Read Narcissus and Goldmund Online

Authors: Hermann Hesse

Narcissus and Goldmund (10 page)

Now Narcissus was bent down in front of the altar on tired knees, prepared and purified for a night of prayer and contemplation that permitted him no more than two hours' sleep, while he, Goldmund, was running off to find his Lise somewhere under the trees and play those sweet animal games with her once more. Narcissus would have said remarkable things about that. But he was Goldmund, not Narcissus. It was not for him to go to the bottom of these beautiful, terrifying enigmas and mazes and to say important things about them. For him there was only giving himself and loving, loving his praying friend in the night-dark church as much as the beautiful warm young woman who was waiting for him.

As he tiptoed away under the lime trees in the courtyard and out through the mill, his heart beating with a hundred conflicting emotions, he had to smile at the memory of that evening with Konrad when he had left the cloister once before by the same secret path, when they were “going to the village.” How excited and secretly afraid he had been, setting out on that little forbidden escapade, and today he was leaving for good, taking far more forbidden, dangerous roads and he was not afraid, not thinking about the porter, the Abbot, the teachers.

This time there were no planks beside the brook; he had to cross without a bridge. He pulled off his clothes and tossed them across to the opposite bank, then he waded naked through the deep, swirling stream, up to his chest in the cold water.

While he dressed again on the other side, his thoughts returned to Narcissus. With great lucidity that made him feel ashamed, he realized that he was merely executing now what the other had known all along, toward which he had guided him. Very distinctly he saw Narcissus's intelligent, slightly mocking face, listening to him speak so much foolishness, the man who had once, at a crucial moment, painfully opened his eyes. Again he clearly heard the few words Narcissus had said to him at that time: “You sleep at your mother's breast; I wake in the desert. Your dreams are of girls; mine of boys.”

For an instant his heart froze. He stood there, utterly alone in the night. Behind him lay the cloister, a home only in appearance, yet a home he had loved and to which he had grown accustomed.

But at the same time he had another feeling: that Narcissus had ceased to be his cautioning, superior guide and awakener. Today he felt he had entered a country in which he must find his own roads, in which no Narcissus could guide him. He was glad that he realized this. As he looked back, the days of his dependence seemed shameful and oppressive to him. Now he had become aware; he was no longer a child, a student. It was good to know this. And yet—how hard it was to say farewell! To know that his friend was kneeling in the church back there and not be able to give him anything, to be of no help, to be nothing to him. And now he would be separated from him for a long time, perhaps forever, and know nothing of him, hear his voice no longer, look into his noble eyes no longer.

He tore himself away and followed the stony little road. A few hundred steps from the cloister walls he stood still, took a deep breath, and uttered the owl call as best he could. A similar call answered in the distance downstream.

“Like animals we call to each other,” was the thought that came to him as he remembered the hour of love in the afternoon. Only now it occurred to him that no words had been exchanged between him and Lise, except at the very end, after the caresses were over, and then only a few, and they had been insignificant. What long conversations he had had with Narcissus! But now, it seemed, he had entered a wordless world, in which one called to one another like owls, in which words had no meaning. He was ready for it. He had no more need for words today, or for thoughts; only for Lise, only for this wordless, blind, mute groping and searching, this sighing and melting.

Lise was there; she came out of the forest to meet him. He reached out to feel her, framed her head with tender, groping hands, her hair, her neck and throat, her slender waist, her firm hips. One arm about her, he walked on with her, without speaking, without asking where to. She walked with sure step in the dark forest. He had trouble keeping up with her. Like a fox or a marten, she seemed to see with night eyes, walked without stumbling, without tripping. He let himself be led into the night, into the forest, into the blind secret wordless, thoughtless country. He was no longer thinking: not of the cloister he had left behind, not of Narcissus.

Like two mutes they moved through the dark forest, sometimes on soft moss upholstery, sometimes on hard root ribs. Sometimes the sky shone light through sparse high treetops; at other times the darkness was complete. Branches slapped his face; brambles held him back. Everywhere she knew her way and found a passage; she seldom stopped, seldom hesitated. After a long time they arrived in a clearing of solitary pines that stood far apart. The pale night sky opened wide before them. The forest had come to an end; a meadow valley welcomed them with a sweet smell of hay. They waded through a small, soundless creek. Out here in the open the silence was still greater than in the forest: no rustling bushes, no startled night beast, no crackling twigs.

