”Gertrud” is a famous masterpiece novel, a magnum opus by great German writer Hermann Hesse. It was first published over 100 years ago, in 1910. It was translated later from German to English by Hilda Rosner.
Hesse composed this novel as the memoir of a famous composer named Kuhn. These memoir are intertwined with the lives of two troubled artists and Kuhn’s relationship with them. These two artists are the eponymous Gertrud Imthor, and the opera singer Heinrich Muoth. Kuhn is drawn to Gertrud upon their first encounter, but Gertrud falls in love with and marries Heinrich Muoth, who happens to be an old acquaintance of Kuhn from the past. Unfortunately Gertrud and Muoth are not the best match, and their dysfunctional and mutually destructive relationship forms the foundation for Kuhn’s creativity and his magnum opus. This is one of the interesting and thought-provoking creations by Hermann Hesse. I would like to share some of the best and my favorite quotes, from Gertrud, with the audience of my blog. Enjoy. -Deo
- When I take a long look at my life, as though from outside, it does not appear particularly happy. Yet I am even less justified in calling it unhappy, despite all its mistakes. After all, it is foolish to keep probing for happiness or unhappiness, for it seems to me it would be hard to exchange the unhappiest days of my life for all the happy ones. If what matters in a person’s existence is to accept the inevitable consciously, to taste the good and bad to the full and to make for oneself a more individual, unaccidental and inward destiny alongside one’s external fate, then my life has been neither empty nor worthless. Even if, as it is decreed by the gods, fate has inexorably trod over my external existence as it does with everyone, my inner life has been of my own making . I deserve its sweetness and bitterness and accept full responsibility for it.
- I was given the freedom to discover my own inclination and talents, to fashion my inmost pleasures and sorrows myself and to regard the future not as an alien higher power but as the hope and product of my own strength.
- At about the age of six or seven, I realized that of all the invisible powers the one I was destined to be most strongly affected and dominated by was music. From that moment on I had a world of my own, a sanctuary and a heaven that no one could take away from me. Oh, music! A melody occurs to you; you sing it silently, inwardly only; you steep your being in it;it takes possession of all your strength and emotions, and during the time it lives in you, it effaces all that is fortuitous, evil, coarse and sad in you; it brings the world into harmony with you, it makes burdens light and gives wings to to depressed spirits.
- That is where my dearest and brightest dreams have ranged — to hear for the duration of a heartbeat the universe and the totality of life in its mysterious, innate harmony.
- Was that really love? I saw all these passionate people reel about and drift haphazardly as if driven by a storm, the man filled with desire today, satiated on the morrow, loving fiercely and discarding brutally, sure of no affection and happy in no love…
- Young people have many pleasures and many sorrows, because they only have themselves to think of, so every wish and every notion assume importance; every pleasure is tasted to the full, but also every sorrow, and many who find that their wishes cannot be fulfilled, immediately put an end to their lives.
- That life is difficult, I have often bitterly realized. I now had further cause for serious reflection. Right up to the present I have never lost the feeling of contradiction that lies behind all knowledge. My life has been miserable and difficult, and yet to others, and sometimes to myself, it has seemed rich and wonderful. Man’s life seems to me like a long, weary night that would be intolerable if there were not occasionally flashes of light, the sudden brightness of which is so comforting and wonderful, that the moments of their appearance cancel out and justify the years of darkness.
- If a man does not think too much, he rejoices at rising in the morning, and at eating and drinking. He finds satisfaction in them and does not want them to be otherwise. But if he ceases to take things for granted, he seeks eagerly and hopefully during the course of the day for moments of real life, the radiance of which makes him rejoice and obliterates the awareness of time and all thoughts on the meaning and purpose of everything. One can call these moments creative, because they seem to give a feeling of union with the creator, and while they last, one is sensible of everything being necessary, even what is seemingly fortuitous. It is what the mystics call union with God. Perhaps it is the excessive radiance of these moments that make everything else appear so dark. Perhaps it is the feeling of liberation, the enchanting lightness and the suspended bliss that make the rest of life seem so difficult, demanding and oppressive. I do not know. I have not travelled very far in thought and philosophy. However I do know that if there is a state of bliss and a paradise, it must be an uninterrupted sequence of such moments, and if this state of bliss can be attained through suffering and dwelling in pain, then no sorrow or pain can be so great that one should attempt to escape from it.
- The south winds roars at night,
Curlews hasten in their flight,
The air is damp and warm.
Desire to sleep has vanished now,
Spring has arrived in the night
In the wake of a storm.
- Be still, my heart, away with pain!
Though passion stirs again
In blood that now flows slowly
And leads to paths once known,
These paths you tread in vain
For youth has flown.
- Passion is always a mystery and unaccountable, and unfortunately there is no doubt that life does not spare its purest children and often it is just the most deserving people who cannot help loving those that destroy them.
- I found some consolation or narcotic. Sometimes it was a woman, sometimes a good friend — yes, you too once helped me that way — at other times it was music or applause in the theater. But now these things no longer give me pleasure and that is why I drink. I could never sing without first having a couple of drinks, but now I can also not think, talk, live and feel tolerably well without first having a couple of drinks.
- It was no different with my own life, and with Gertrude‘s and that of many others. Fate was not kind, life was capricious and terrible, and there was no good or reason in nature. But there is good and reason in us, in human beings, with whom fortune plays, and we can be stronger than nature and fate, if only for a few hours. And we can draw close to one another in times of need, understand and love one another, and live to comfort each other. And sometimes, when the black depths are silent, we can do even more. We can then be gods for moments, stretch out a commanding hand and create things which were not there before and which, when they are created, continue to live without us. Out of sounds, words, and other frail and worthless things, we can construct playthings — songs and poems full of meaning, consolation and goodness, more beautiful and enduring than the grim sport of fortune and destiny. We can keep the spirit of God in our hearts and, at times, when we are full of Him, He can appear in our eyes and our words, and also talk to others who do no know or do not wish to know Him. We cannot evade life’s course, but we can school ourselves to be superior to fortune and also to look unflinchingly upon the most painful things.
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