long before I, too, took my leave of her. She kissed me on the mouth and clasped me for a moment to her breast. Her great eyes burned close and firmly into mine.
All men seemed to have become brothers -- overnight. They talked of "the fatherland" and of "honor," but what lay behind it was their own fate whose unveiled face they had now all beheld for one brief moment. Young men left their barracks, were packed into trains, and on many faces I saw a sign -- not ours -- but a beautiful, dignified sign nonetheless that meant love and death. I, too, was embraced by people whom I had never seen before and I understood this gesture and responded to it. Intoxication made them do it, not a hankering after their destiny. But this intoxication was sacred, for it was the result of their all having thrown that brief and terribly disquieting glance into the eyes of their fate.
It was nearly winter when I was sent to the front. Despite the excitement of being under fire for the first time, in the beginning everything disappointed me. At one time I had given much thought to why men were so very rarely capable of living for an ideal. Now I saw that many, no, all men were capable of dying for one. Yet it could not be a personal, a freely chosen ideal; it had to be one mutually accepted.
As time went on though I realized I had underestimated these men. However much mutual service and danger made a uniform mass of them, I still saw many approach the will of fate with great dignity. Many, very many, not only during the attack but at every moment of the day, wore in their eyes the remote, resolute, somewhat possessed look which knows nothing of aims and signified complete surrender to the incredible. Whatever they might think or believe, they were ready, they could be used, they were the clay of which the future could be shaped. The more single-mindedly the world concentrated on war and heroism, on honor and other old ideals, the more remote and improbable any whisper of genuine humanity sounded -- that was all just surface, in the same way that the question of the war's external and political objectives remained superficial. Deep down, underneath, something was taking shape. Something akin to a new humanity. For I could see many men -- and many died beside me -- who had begun to feel acutely that hatred and rage, slaughter and annihilation, were not bound up with these objectives. No, these objectives and aims were completely fortuitous. The most primitive, even the wildest feelings were not directed at the enemy; their bloody task was merely an irradiation of the soul, of the soul divided within itself, which filled them with the lust to rage and kill, annihilate and die so that they might be born anew.
One night in early spring I stood guard in front of a farm that we had occupied. A listless wind was blowing fitfully; across the Flemish sky cloud armies rode on high, somewhere behind them the suggestion of a moon. I had been uneasy the entire day -- something was worrying me deeply. Now on my dark guard post I fervently recalled the images of my life and thought of Frau Eva and of Demian. I stood braced against a poplar tree staring into the drifting clouds whose mysteriously writhing patches of light soon metamorphosed into huge series of swirling images. From the strange weakness of my pulse, the insensitiveness of my skin to wind and rain, and my intense state of consciousness I could sense that a master was near me.
A huge city could be seen in the clouds out of which millions of people streamed in a host over vast landscapes. Into their midst stepped a mighty, godlike figure, as huge as a mountain range, with sparkling stars in her hair, bearing the features of Frau Eva. The ranks of the people were swallowed up into her as into a giant cave and vanished from sight. The goddess cowered on the ground, the mark luminous on her forehead. A dream seemed to hold sway over her: she closed her eyes and her countenance became twisted with pain. Suddenly she cried out and from her forehead sprang stars, many thousands of shining stars that leaped in marvelous arches and semicircles across the black sky.
One of these stars shot straight toward me with a clear ringing sound and it seemed to seek me out. Then it burst asunder with a roar into a thousand sparks, tore me aloft and smashed me back to the ground again, the world shattered above me with a thunderous roar.
They found me near the poplar tree, covered with earth and with many wounds.
I lay in a cellar, guns roared above me. I lay in a wagon and jolted across the empty fields. Mostly I was asleep or unconscious. But the more deeply I slept the more strongly I felt that something was drawing me on, that I was following a force that had mastery over me.
