Tuesday, May 5, 2015

The Journey to the East

How many of us have sold our violin, yet continue in the desire to play?

How many of us see glimpses of a more vivid individual in the things we create, yet despair when what we see in the mirror is only a faded version of that vividness?

Most of us, I’m willing to wager.

Most of us are like the unseeing H.H., character in Herman Hesse’s The Journey to the East, part of the powerful League, making our journeys toward  . . . what? In H.H.’s case, it was to woo the beautiful Princess Fatima.

What do we seek as we go about our journeys?

If I understand Hesse’s novel, that search is for ourselves, for that doorway that leads us back to our hocked violin and into that world of vivid wonder where we see the individual as part of something greater, part of something highly desired. Part, perhaps, of the greater lives of the gods. For that is partly what gods are: Individuals who have found out truly who they are.

“You are troubled and hasty,” says the servant Leo to H.H., once they are reunited and H.H. is trying to figure out why Leo left the journey just as they arrived at its most difficult point. “[T]hat is not a good thing. It distorts the face and makes one ill. We shall walk quite slowly – it is so soothing. The few drops of rain are wonderful, aren’t they? They come from the air like Eau de Cologne.”

“Leo,” I pleaded, “have pity!” Tell me just one thing; do you know me yet?”

“Ah,” he said kindly, and went on speaking as if to a sick or drunken man, “you will be better now; it was only excitement. You ask if I know you. Well, what person really knows another or even himself? As for me, I am not one who understands people at all. I am not interested in them. Now, I understand dogs quite well, and also birds and cats – but I don’t really know you, sir.”

Thus Leo tests H.H., and finds him lacking.

How much do we lack?

H.H. reveals he still loves music, but that he sold his violin long ago. Not out of need – he had money enough – but because, he discovers, he was afraid of the occasional glimpses of the vivid H.H. he saw as he played.

This is not an allegory about hidden talents – but about the hidden individual within ourselves. And the journey east is a metaphor for discovering who we are – though discovering how to do that is part of the mystical part of the journey, to which Hesse only alludes. The individual who discovers himself will find the way revealed, once the destination is reached.

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