Font Size

The musical exhilaration and reverie of (Herman) Hesse’s early years were antipodal to what he was undergoing at school, which, until his fourteenth year, had for Hesse “the close atmosphere of a penal institution.” At twelve he was already clear in his own mind that he wanted “to become either a poet or nothing at all.” But this astonishingly early clarity of purpose was soon followed by the painful realization that, although there is a road, a school, a course of study by which one can become a teacher, a pastor, a physician, an artisan, a merchant, a postal official, and even a musician, a painter or an architect, there is no road, school, or course of study by which one becomes a poet. Out of the child’s question— whether his goal could be realized—grew criticism of the school’s authority. Leading to serious conflict, this precipitated the first real crisis in Hesse’s young life. The child had perceived lucidly the equivocal nature of a pedagogy—indeed, of the adult world in general—that because of its own mediocrity and lack of existential courage, allows greatness only as a distant idea in remote historical perspective.  It was the very same with the poet as with the hero and with all strong or beautiful, sanguine, and out-of-the-ordinary people and movements: If they lived in the past they were glorious and every schoolbook was full of their praises; but if they lived in the real world of the present day they were hated. Presumably the teachers were specifically trained and hired for the purpose of preventing as far as possible the growth of magnificent free men and the committing of great, splendid deeds. Thus the young Hesse soon saw nothing but abysses between him and his goal. Everything seemed devalued and uncertain. But he adhered stubbornly to his plan to become a poet. At thirteen the conflict began. Hesse’s conduct at school and at home left so much to be desired that he was sent “into exile” to the Latin school in Goppingen. His stay there lasted only a year. —Franz Baumer, HERMAN HESSE.]

« »