I lay in a stable, on straw. It was dark and someone had stepped on my hand. But something inside me wanted to keep going and I was drawn on more forcefully than ever. Again I lay in a wagon and later on a stretcher or ladder. More strongly than ever I felt myself being summoned somewhere, felt nothing but this urge that I must finally get there.
Then I reached my goal. It was night and I was fully conscious. I had just felt the urge pulling mightily within me: now I was in a long hall, bedded down on the floor. I felt I had reached the destination which had summoned me. I turned my head: close to my mattress lay another; someone on it bent forward and looked at me. He had the sign on his forehead. It was Max Demian.
I was unable to speak and he could not or did not want to either. He just looked at me. The light from a bulb strung on the wall above him played down on his face. He smiled.
He gazed into my eyes for what seemed an endless time. Slowly he brought his face closer to mine: we almost touched.
"Sinclair," he said in a whisper.
I told him with a glance that I heard.
He smiled again, almost as with pity.
"Little fellow," he said, smiling.
His lips lay very close to mine. Quietly he continued to speak.
"Can you remember Franz Kromer?" he asked.
I blinked at him and smiled, too.
"Little Sinclair, listen: I will have to go away. Perhaps you'll need me again sometime, against Kromer or something. If you call me then I won't come crudely, on horseback or by train. You'll have to listen within yourself, then you will notice that I am within you. Do you understand? And something else. Frau Eva said that if ever you were in a bad way I was to give you a kiss from her that she sends by me.... Close your eyes, Sinclair!"
I closed my eyes in obedience. I felt a light kiss on my lips where there was always a little fresh blood which never would go away. And then I fell asleep.
Next morning someone woke me: I had to have my wounds dressed. When I was finally wide awake I turned quickly to the mattress next to mine. On it lay a stranger I'd never seen before.
Dressing the wound hurt. Everything that has happened to me since has hurt. But sometimes when I find the key and climb deep into myself where the images of fate lie aslumber in the dark mirror, I need only bend over that dark mirror to behold my own image, now completely resembling him, my brother, my master.
About the Author
Born in 1877 in Calw, on the edge of the Black Forest, Hermann Hesse was brought up in a missionary household where it was assumed that he would study for the ministry. Hesse's religious crisis (which is often recorded in his novels) led to his fleeing from the Maulbronn seminary in 1891, an unsuccessful cure by a well-known theologian and faith healer, and an attempted suicide. After being expelled from high school, he worked in bookshops for several years -- a usual occupation for budding German authors.
His first novel, Peter Camenzind (1904), describes a youth who leaves his Swiss mountain village to become a poet. This was followed by Unterm Rad (1906), the tale of a schoolboy totally out of touch with his contemporaries, who flees through different cities after his escape from school.
World War I came as a terrific shock, and Hesse joined the pacifist Romain Rolland in antiwar activities -- not only writing antiwar tracts and novels, but editing two newspapers for German prisoners of war. During this period, Hesse's first marriage broke up (reflected or discussed outright in Knulp and Rosshalde), he studied the works of Freud, eventually underwent analysis with Jung, and was for a time a patient in a sanatorium.
In 1919 he moved permanently to Switzerland, and brought out Demian, which reflects his preoccupation with the workings of the subconscious and with psychoanalysis. The book was an enormous success, and made Hesse famous throughout Europe.
In 1922 he turned his attention to the East, which he had visited several times before the war, and wrote a novel about Buddha titled Siddhartha. In 1927 he wrote Steppenwolf, the account of a man tom between animal instincts and bourgeois respectability, and in 1930 he published Narziss and Goldmund, regarded as "Hesse's greatest novel" (New York Times), dealing with the friendship between two medieval priests, one contented with his religion, the other a wanderer endlessly in search of peace and salvation.
Journey to the East appeared in 1932, and there was no major work until 1943, when he brought out Magister Ludi, which won him the Nobel Prize in 1946. Until his death in 1962 he lived in seclusion in Montagnola, Switzerland.