Lise stopped in front of a big haystack.

“We'll stay here,” she said.

They sat down in the hay, taking deep breaths at first and enjoying the rest; they were both a little tired. They lay back, listening to the silence, feeling their foreheads dry and their faces gradually cool off. Goldmund crouched, pleasantly tired. Playfully he bent his knees and stretched them straight again, took deep breaths of the night air and the smell of hay, and thought neither backward nor forward. Slowly he let himself be drawn and enticed by the scent and warmth of the woman beside him, replied here and there to her caressing hands and felt joy when she began to burn and pushed herself closer and closer to him. No, here neither words nor thoughts were needed. Clearly he felt all that was important and beautiful, the youthful strength, the simple, healthy beauty of the female body, felt it grow warm, felt its desire; he also felt clearly that, this time, she wished to be loved differently from the first time, that she did not want to guide and teach him this time, but wanted to wait for his attack, for his greed. Quietly he let the streams flow through him; happily he felt the boundless fire grow, felt it alive in both of them, turning their little lair into the vital, breathing center of all the quiet night.

He bent over Lise's face and began to kiss her lips in the darkness. Suddenly he saw her eyes and forehead shine with a gentle light. He looked in surprise, watched the glow grow brighter, more intense. Then he knew and turned his head: the moon was rising over the edge of the long black stretch of forest. He watched the white gentle light miraculously inundate her forehead, her cheeks, slide over her round, limpid throat. Softly, delighted, he said: “How beautiful you are!”

She smiled as though a present had been made her. He sat up; gently he pulled the gown off her shoulders, helped her out of it, peeled her until her shoulders and breasts shone in the cool light of the moon. Completely enraptured, he followed the delicate shadows with eyes and lips, looking and kissing; she held still as though under a spell, with eyes cast down and a solemn expression as though, even to her, her beauty was being discovered and revealed for the first time.


grew cool over the fields. The moon climbed higher by the hour. The lovers lay on their softly lighted bed, absorbed in their games, dozing off together, turning toward each other anew upon awakening, kindling each other, entangled once more, falling asleep once more. They lay exhausted after their last embrace. Lise had nestled deep into the hay, breathing heavily. Goldmund was stretched out on his back, motionless; for a long time he stared into the moon-pale sky; a deep sadness rose in both, which they escaped in sleep. They slept profoundly, desperately, greedily, as though for the last time, as though they had been condemned to stay awake forever and had to drink in all the sleep in the world during these last hours.

When Goldmund awoke, he saw Lise busy with her black hair. He watched her for a while, absent-minded, still half asleep.

“You're awake?” he said finally.

Her head turned with a start.

“I've got to go now,” she said, embarrassed and somewhat sad. “I didn't want to wake you.”

“Well, I'm awake now. Must we move on so soon? After all, we're homeless.”

“I am,” said Lise. “But you belong to the cloister.”

“I no longer belong to the cloister. I'm like you, completely alone, with nowhere to go. But I'll go with you, of course.”

Lise looked away.

“You can't come with me, Goldmund. I must go to my husband; he'll beat me, because I stayed out all night. I'll say I lost my way. But he won't believe me.”

Goldmund remembered Narcissus's prediction. So that's how it was.

“I've made a mistake then,” he said. “I had thought that you and I would stay together. —Did you really want to let me sleep and run off without saying farewell?”

“Oh, I was afraid you might get angry and beat me, perhaps. That my husband beats me, well, that's how things are, that's normal. But I didn't want you to beat me, too.”

He held on to her hand.

“Lise,” he said, “I won't beat you, not now, not ever. Wouldn't you rather stay with me than with your husband, since he beats you?”

She tugged to get her hand free.

