Hesse Poems

Today I would like to talk a little about the lyrical work of Hesse.

But I must confess in advance that I am not a lover of poetry. Although I do not go as far as Ch. Bukowski, who once said: “Most books say too little with too many words. And most poems say too much with too few words.”

But it’s true that poetry usually overwhelms me and then I get bored very quickly. It is the compressed language and the density of images and feelings they convey that give me, as a lover of long-winded prose, the feeling that too much is pushed into too short a time here.

But since I love Hermann Hesse, and since he considered himself a lyricist all his life, I would like to take a brief look at this part of his oeuvre today.

For some of his poems touch me deeply and I would like to share them with you.

And I can only recommend that you buy a complete edition of his poems and leaf through them again and again. until you come across one that speaks to you. Then stop, linger a while and get to know one of the purest poets of the 20th century.


Probably the most famous poem by Hesse is “Im Nebel”

Strange to walk in the fog!
Lonely is every bush and stone,
No tree sees another,
Everyone is alone.

The world was full of friends,
When my life was still light;
Now, as the fog falls,
There’s no one left to see.

Truly, no one is wise,
Who does not know the darkness,
The inescapable and silent
from everything.

Strange to walk in the fog!
Life is loneliness.
No man knows another,
Everyone is alone.

Another poem that touches me very much is “Ravenna”. It was written during his first journey on foot through Italy, the country he loved so much.

It was still the time of dusty country roads, without mass tourism and all the comforts we seem to need today. Instead it was so much more alive than today.

People spent their time on the streets, talking to neighbours or strangers who wandered through their village. Dirty children ran through the world laughing at the side of wild dogs, and a whole nation was primarily occupied with singing, laughing and their little loves.

Italy was still the country as Goethe described it, or Stendhal and Casanov. A country full of music, full of exuberant people and feelings and a liveliness that no longer exists today.


I’ve been to Ravenna too.
It’s a small dead town;
Which has churches and many ruins,
You can read about it in the books.

You walk through it and look around,
The streets are so dull and wet
And are so dumb for a thousand years
And everywhere moss and grass grows.

It’s like old songs are.
You listen to them and nobody laughs
And everyone listens and everyone ponders
After that, into the night.

The women of Ravenna wear
With a deep look and a tender gesture
In itself a knowledge of the days
The old town and its festivals.

The women of Ravenna weep
Like quiet children: deep and silent.
And when they laugh, it wants to seem
To dull text the bright way.

The women of Ravenna pray
Like children: gentle and full of satisfaction.
They can speak words of love
And not even know they’re lying.

The women of Ravenna kiss
Strange and deep and devoted.
And to them all, life…
Nothing to announce but that we must die.


I’m touched by the lines: “It’s like old songs, you listen to them and no one laughs, and everyone listens and everyone thinks about them until the night.”

Do you know that too? This miserable long thinking, this pondering and chewing over and over again what we have experienced. Alone. At night.

That awful loneliness that tears your heart apart.

But also the magic and beauty of those moments. The whole world rests, and nothing moves but your blood. You lie alone in bed and relive everything over and over again, only more intense and beautiful than ever before, because you only remember the essence of what you have experienced.

And even if it hurts, even if it hurts and burns, in any case it is life that you feel.

Or, to put it in Hesse’s words, so much more beautiful than I could ever be:


Do you know that, too?

Do you also know that sometimes
In the middle of a noisy lust,
At a feast, in a joyous hall,
You suddenly have to keep quiet and walk away?

Then you lie down on your bed without sleep
Like someone who was suddenly struck by a sudden heartache;
Pleasure and laughter are gone like smoke,
You cry, you cry with no support – do you know that?


And another of his last poems:


The creaking of a broken branch

Splintered and broken branch,
Hanging on year after year,
Dry he creaks his song in the wind,
No leaves, no bark,
Bald, pale, living too long,
Tired to long death.

Tough sounding and tough singing,
Sounds defiant, sounds secretly fearful,
One more summer,
For one more winter.

All poems off: Hermann Hesse, Die Gedichte, isel taschenbuch; translated by Thomas Stiegler
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