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"The Beautiful Dream", by Hermann Hesse

Hermann Hesse

The Beautiful Dream


"When Martin Haberland, a high school student, died at the age of seventeen from pneumonia, everyone talked about him and his untimely death. In particular, they regretted that he had not been able to make something out of his abundant talents and to experience success.

It is true that I, too, felt sorry about the death of the handsome, talented young man, and I thought, with a certain amount of sorrow, how much enormous talent there must be in the world for nature simply to toss it away so arbitrarily ! But nature could not care less what we think about it, and as far as talent is concerned, there is such an excess that our artists will soon become their own audiences, and audiences made up of ordinary people will no longer exist.

As a result, I cannot mourn the young man’s death the same way I might if he had been harmed and cruelly robbed of the best and beautiful things in the world that had been destined for him. Whoever has happily reached the age of seventeen in good health and with nice parents has the best part of his life behind him in many respects. If his life ended too early and did not assume the form of a Beethoven symphony because he had not endured much suffering or many harsh experiences or gone through wild phases, it could still be considered a small Haydn chamber concerto, and you cannot say such a thing about many people’s lives.

In the case of Martin Haberland, I am very certain of the circumstances. The young man did indeed experience the most beautiful things in life that it was possible for him to experience. He had absorbed the rhythms of such unearthly music that his death was necessary because his life could have ended only in discord after that. The fact that the student enjoyed his happiness only in a dream should not diminish it, for most people experience their dreams more intensely than their lives.

So it was with Martin, who had the following dream on the second day of his sickness as his fever rose, three days before his death. His father placed his hand on his shoulder and said,

“I understand very well that you cannot learn much more here. You must become a great and good man and pursue a special kind of happiness that cannot be found in your nest at home. Pay attention: First you must climb the Mountain of Knowledge, then you must perform some deeds, and finally you must find love and become happy.”

While his father spoke these words, his beard seemed longer, and his eyes larger. For a moment he looked like a wise king. Then he gave his son a kiss on his forehead and told him to depart. So Martin walked down wide beautiful stairs like those in a palace, and just as he was crossing the street and about to leave the small city, he encountered his mother, who called to him,

“So, Martin, do you want to go away without even saying goodbye to me ?”

He glanced at her with a startled look and was ashamed that he had thought her long since dead. But he could see her standing alive and well before him, more beautiful and younger than he had remembered. In fact, there was something girlish about her, so that when she kissed him, he blushed and did not dare return her kiss. She peered into his eyes with a bright clear look that radiated like a light within him, and she nodded to him as he hastily departed in confusion.

Outside the city he was not surprised to find a harbor instead of the valley and the country road lined with ash trees, and there was a large old-fashioned ship with brownish sails that rose into the golden sky, just like in his favorite painting by Claude Lorrain. Soon he was sailing toward the Mountain of Knowledge.

But then the ship and the golden sky vanished completely from sight. Now the young student Haberland found himself wandering down the country road, already far from home. He approached a mountain that glowed as red as the sunset in the distance and seemed not to come any closer as long as he continued to walk. Fortunately, Professor Siedler was accompanying him, and he said in a fatherly tone,

“There is no construction to be used here other than the ablativus absolutus. Only by using it will you suddenly come media in res.”

Martin immediately followed this advice and recalled an ablativus absolutus that, to a certain extent, was his entire past. It included the world and made a clean sweep of every kind of past in such a thorough way that everything became bright and full of the present and the future. And suddenly he stood on the mountain, and Professor Siedler was also right next to him and all at once began talking to him in a familiar way.

In turn, Martin spoke familiarly with the professor and confided in him as though he were his real father. Indeed, as the professor talked, he became more and more like his father. Soon Haberland’s love for his father and his love for scholarship flowed together and merged in him, both stronger and more beautiful, and while he sat and thought, surrounded by nothing but foreboding wonder, his father whispered to him,

“So, now look around you !”

