Apologies for the painful wordplay above – but as you may have guessed it, this post will be about the German/ Swiss novelist and poet Hermann Hesse.
When I read Hesse’s “Narcissus and Goldmund” almost 20 years ago as a teenager, I mainly retained from it the theme of an undying friendship and the timeless connection between two individuals.
It’s interesting how during our youth the quasi obsession with bonds outside the family unit take centre stage in our lives. In literature or elsewhere, we suddenly wish to grasp on to character’s experiences that mirror our own. That’s perhaps why the friendship element of this book had such an impact on me at the time.
Re-reading parts of it now, it’s pleasant to see the myriad of colours which Hesse used to explore the meaning of life, love, spirituality, sensuality and yes, friendship.
Narcissus and Goldmund are an unlikely pair. In essence, boy meets boy in a medieval German monastery (…I can sense your raised eyebrow from here! It’s not what you think!). They become instant mates who maintain a life-long bond. But Goldmund’s fiery heart – and a passionate encounter with the desirability of the female form – convince him that the reflective and cloistered existence of the monk cannot be his own.
He drops the brown robes in favour of the green hills of a vagabond life punctuated by beautiful women, art and the plague.
In the autumn of their lives, the friends reunite once more and we are welcomed to reflect on the meaning not only of life, but of death and its importance and central role in the pursuit of happiness.
My early readings predated the “know-it-all” age of the internet, so a book simply finished at the last page. There was no chance to explore the hundreds of assessments of the author and his work unless you camped out at the library. The book was self-contained in its meaning to us at the time, plain and simple.
I’m glad that I didn’t over-extend my exploration of “Narcissus and Glodmund” all those years ago and simply allowed it to make the most important impression on me it could at the time. I can now appreciate its genius even more, with the magnifying glass of hindsight and of course, a few clicks of the mouse.
And here is a Hessay of a different variety, a quick portrait of the man himself who, by the way, was also an accomplished painter in later life! Have a look at some of his work: http://www.hermann-hesse.de/en/node/829