Hermann Hesse Hermann Hesse Poetry: European Poets Analysis

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Hermann Hesse Poetry: European Poets Analysis

(European Poets and Poetry)

Virtually all of Hermann Hesse’s fiction and poetry is autobiographical, even confessional to some degree. Although his major novels have been translated into English and many other languagesand to this day are the primary focus of study and critiquemuch of his nonfiction, short fiction, and poetry remains available only in German.

Hesse’s early poems are lyrical. Regular in meter and rhyme, they revolve around typical subjects of youthful inspiration: expressions of longing for women, insightful studies of nature, observations made while traveling, considerations of the self, and as might be expected from someone of his religious upbringing, reflections on the meaning of spirituality, faith, and belief. His charming hometown of Calw comes under frequent scrutiny; such poems are replete with realistic, telling details surrounding the honest, cheerful burghers who struggle for survival, and lines are crowded with fond memories. Hesse’s career as a poet was given a boost at the turn of the twentieth century by a sympathetic critique of his Romantische Lieder (romantic songs) from fellow poet Rainer Maria Rilke, who, while praising his contemporary’s use of metallic imagery, complained that Hesse’s verbiage was too abstract. Rilke pronounced the collection “unliterary,” which was considered a compliment, a contrast to the usual poetry of the time.

Even from the beginning, Hesse’s poetry is more downbeat than exuberant. From an early age, he considered himself an outsider, an observer rather than a participant in the stream of life; a loner, he never felt he belonged anywhere. Romantische Lieder, although demonstrating conscious control of rhythm, rhyme, and the acoustic effect produced by combinations of words, is laden with images of unhappiness, depression, and uneasiness. Although Hesse would move between rhyme and free verse throughout his career, he would continually revisit these themes in his poems.


Crisis, an aptly named collection of poems, evolved when Hesse was writing Steppenwolf, one of his most influential novels. The poems reflect the latest and most catastrophic in a series of major turning points in his life. Individual pieces revolve around the mid-life crisis many aging men experience. They incorporate his feelings about the breakup of his first marriage, his realization that his second marriage was doomed, bouts of illness and insomnia and extreme depression, and a complete change in his philosophical outlook. Tired of life, out of balance physically and psychologically, weary of pursuing spiritual answers in his quest for self-knowledge, and fed up with his usual preoccupation with asceticism and intellectuality, he immersed himself completely in the sensual and emotional. For two years in the mid-1920’s, Hesse caroused nightly, drinking himself into oblivion, experimenting with drugs, consorting with prostitutes, and visiting nightclubs to listen to live jazz.

The poems of Crisis, written mostly in straightforward rhyming quatrains, are brutally frank. They speak of the authorthe lone wolf of the steppes, as depicted in Steppenwolf saturating himself with whiskey, dancing the shimmy, cavorting with girls named Fanny and Adelaide, waking up alone with painful hangovers,...

(The entire section is 758 words.)