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Authors: Hermann Hesse

Narcissus and Goldmund (8 page)

BOOK: Narcissus and Goldmund

“I don't know,” he said in the lilting, slightly hesitant voice he had recently acquired and that seemed to dwell lengthily on every sound. “I really don't know. You judge my father somewhat harshly. He has not had an easy life. But perhaps you're right in this too. I've been in the cloister school for over three years, and he's never come to see me. He wants me to stay here forever. Perhaps that would be best, I thought I wanted it myself. But today I'm no longer sure what I really want and desire. Before, everything was simple, as simple as the letters in my textbook. Now nothing is simple any more, not even the letters. Everything has taken on many meanings and faces. I don't know what will become of me, I can't think about that now.”

“Nor need you,” said Narcissus. “You'll find out where your road will lead you. It began by leading you back to your mother, and it will bring you closer to her still. As for your father, I'm not judging him too harshly. Would you want to go back to him?”

“No, Narcissus, certainly not. If I did, it would have to be as soon as I finished school; right now perhaps. Since I'm not going to be a scholar anyhow, I've learned enough Latin and Greek and mathematics. No, I don't want to go back to my father…”

Deep in thought, he stared ahead of him. Suddenly he cried out to Narcissus: “How on earth do you do it? Again and again you say words to me, or pose questions that shine a light into me and make me clear to myself. You merely asked if I wanted to go back to my father, and suddenly I knew that I didn't want to. How do you do it? You seem to know everything. You've said so many words that I didn't quite grasp when I heard them but that became so important to me afterwards! It was you who said that I take my being from my mother, you who discovered that I was living under a spell and had forgotten my childhood! What makes you know people so well? Couldn't I learn that too?”

Narcissus smiled and shook his head.

“No, my dear Goldmund, you cannot. Some people are capable of learning a great deal, but you are not one of them. You'll never be a student. And why should you be? You don't need to. You have other gifts. You are more gifted than I, you are richer and you are weaker, your road will be more beautiful and more difficult than mine. There were times when you refused to understand me, you often kicked like a foal, it wasn't always easy, I was often forced to hurt you. I had to waken you, since you were asleep. Recalling your mother to your memory hurt at first, hurt you very much; you were found lying in the cloister garden as though dead. It had to be. No, don't stroke my hair! No, don't! I don't like it.”

“Can't I learn anything then? Will I always remain stupid, a child?”

“There will be others to teach you. What you could learn from me, you child, you have learned.”

“Oh no,” cried Goldmund, “we didn't become friends to end it now! What sort of friendship would that be, that reached its goal after a short distance and then simply stopped? Are you tired of me? Have you no more affection for me?”

Narcissus was pacing vehemently, his eyes on the floor. Then he stopped in front of his friend.

“Let that be,” he said softly. “You know only too well that my affection for you has not come to an end.”

With doubt in his eyes he studied his friend. Then he began pacing once more, back and forth; again he stopped and looked at Goldmund, his eyes firm in the taut, haggard face. His voice was low, but hard and firm, when he said: “Listen, Goldmund! Our friendship has been good; it had a goal and the goal has been reached; you've been awakened. I would like it not to be over; I would like it to renew itself once more, renew itself again and again, and lead to new goals. For the moment there is no goal. Yours is uncertain, I can neither lead you nor accompany you. Ask your mother, ask her image, listen to her! But my goal is not uncertain, it lies here, in the cloister, it claims me at every hour. I can be your friend, but I cannot be in love. I am a monk, I have taken the vows. Before my consecration I shall ask to be released from my teaching duties and withdraw for many weeks to fast and do exercises. During that period I'll not speak of worldly matters, nor with you either.”

Goldmund understood. Sadly he said: “So you're going to do what I would have done too, if I had joined the order. And after your exercises are over and you have fasted and prayed and waked enough—then what will be your goal?”

“You know what it is,” said Narcissus.

“Well, yes. In a few years you'll be the novice-master, head of the school perhaps. You'll improve the teaching methods; you'll enlarge the library. Perhaps you'll write books yourself. No? All right, you won't. But what is your goal?”