He could see nothing but immense clarity all around him, and everything in the world was in the best of order and as clear as the sun. He understood completely why his mother had died and yet still lived. He understood deep in his heart why people were so different in looks, customs, and languages and yet came from one being and were close brothers. He fully grasped that want and suffering and nastiness were necessary and were desired or ordained by God so that they became beautiful and bright and spoke loudly about the order and joy of the world.

And before he was completely certain that he had been on the Mountain of Knowledge and had become wise, he felt himself called upon to perform a deed, and although he had constantly thought about various professions for two years and had never decided on a particular one, he now knew for sure that he was an architect, and it was wonderful to know this and not to have the slightest doubt about it anymore.

All at once, white and gray stones lay on the ground. There were also long beams and machines. Many people stood around and did not know what to do. However, he gave instructions with his hands and explained and ordered. He held plans and needed only to gesticulate and point, and people ran about and were happy to do sensible jobs. They lifted stones and shoved carts, set up poles and chiseled logs. The architect’s will was in all their hands and eyes.

Soon the building was erected and became a palace that displayed a very evident, simple, joyous beauty with its gables and vestibules, its courtyards and bay windows. And it was clear that only a few such things needed to be built in order for suffering and want, dissatisfaction and discontent, to vanish from the earth. With the completion of the building, Martin became sleepy and could no longer pay careful attention to everything. He heard something like music and festive sounds roaring around him and surrendered to a profound, beautiful fatigue with deep and rare contentment.

Now after all these experiences, his consciousness began to rise for the first time, and then his mother stood before him again and took him by the hand. Immediately he knew that she wanted to go with him into the land of love, and he became quiet, full of expectation, and forgot everything that he had already experienced and done on this journey. At the same time, there was a splendid light that shone after him from the Mountain of Knowledge and his palace as well as from a conscience that had been thoroughly cleansed.

His mother smiled and took him by the hand. They went down the mountain into a nocturnal landscape. Her dress was blue, and as they walked, she vanished. What had been her blue dress became the blue of the deep distant valley, and as he recognized this and no longer knew whether his mother had really been with him, he was overcome by sadness.

He sat down in the meadow and began to weep, without pain, as devoted and sincere as he had been before, when he had used his creative drives to build the palace and then had rested in exhaustion. In his tears he felt that he was now supposed to encounter the sweetest thing that a person could experience, and when he tried to ponder this, he knew quite well what love truly was, but he could not imagine it exactly and ended with the feeling that love is like death. It is fulfillment and an evening after which nothing more may follow.

He was still thinking about all this when everything became different once again. In the distance he could hear delightful music in the blue valley, and the daughter of the village mayor came walking down the meadow, and suddenly he knew that he loved her. She looked the same as ever, but wore a very simple, elegant dress like a Greek goddess. No sooner was she there than night fell, and it was impossible to see anything more except a sky filled with large bright stars. The girl stood still in front of Martin and smiled.

“So you’re here ?” she said in a friendly way, as though she had been waiting for him. “Yes,” he said. “My mother showed me the way. I’m now finished with everything, even with the large house that I had to build. You must live there.” She smiled and seemed very maternal, sovereign, and a little sad, like an adult.

“What should I do now ?” Martin asked, and placed his hands on the girl’s shoulders. She leaned over and gazed into his eyes so closely that he became a bit frightened, and he now saw nothing but large calm eyes and numerous stars above her in a mist of gold. His heart began to throb painfully.

The beautiful girl moved her lips to Martin’s lips, and right away his soul melted and he lost his entire will. In the blue darkness the stars began to resound softly. Now Martin felt that he had tasted love and death and the sweetest thing that a person can experience. He heard the world around him move and ring like an exquisite recurring refrain, and without taking his lips from the mouth of the girl and without wanting or desiring anything more in the world, he felt that he, the girl, and everything else were being absorbed by the recurring refrain. He closed his eyes and rushed down an eternal predestined street resounding with music, and he felt somewhat dizzy.

Now no knowledge, no deed, nor anything earthly waited for him at the end anymore."

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