The Library

Herman Hesse
The Poems - A Dream

Guest at a monastery in the hills,
I stepped, when all the monks had gone to pray,
Into a book-lined room. Along the walls,
Glittering in the light of fading day,
I saw a multitude of vellum spines
With marvelous inscriptions. Eagerly,
Impelled by rapturous curiosity,
I picked the nearest book, and read the lines:

The Squaring of the Circle -- Final Stage.



  I thought: I'll take this and read every page!


  A quarto volume, leather tooled in gold,
Gave promise of a story still untold:
How Adam also ate of the other tree . . .
The other tree? Which one? The tree of life?
Is Adam then immortal? Now I could see
No chance had brought me to this library.


  I spied the back and edges of a folio
Aglow with all the colors of the rainbow,

Its hand-painted title stating a decree:

The interrelationships of hues and sound:
Proof that for every color may be found
In music a proper corresponding key.


  Choirs of colors sparkled before my eyes
And now I was beginning to surmise:
Here was the library of Paradise.
To all the questions that had driven me
All answers now could be given me.
Here I could quench my thirst to understand,
For here all knowledge stood at my command.


  There was provision here for every need:
A title full of promise on each book
Responded to my every rapid look.
Here there was fruit to satisfy the greed
Of any student's timid aspirations,
Of any master's bold investigations.
Here was the inner meaning, here the key,
To poetry, to wisdom, and to science.
Magic and erudition in alliance
Opened the door to every mystery.
These books provided pledges of all power
To him who came here at this magic hour.


  A lectern stood near by; with hands that shook
I placed upon it one enticing book,
Deciphered at a glance the picture writing,
As in a dream we find ourselves reciting
A poem or lesson we have never learned.


  At once I soared aloft to starry spaces
Of the soul, and with the zodiac turned,
Where all the revelations of all races,
Whatever intuition has divined,
Millennial experience of all nations,
Harmoniously met in new relations,
Old insights with new symbols recombined,
So that in minutes or in hours as I read
I traced once more the whole path of mankind,
And all that men have ever done and said
Disclosed its inner meaning to my mind.


  I read, and saw those hieroglyphic forms
Couple and part, and coalesce in swarms,
Dance for a while together, separate,
Once more in newer patterns integrate,
A kaleidoscope of endless metaphors ---
And each some vaster, fresher sense explores.


  Bedazzled by these sights, I looked away
From the book to give my eyes a moment's rest,
And saw that I was not the only guest.
An old man stood before that grand array
Of tomes. Perhaps he was the archivist.


  I saw that he was earnestly intent
Upon some task, and I could not resist
A strange conviction that I had to know
The manner of his work, and what it meant.
I watched the old man, with frail hand and slow,
Remove a volume and inspect what stood
Written upon its back, then saw him blow
With pallid lips upon the title -- could
A title possibly be more alluring
Or offer greater promise of enduring
Delight? But now his finger wiped across
The spine. I saw it silently erase
The name, and watched with fearful sense of loss
As he inscribed another in its place
And then moved on to smilingly efface
One more, but only a newer title to emboss.


  For a long while I looked at him bemused,
Then turned, since reason totally refused
To understand the meaning of his actions,
Back to my book -- I'd seen but a few lines --
And found I could no longer read the signs
Or even see the rows of images.
The world of symbols had barely entered
That had stirred me to such transports of bliss,
In which a universe of meaning centered,
Seemed to dissolve and rush away, careen
And reel and hake in feverish contractions,
And fade out, leaving nothing to be seen
But empty parchment with a hoary sheen.


  I felt a hand up me, felt it slide
Over my shoulder. The old man stood beside
My lectern, and shuddered while
He took my book and with a subtle smile
Brushed his finger lightly to elide
The former title, then began to write
New promises and problems, novel inquiries,
New formulas for ancient mysteries.
Without a work, he plied his magic style.
Then, with my book, he disappeared from sight.


  Herman Hesse
Magister Ludi


  Please, just before going to sleep,
look up for a while at these bays and straits again, with all their stars, and
Don't reject the ideas or dreams that come to you from them.



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