Narcissus smiled faintly. “The goal? Perhaps I'll die head of the school, or abbot, or bishop. It's all the same. My goal is this: always to put myself in the place in which I am best able to serve, wherever my gifts and qualities find the best soil, the widest field of action. There is no other goal.”

Goldmund: “No other goal for a monk?”

Narcissus: “Oh, there are goals enough. One monk may find his life's goal in learning Hebrew, another in annotating Aristotle, or embellishing the cloister church, or secluding himself in meditation, or a hundred other things. For me those are no goals. I neither want to increase the riches of the cloister, nor reform the order, nor the church. I want to serve the mind within the framework of my possibilities, the way I understand the mind; no more. Is that not a goal?”

Goldmund thought for a long while before he answered.

“You're right,” he said. “Did I hinder you much on the road toward your goal?”

“Hinder me! Oh Goldmund, no one furthered me as much as you did. You created difficulties for me, but I am no enemy of difficulties. I've learned from them, I've partly overcome them.”

Goldmund interrupted him. Half laughingly, he said: “You've overcome them wonderfully well! But, tell me: when you aided me, guided and delivered me, and healed my soul—were you really serving the mind? In so doing you've probably deprived the cloister of an eager, well-intentioned novice, maybe you've raised an enemy of the mind, someone who'll strive for, think and do the exact opposite of what you deem good!”

“Why not?” said Narcissus in deep earnest. “Dear friend, how little you know me still! Perhaps I did ruin a future monk in you, but in exchange I cleared the path inside you for a destiny that will not be ordinary. Even if you burned down our rather handsome cloister tomorrow, or preached a mad doctrine of error to the world, I would not for an instant regret that I helped you on the road toward it.”

With a friendly gesture he laid both hands on his friend's shoulders.

“See here, little Goldmund, this too is part of my goal: whether I be teacher, abbot, father confessor, or whatever, never do I wish to find myself in the position of meeting a strong, valuable human being and not know what he is about, not further him. And let me say this to you: whatever becomes of either of us, whether we go this way or that, you'll never find me heedless at any moment that you call me seriously and think that you have need of me. Never.”

It sounded like a farewell; it was indeed a foretaste of farewell. Goldmund stood looking at his friend, the determined face, the goal-directed eyes; he had the unmistakable feeling that they were no longer brothers, colleagues, equals; their ways had already parted. The man before him was not a dreamer; he was not waiting for fate to call to him. He was a monk who had pledged his life, who belonged to an established order, to duty; he was a servant, a soldier of religion, of the church, of the mind. Goldmund now knew he did not belong here; this had become clear to him today. He had no home; an unknown world awaited him. His mother had known the same fate once. She had left house and home, husband and child, community and order, duty and honor, to go out into uncertainty; she had probably long since perished in it. She had had no goal, and neither had he. Having goals was a privilege he did not share with others. Oh, how well Narcissus had recognized all this long ago; how right he had been!

Shortly after the day of their conversation, Narcissus seemed to have disappeared, to have become suddenly inaccessible. Another instructor was teaching his courses; his lectern in the library stood vacant. He was still present, he was not altogether invisible, one saw him walk through the arcade occasionally, heard him murmur in one of the chapels, kneeling on the stone floor; one knew that he had begun the great exercise, that he was fasting, that he rose three times each night to exercise. He was still present, but he had crossed over into another world; he could be seen, although not often, but he could not be reached. Nothing could be shared with him; one could not speak with him. Goldmund knew: Narcissus would reappear, he would be standing at his lectern again, sit in his chair in the refectory, he would speak again—but nothing of what had been would be again; Narcissus would belong to him no longer. As he thought about this, it became clear to him that Narcissus alone had made the cloister, the monkish life, grammar and logic, learning and the mind seem important and desirable to him. His example had tempted him; to become like Narcissus had been his ideal. True, there was also the Abbot, whom he had venerated; he had loved him, too, and thought him a high example. But the others, the teachers and classmates, the dormitory, the dining hall, the school, exercises, mass, the entire cloister no longer concerned him without Narcissus. What was he still doing here? He was waiting, standing under the cloister roof like a hesitant wanderer caught in the rain who stops under any roof, a tree, just to wait, for fear of the inhospitality of the unknown.