“No, no, no,” she said with tears in her voice. And since he could feel that her heart was pulling away from him, that she preferred the other man's blows to his good words, he let go of her hand, and now she really began to cry. At the same time she started to run. Clasping both hands over her streaming eyes, she ran off. He stood silently and watched her go. He felt sorry for her, running off across the mowed meadows, summoned and drawn by who knew what power, an unknown power that set him thinking. He felt sorry for her, and a little sorry for himself as well; he had not been lucky apparently; alone and a little stunned, he sat in the hay, abandoned, deserted. But he was still tired and eager for sleep; never had he felt so exhausted. There was time to be unhappy later. Immediately he went back to sleep and woke only when the sun stood high and made the air hot around him.

He felt rested now; quickly he got up, ran to the brook, washed, and drank. Memories came gushing forth; love images from the night exhaled their perfume like unknown flowers, evoked many gentle, tender feelings. His thoughts ran after them as he began to walk briskly. Once more he felt, tasted, smelled, touched everything over and over. How many dreams the unknown woman had fulfilled for him, all the buds she had brought to flowering, stilled so many wonderings and longings, roused so many new ones in their place!

Field and heath lay before him, dry, fallow stretches and dark forest. Beyond it might be farms and mills, a village, a town. For the first time the world lay open before him, wide and waiting, ready to receive him, to do him good or harm. He was no longer a student who saw the world through a window; his walking was no longer a stroll ending with the inevitable return. Now the wide world had become a reality, he was part of it, it contained his fate, its sky was his sky, its weather his weather. He was small in this large world, no bigger than a horse, an insect; he ran through its blue-green infinity. No bell called him out of bed, to mass, to class, to meals.

Oh, how hungry he was! Half a loaf of corn bread, a bowl of milk, some gruel soup—what delicious memories! His stomach had come awake. He passed a cornfield, with half-ripe ears. He stripped them with fingers and teeth; avidly he chewed the tiny, slimy kernels, plucked more and still more, stuffed his pockets with ears of corn. Later he found hazelnuts. They were still quite green, but he bit into them joyfully, cracked their shells, and put a handful in his pocket.

As he entered the forest, he saw pines and an occasional oak or ash, and soon he found blueberries in unending abundance. He rested and ate and cooled off. Blue harebells grew in the sparse, hard forest grass; brown, sunny butterflies rose and vanished capriciously in ragged flight. Saint Genevieve had lived in a forest like this; he had always loved her story. How much he would have liked to meet her. Or he might find a hermitage in the forest, with an old, bearded father in a cave or a bark hut. Or perhaps peat diggers lived in the forest; he would have liked to speak to them. Or even robbers; they would probably not harm him. It would be pleasant to meet somebody, anybody. But he was well aware that he could walk in the forest for a long time, today, tomorrow, several days more, without meeting anyone. That, too, had to be accepted, if it was his destiny. It was better not to think too much, to take things as they came.

He heard a woodpecker tapping and tried to find it. For a long time he tried in vain to catch sight of the bird. At last he succeeded and watched it for a while: the bird glued to the trunk of the tree, all alone, tap-tap-tapping, turning its busy head this way and that. What a pity that one couldn't speak to animals. It would have been pleasant to call a greeting up to the woodpecker, to say a friendly word and learn something about its life in the trees perhaps, about its work and its joys. Oh, if one could only transform oneself!

He remembered how he used to draw sometimes, during his hours of leisure, how he used to draw figures with the stylus on his writing tablet, and flowers, leaves, trees, animals, people's heads. He'd amuse himself that way for hours. Sometimes he had created creatures of his own imagination, like a small God, had drawn eyes and a mouth into the chalice of a flower, shaped figures into a cluster of leaves sprouting on a branch, placed a head on top of a tree. For whole hours those games had made him happy, spellbound, able to perform magic, drawing lines that often surprised him—a figure he had started suddenly turned into a leaf or a tree, the snout of a fish, a foxtail, someone's eyebrow. That's how one ought to be able to transform oneself, he thought, the way he had been able to transform the playful lines on his tablet. Goldmund longed to become a woodpecker for a day perhaps, or a month; he would have lived in the treetops, would have run up the smooth trunks and pecked at the bark with his strong beak, keeping balance with his tail feathers. He would have spoken woodpecker language and dug good things out of the bark. The woodpecker's hammering sounded sweet and strong among the echoing trees.

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