Hermann Hesse on Trees, Longing & Belonging.

It goes like this: I talk to trees. They listen.

In a free-fall world of bittersweet gypsy wandering, they make me feel grounded. They all seem to be connected in some way beyond their roots. Not only to their fellow trees but to the whole of nature, and our entire, lonely human race.

How can they know so much without moving? How can they say without speaking? Be together even as they are standing alone? Please, teach me. 

One of the most beautiful passages in literature and perhaps the most profound thoughts anyone has ever uttered on trees, comes from the pen of Hermann Hesse, whose sad joy and deep understanding of his light and darkness never cease to strike a sensitive chord in me.

This Ode to Trees is found in Hesse’s Wandering: Notes and Sketches, published in 1920, after caring for World War I prisoners and experiencing multiple family loss and conflicts.

 

 

Read the following alone (cup of tea in hand) or press play and follow along this equally beautiful recording: 

 

 

For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone.

 

They are like lonely persons. Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, solitary men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche. In their highest boughs the world rustles, their roots rest in infinity; but they do not lose themselves there, they struggle with all the force of their lives for one thing only: to fulfill themselves according to their own laws, to build up their own form, to represent themselves.

 

Nothing is holier, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.

 

When a tree is cut down and reveals its naked death-wound to the sun, one can read its whole history in the luminous, inscribed disk of its trunk: in the rings of its years, its scars, all the struggle, all the suffering, all the sickness, all the happiness and prosperity stand truly written, the narrow years and the luxurious years, the attacks withstood, the storms endured.

 

And every young farmboy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that high on the mountains and in continuing danger the most indestructible, the strongest, the ideal trees grow.

 

Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

 

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life. The attempt and the risk that the eternal mother took with me is unique, unique the form and veins of my skin, unique the smallest play of leaves in my branches and the smallest scar on my bark. I was made to form and reveal the eternal in my smallest special detail.

 

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.

 

When we are stricken and cannot bear our lives any longer, then a tree has something to say to us: Be still! Be still! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is not difficult. Those are childish thoughts. Let God speak within you, and your thoughts will grow silent.

 

You are anxious because your path leads away from mother and home. But every step and every day lead you back again to the mother. Home is neither here nor there. Home is within you, or home is nowhere at all.

 

A longing to wander tears my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind at evening. If one listens to them silently for a long time, this longing reveals its kernel, its meaning.

 

It is not so much a matter of escaping from one’s suffering, though it may seem to be so. It is a longing for home, for a memory of the mother, for new metaphors for life. It leads home. Every path leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is mother.

 

So the tree rustles in the evening, when we stand uneasy before our own childish thoughts: Trees have long thoughts, long-breathing and restful, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, as long as we do not listen to them.

 

But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is.

 

That is home. That is happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

*****

More Longing: 

>> “Come closer to me, come closer, I promise you, it will be beautiful.”

>> Antilamentation: Regret Nothing. 

 

 

 

{Home.}

 

 

 

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Andrea Balt
Co-Founder/Editor-in-Chief of Rebelle Society, Wellness Alchemist at Rebelle Wellness & Professional Dream Chaser at Creative Rehab. Unfinished book with a love for greens, bikes and poetry; raised by wolves & adopted by people; not trying to make art but to Be Art. Holds a BA in Journalism & Mass Communication, an MFA in Creative Writing & a Holistic Health Coach degree from the Institute for Integrative Nutrition®. In her work she tries to reflect the wholeness of the human experience by combining Art & Health + Mind & Body + Darkness & Brilliance into a more alive, unabridged and unlimited edition of ourselves. She is also on a quest to reinstate Creativity as one of our essential Human Rights to (hopefully and soon) be included in the UN Declaration. Connect with her in the Social Media Jungle via Facebook, Twitter & Instagram and sign up for her FREE MuseLetter.

14 Comments

  • Naga Nath commented on October 12, 2012 Reply
    Having lived in the jungle forest for 8 years now, acknowledging, talking to, embracing, and celebrating all of the various and hundreds of trees around me, I can’t tell you how true this is. I wholeheartedly encourage you to experience these life truths and lessons for yourself! I can’t thank you enough Andrea for posting this powerfully truthful thought-realization from Don Herman!
  • Blackbyrd (@madgroove) commented on October 13, 2012 Reply
    I believe the trees have taught me many things. The nights that I have been privileged to sleep beneath them, with fire illuminating their depths, their fractal splendor, I am as a child again lying on the ground with her roots spread under and all around me, as a Mother. Thank you for this magnificent accolade to trees, Ms. Andrea! Thank you; from the well of my soul that dances beneath her majesty.
  • Richard La Rosa
    Richard La Rosa commented on October 13, 2012 Reply
    When did I stop talking to trees? Not with the voice of my mind, but with my body. I was an avid tree climber in my youth and I felt a kinship to the trees. I was Tarzan of the Apes (the Tarzan of pulp fiction, not the dim-witted movie version). So, I asked my six-year-old daughter if she wanted me to teach her how to climb trees and her immediate gleefully maniacal grin and voiceless nod told me it’s time to take to the trees again. Strange, that I was unaware of Hesse’s ode to trees, because I spent so much time sitting above his bones. For five summers, whenever I felt the need for silence and stillness, I would leave the campus of The American School in Switzerland (where I taught English and Drama to wealthy European and Arabic children) and walk to the cemetery at San Abbondio in Montagnola, where Hesse is buried. There, I would sit by his grave and write in my journal. It seemed to me to be the best place for contemplation. However, when I was in the mood to write a letter, I would sit by the nearby grave of Hugo Ball and imagine myself at the Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich, a city not far away from me in space but at a place beyond my reach in time. And, because I’m the sort of person that would do such a thing, I waited until the moment I had time to sit in that exact spot to read the copy of his Dada Manifesto, which I had procured from George Whitman at the Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris. See what a memory of trees can bring out. It’s never just about the trees. So, thanks for the reminder of trees and Hesse, because (coincidentally) I was telling a friend a week or so ago that I wanted to read Demian again — this time with my more sophisticated reader’s mind.
  • Adam Johnson (@Garbologie) commented on November 10, 2012 Reply
    I love Hermann Hesse – his clarity and his peace. Thanks Andrea for reminding me of this. That little book Wandering is one of my very favourites and my copy is well thumbed.
  • francescasolinas commented on November 13, 2012 Reply
    Wunderbar Andréa, thank you. I often meditate with trees, they are tender and comforting, make me feel whole and in connection with mother Earth <3
  • John McAndrew commented on December 17, 2012 Reply
    With Understanding I bow to the pine, And surprisingly, She bows back. “You give me grace, Strength, And beauty,” I say. “You give me movement, Voice, And dance,” She says, Again, surprising me, As I had not known, Pines could talk. “Of course we can talk,” She tells me. “But you, “You have to be capable, Of listening.” “Ahhhh,” I say, With understanding. (John McAndrew, Plum Village, 2010)
  • Michael Beck commented on January 19, 2013 Reply
    i like to rake lizards from tree(s) listen to them laugh as they fly
  • AbyNormal commented on August 7, 2013 Reply
    i’ll never paint a tree with the same eye. the eye of my heart will lead, from there i hope to be nothing but what i am…to be my home, to be happy.
  • Shavawn M. Berry
    Shavawn M. Berry commented on January 3, 2014 Reply
    Trees have always been my friends, ever since childhood. I admire their tenacious stillness. Thanks for the reminder with this. Mystically, another friend posted it on her FB page a few days ago.

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