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"Chinese Parable", by Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse

Hymn to Old Age


AN OLD MAN named Chunglang, which means ‘Master Rock’, owned a small farm in the mountains. One day it so happened that one of his horses went missing. Then the neighbours came to offer him their sympathy over this misfortune.

The old man, however, asked them: “How do you know that it’s a misfortune?”

And lo and behold, a few days later the horse returned and brought with it a whole herd of wild horses. Once again the neighbours came, this time to offer him their congratulations on his good fortune.

The old man from the mountains, however, responded: “How do you know that it’s good fortune ?”

Since he now had so many horses at his disposal, the son of the old man developed a liking for riding, and one day he broke his leg. Then back they came, the neighbours, in order to express their sympathy.

But once again the old man said to them: “How do you know that it’s a misfortune ?”

The following year, the Commission of ‘Beanpoles’ came to the mountains to take away tall, strong men to serve the Emperor as boot-men and litter-bearers. They did not take the old man’s son, because he still hadn’t recovered from his broken leg.

Chunglang could not resist a smile.


Softened and smoothed by rains sent down from the skies

Green with moss, by icy frosts deep burned

Your gentle cheeks, your large and lowered eyes

In peace towards their distant goal are turned

Willing to decay and to disperse

Into the shapeless, boundless universe.

Yet still the crumbling posture and expression

Reveal the noble motives of your mission

Seeking, despite the mud, the earth, the chill

The fading forms, your great task to fulfil.

Tomorrow into roots and leaves you’ll turn

And into water, reflecting sky and sun

And into ivy, algae and green fern

An image of the eternal All-is-One."

☆ ☆ ☆


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