Hermann Hesse

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Biography of Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse
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born July 02, 1877 Calw
died August 09, 1962 Montagnola

Hermann Hesse was a German-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. His best-known works include Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and The Glass Bead Game, each of which explores an individual's search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. Hesse showed signs of serious depression as early as his first year at school. Hermann Hesse's grandfather Hermann Gundert, a doctor of philosophy and fluent in multiple languages, encouraged the boy to read widely, giving him access to his library, which was filled with the works of world literature. All this instilled a sense in Hermann Hesse that he was a citizen of the world. Young Hesse shared a love of music with his mother. Both music and poetry were important in his family. His mother wrote poetry, and his father was known for his use of language in both his sermons and the writing of religious tracts. Hesse showed a precocious ability to rhyme, and by 1889–90 had decided that he wanted to be a writer. After successful attendance at the Latin School in Göppingen, Hesse entered the Evangelical Theological Seminary of Maulbronn Abbey in 1891. Although Hesse did well during the first months, writing in a letter that he particularly enjoyed writing essays and translating classic Greek poetry into German, his time in Maulbronn was the beginning of a serious personal crisis. In March 1892, Hesse showed his rebellious character, and, in one instance, he fled from the Seminary and was found in a field a day later. Hesse began a journey through various institutions and schools and experienced intense conflicts with his parents. In May, after an attempt at suicide, he spent time at an institution in Bad Boll under the care of theologian and minister Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt. Later, he was placed in a mental institution in Stetten im Remstal, and then a boys' institution in Basel. At the end of 1892, he attended the Gymnasium in Cannstatt, now part of Stuttgart. In 1893, he passed the One Year Examination, which concluded his schooling. The same year, he began spending time with older companions and took up drinking and smoking. In 1896, his poem "Madonna" appeared in a Viennese periodical and Hesse released his first small volume of poetry, Romantic Songs. In two years, only 54 of the 600 printed copies of Romantic Songs were sold. Furthermore, Hesse "suffered a great shock" when his mother disapproved of "Romantic Songs" on the grounds that they were too secular and even "vaguely sinful. From late 1899, Hesse worked in a distinguished antique book shop in Basel. In 1900, Hesse was exempted from compulsory military service due to an eye condition. This, along with nerve disorders and persistent headaches, affected him his entire life. In 1902, his mother died after a long and painful illness. He could not bring himself to attend her funeral, afraid that it would worsen his depression. With the novel Peter Camenzind, which appeared first as a pre-publication in 1903 and then as a regular printing by Fischer in 1904, came a breakthrough: from now on, Hermann Hesse could make a living as a writer. With the literary fame, Hesse married Maria Bernoulli (of the famous family of mathematicians) in 1904, settled down with her in Gaienhofen on Lake Constance, and began a family, eventually having three sons. In Gaienhofen, he wrote his second novel, Beneath the Wheel, which was published in 1906. Gaienhofen was the place where Hesse's interest in Buddhism was re-sparked. Although it was many years before the publication of Hesse's Siddhartha (1922), this masterpiece was to be derived from these new influences. During this time, there also was increased dissonance between him and Maria, and in 1911 Hesse left for a long trip to Sri Lanka and Indonesia. He also visited Sumatra, Borneo, and Burma, but "the physical experience... was to depress him." Any spiritual or religious inspiration that he was looking for eluded him, but the journey made a strong impression on his literary work. Following Hesse's return, the family moved to Bern (1912), but the change of environment could not solve the marriage problems. At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Hermann Hesse registered himself as a volunteer with the Imperial army. He was found unfit for combat duty, but was assigned to service involving the care of prisoners of war. While most poets and authors of the war participating countries quickly became embroiled in a tirade of mutual hate, Hesse, seemingly immune to the general war-enthusiasm of the time, wrote an essay titled "O Friends, Not These Tones" ("O Freunde, nicht diese Töne"). In this essay he appealed to his fellow intellectuals not to fall for nationalistic madness and hatred. What followed from this, Hesse later indicated, was a great turning point in his life: For the first time, he found himself in the middle of a serious political conflict, attacked by the German press, the recipient of hate mail, and distanced from old friends. By the time Hesse returned to civilian life in 1919, his marriage had shattered. His wife had a severe episode of psychosis, but, even after her recovery, Hesse saw no possible future with her. He moved to the town Montagnola. Here, he explored his writing projects further. This new beginning in different surroundings brought him happiness, and Hesse later called his first year in Ticino the fullest, most prolific, most industrious and most passionate time of his life. In 1922, Hesse's novella Siddhartha appeared, which showed the love for Indian culture and Buddhist philosophy that had already developed earlier in his life. In 1924, Hesse married the singer Ruth Wenger, but this marriage never attained any stability, however. In 1923, Hesse received Swiss citizenship. He turned away from the solitude of Steppenwolf and married art historian Ninon Dolbin, née Ausländer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946. Hesse observed the rise to power of Nazism in Germany with concern. In 1933, Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann made their travels into exile, each aided by Hesse. In this way, Hesse attempted to work against Hitler's suppression of art and literature that protested Nazi ideology. Hesse's third wife was Jewish, and he had publicly expressed his opposition to anti-Semitism long before then. At no time did he openly condemn the Nazis, although his detestation of their politics is beyond question. From the end of the 1930s, German journals stopped publishing Hesse's work, and the Nazis eventually banned it. The Glass Bead Game was Hesse's last novel. During the last twenty years of his life, Hesse wrote many short stories (chiefly recollections of his childhood) and poems (frequently with nature as their theme). He died on 9 August 1962, aged 85, and was buried in the cemetery at San Abbondio in Montagnola.

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