Trees by Herman Hess
Hermann Karl Hesse (1877 –1962) was a German-born Swiss poet, novelist, and painter. Vowing at an early age “to be a poet or nothing at all,” Hermann Hesse rebelled against formal education, focusing on a rigorous programme of independent study that included literature, philosophy, art, and history. One result of these efforts was a series of novels that became counterculture bibles that remain widely influential today as well as spiritual poetry.
Tree on Cycle Path at Kijkduin Dunes, The Hague, always worth a stop for a chat.
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 fulfil 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.
Translation of a prose poem by Herman Hesse which first appeared in Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte, an anthology of 39 works by various authors on trees, by Volker Michels, at the Suhrkamp Verlag.
Hermann Karl Hesse (1877 –1962) works include Demian, Steppenwolf, Siddhartha, and Stages, Happiness, The Glass Bead Game, which explore an individual’s search for authenticity, self-knowledge and spirituality. In 1946, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Herman Hess 1877-1962
Further resources on Herman Hess
Wonderful discussions on the work and philosophy of Herman Hess
Seasons of the Soul Part 1
Seasons of the Soul Part 2
Seasons of the Soul Part 3
Seasons of the Soul Part 4
Seasons of the Soul Part 5
Seasons of the Soul Part 6
Seasons of the Soul Part 7
Seasons of the Soul Part 8
By Herman Hess
Oh oak tree, how they have pruned you.
Now you stand odd and strangely shaped!
You were hacked a hundred times
until you had nothing left but spite and will!
I am like you, so many insults and humiliations
could not shatter my link with life.
And every day I raise my head
beyond countless insults towards new light.
What in me was once gentle, sweet and tender
this world has ridiculed to death.
But my true self cannot be murdered.
I am at peace and reconciled.
I grow new leaves with patience
from branches hacked a hundred times.
In spite of all the pain and sorrow
I’m still in love with this mad, mad world.
Other Poets on Trees
Advice from a Tree
By Ilan Shamir
Stand Tall and Proud
Sink your roots deeply into the Earth
Reflect the light of a greater source
Think long term
Go out on a limb
Remember your place among all living beings
Embrace with joy the changing seasons
For each yields its own abundance
The Energy and Birth of Spring
The Growth and Contentment of Summer
The Wisdom to let go of leaves in the Fall
The Rest and Quiet Renewal of Winter
Feel the wind and the sun
And delight in their presence
Look up at the moon that shines down upon you
And the mystery of the stars at night.
Seek nourishment from the good things in life
Earth, fresh air, light
Be content with your natural beauty
Drink plenty of water
Let your limbs sway and dance in the breezes
Remember your roots
Enjoy the view!
Can you Hear?
by Garth Gilchrist
If I say “wind in pine”
Will you hear it?
Only waves of air
Washing around inside you
Through limbs of trees
You planted there long ago
Will deliver my words to you alive
Will carry you into
The pure wonder of wildness
Like a dry needle swept into the sky.
A Ballad Of The Trees And The Master
by Sidney Lanier
Clean forspent, forspent.
Into the woods my Master came,
Forspent with love and shame.
But the olives they were not blind to Him,
The little gray leaves were kind to Him:
The thorn-tree had a mind to Him
When into the woods He came.Out of the woods my Master went,
And He was well content.
Out of the woods my Master came,
Content with death and shame.
When Death and Shame would woo Him last,
From under the trees they drew Him last:
‘Twas on a tree they slew Him — last
When out of the woods He came.
Think like a Tree
Affirm life’s magic
Be graceful in the wind
Stand tall after a storm
Feel refreshed after it rains
Grow strong without notice
Be prepared for each season
Provide shelter to strangers
Hang tough through a cold spell
Emerge renewed at the first signs of spring
Stay deeply rooted while reaching for the sky
Be still long enough to
hear your own leaves rustling.