Themes and Meanings

“The Poet” was written in 1913, shortly after Hermann Hesse had finished his novel Rosshalde (1914; English translation, 1970), a thinly veiled portrait of his own life, in which he painfully analyzed the plight of an artist who is burdened by ties to his family, while his nature demands that he devote himself solely to his art. The shorter work is a more imaginative variation on the same theme. It is also the first work to reveal Hesse’s growing preoccupation with the East and a prelude to his most lyric novel, Siddhartha (1922, English translation, 1951), in which Hesse expresses his religious beliefs against the background of Buddhistic India. Here, too, a younger apprentice discovers the harmony of the universe as he lives with a simple, smiling ferryman in a hut near a river. Whereas Siddhartha deals with the search for the meaning of life in religious terms, “The Poet” expresses Hesse’s earlier and misdirected dream that he could find and express this meaning in art alone.

The repeated emphasis on music reveals it as a voice of universal harmony, a role foreshadowing the music theme in Hesse’s final novel, Das Glasperlenspiel: Versuch einer Lebensbeschreibung des Magister Ludi Josef Knecht samt Knechts hinterlassenen Schriften (1943; Magister Ludi, 1949; also known as The Glass Bead Game, 1969), in which the Music Master becomes a transfigured saint who bears a likeness to the Master of the Perfect Word and to the elder Han Fook.