Goldmund's life, during this span, was nothing but hesitation and bidding farewell. He visited the different places that had become dear and meaningful to him. He was surprised that there were so few persons and faces it would be hard for him to leave. Brother Narcissus and old Abbot Daniel and good dear Father Anselm, the friendly porter maybe, and their jovial neighbor, the miller—but even they had already become unreal. Harder than that would be saying farewell to the tall stone madonna in the chapel, to the apostles of the portal. For a long time he stood in front of them, in front of the beautiful carvings of the choir pews, of the fountain in the cloister garden, the column with the three animal heads; he leaned against the linden trees in the courtyard, against the chestnut tree. One day, all of this would be memory to him, a small picturebook in his heart. Even now, while he was still in its midst, it started to fade away from him, lose its reality, change phantom-like into something that no longer was. He went in search of herbs with Father Anselm, who liked to have him around; he watched the men at work in the cloister mill; every so often he let himself be invited to a meal of wine and baked fish; but already it felt strange to him, half like a memory. In the twilight of the chapel and the penitence of his cell, his friend Narcissus was pacing, alive, but to him he had become a shadow. The cloister now seemed to be drained of reality, and appeared autumnal and transient.

Only the life within him was real, the anguished beating of his heart, the nostalgic sting of longing, the joys and fears of his dreams. To them he belonged; to them he abandoned himself. Suddenly, in the middle of a page or a lesson, surrounded by his classmates, he'd sink into himself and forget everything, listening only to the rivers and voices inside himself which drew him away, into deep wells filled with dark melodies, into colorful abysses full of fairy-tale deeds, and all the sounds were like his mother's voice, and the thousands of eyes all were his mother's eyes.


day Father Anselm called Goldmund into his pharmacy, his pretty herb pantry full of wondrous smells. Goldmund knew his way around there. The monk showed him a dried plant, neatly preserved between two sheets of paper, and asked him if he knew its name and could describe it accurately, the way it looked outside in the fields. Yes, Goldmund could; the plant was John's-wort. He was asked for a precise description of its characteristics. The old man was satisfied and gave his young friend the mission of gathering a good bundle of these plants during the afternoon, in the plant's favorite spots, which he indicated to Goldmund.

“In exchange you'll have the afternoon off from your classes, my boy. You'll have no objection to that, and you won't lose anything by it. Because knowledge of nature is a science, too—not only your silly grammar.”

Goldmund thanked him for the most welcome assignment to pick flowers for a couple of hours rather than sit in the classroom. To make his joy complete, he asked the stablemaster to let him take the horse Bless, and soon after lunch he led the animal from the stable. It greeted him enthusiastically; he jumped on and galloped, deeply content, into the warm, glowing day. He rode about for an hour or more, enjoying the air and the smell of the fields, and most of all the riding itself, then he remembered his errand and searched for one of the spots the father had described to him. He found it, tethered the horse in the shade of a maple, talked to it, fed it some bread, and started looking for the plants. There were a few strips of fallow land, overgrown with all kinds of weeds. Small, wizened poppies with a last few fading petals and many ripe seed pods stood among withering vetch and sky-blue chicory and discolored knotweed. The heaps of stones between the two fields were inhabited by lizards, and there, too, stood the first, yellow-flowered stalks of John's-wort; Goldmund began to pick them. After he had gathered a sizable bunch, he sat down on a stone to rest. It was hot and he looked longingly toward the shadowy edge of the distant forest, but he didn't want to go that far from the plants and from his horse, which he could still see from where he sat. So he stayed where he was, on the warm heap of stones, keeping very still to see the lizards who had fled come out again; he sniffed at the John's-wort, held one of its small leaves to the light to study the hundred tiny pin pricks in it.

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