Narcissus And Goldmund
By Hermann Hesse
Outside the entrance of the Mariabronn cloister, whose rounded arch rested on slim double columns, a chestnut tree stood close to the road. It was a sweet chestnut, with a sturdy trunk and a full round crown that swayed gently in the wind, brought from Italy many years earlier by a monk who had made a pilgrimage to Rome. In the spring it waited until all the surrounding trees were green, and even the hazel and walnut trees were wearing ruddy foliage, before sprouting its own first leaves; then, during the shortest nights of the year, it drove the delicate white-green rays of its exotic blossoms out through tufts of leaves, filling the air with an admonishing and pungent fragrance. In October, after the grape and apple harvests, the autumn wind shook the prickly chestnuts out of the tree’s burnished gold crown; the cloister students would scramble and fight for the nuts, and Prior Gregory, who came from the south, roasted them in the fireplace in his room. The beautiful treetop—secret kin to the portal’s slender sandstone columns and the stone ornaments of the window vaults and pillars, loved by the Savoyards and Latins—swayed above the cloister entrance, a conspicuous outsider in the eyes of the natives.
Generations of cloister boys passed beneath the foreign tree, carrying their writing tablets, chatting, laughing, clowning, and squabbling, barefoot or shod according to the season, a flower or a nut between their teeth or a snowball in their fists. There were always newcomers; and the faces changed every few years, yet most of them resembled one another, if only for their blond and curly hair. Some stayed for life, becoming novices and monks; they had their hair shorn, donned habit and cincture, read books, taught boys, grew old, died. Others after finishing their studies were taken home by their parents to castles, or to merchants’ and artisans’ houses, and then went out into the world and lived by their wits or their crafts. They returned to the cloister occasionally as grown men, bringing their little sons to be taught by the priests, stood for a while smiling pensively at the chestnut tree, then vanished once more. The cells and halls of the cloister, between the thick round window vaults and the trim double columns of red stone, were filled with life, with teaching, learning, administration, ruling; many kinds of arts and sciences—the pious and worldly, the frivolous and somber—were pursued here, and were passed on from one generation to another.
Books were written and annotated, systems invented, ancient scrolls collected, new scrolls illuminated, the faith of the people fostered, their credulity smiled upon. Erudition and piety, simplicity and cunning, the wisdom of the testaments and the wisdom of the Greeks, white and black magic—a little of each flourished here; there was room enough for everything, room for meditation and repentance, for gregariousness and the good life. One interest would usually outweigh another, predominating in accord with the personality of the incumbent abbot or the tendency of the day. At times the cloister’s reputation for exorcism and demon-detecting would attract visitors; at other times the cloister would be known for its fine music, or for a holy monk who had the power to heal and perform miracles, or for the pike soup and stag-liver pies served in the refectory. And among the throng of monks and pupils, whether pious or lukewarm, fasting or fat, who came and lived there and died, there would always be one or another who was special, whom all loved or all feared, who seemed to be chosen, of whom people spoke long after his contemporaries had been forgotten.
Even now the cloister of Mariabronn had in its midst two persons who were out of the ordinary, one old and one young. Among the many brethren who flocked to the dormitories, chapels, and classrooms were two of whom all were aware, whom all respected: Abbot Daniel and Brother Narcissus. Though the latter had only recently entered on his novitiate, he had, because of his gifts, been appointed a teacher, mainly of Greek, against all tradition. These two, the aging Abbot and the novice, had special standing in the house; they aroused curiosity and were watched, admired, envied, and sometimes slandered.
Most brothers loved the Abbot for his kindness, simplicity, and humility. Only the learned were a trifle condescending in their affection for him, because, for all his saintliness, Abbot Daniel would never be a scholar. He had the simplicity of wisdom, but his Latin was modest and he knew no Greek whatsoever.
The few who permitted themselves an occasional smile at their Abbot’s simplicity were all the more enamored of Narcissus, the handsome prodigy who possessed elegant Greek, impeccable manners, quietly penetrating thinker’s eyes, and beautiful, sharply outlined lips. The scholars admired him for his extraordinary Greek; almost all the others, for his nobility and refinement. Many quite simply loved him, but there were inevitably those who resented his extreme reserve, self-control, and exquisite manners.
Abbot and novice, each bore his fate and ruled and suffered in his own way. They felt closer and more drawn to each other than to anyone else in the cloister, yet neither found the way to the other or felt at ease in the other’s presence. The Abbot treated the young man with the greatest solicitude, worried about him as though he were a rare, sensitive, perhaps dangerously precocious younger brother. The young man accepted the Abbot’s every order, counsel, and good word with perfect equanimity, never argued or sulked, and if the Abbot was right in finding that Brother Narcissus’s only sin was pride, Narcissus was a master at concealing it. There was nothing to be said against him; he was perfect and no one was a match for him. Yet, apart from the learned, he had few friends; his distinction surrounded him like a chilling draft.
Once, after confession, the Abbot said to him: “Narcissus, I admit that I am guilty of having judged you harshly. Often I have considered you arrogant, and perhaps I have done you an injustice. You are very much alone, my young brother, you have admirers, but no friends. I wish I had reason to scold you from time to time, but I have none. I wish you would misbehave occasionally, as young people of your age often do. But you never misbehave. I worry about you a little, Narcissus.” The young novice fixed his dark eyes on the old Abbot.
“I wish above all not to worry you, gentle father. It may well be that I am arrogant. If so, I beg you to punish me. Sometimes I feel an urge to punish myself. Send me to a hermitage, father, or assign me lowly chores.”
“You are too young for either, dear brother,” said the Abbot. “Besides, you are eminently gifted in speech and thought. To assign you lowly chores would be wasting these God-given talents. In all probability you will become a teacher and a scholar. Is that not your own wish?” “Forgive me, father, I am not certain what my own wishes are. I shall always take pleasure in study, how could it be otherwise? But I do not believe that my life will be limited to study. A man’s wishes may not always determine his destiny, his mission; perhaps there are other, predetermining, factors.”
The Abbot listened gravely. Still, a smile played about his old face as he said: “Insofar as I have come to know people, we all have a slight tendency, especially while we are young, to confuse our wishes with predestination. But tell me, since you believe that you have foreknowledge of your destiny, tell me what you believe yourself destined for?”
Narcissus let his dark eyes close until they disappeared in the shadows of his long black lashes.
He did not answer.
“Speak, my son,” the Abbot ordered after much waiting.
In a low voice, his eyes on the ground, Narcissus began: “I believe, gentle father, that I am destined above all else for cloister life. I believe that I shall become a monk, a priest, a prior, perhaps an abbot. I do not believe that this is because I wish it, I do not wish for offices. They will be laid upon me.”
Both were silent for a long time.
“What gives you this belief?” the old man asked hesitantly. “What talent is there in you, other than learning, that expresses itself in this belief?”
“It is a capacity to sense the characters and destiny of people,” Narcissus said slowly, “not only my own destiny, but that of others as well. It obliges me to serve others by ruling over them. Were I not born for cloister life, I should have to become a judge or a statesman.” “Perhaps,” nodded the Abbot. “Have you tested your capacity to recognize people’s characters and destinies? Have you examples?”
“Are you willing to give me an example?”
“Very well. Since I do not wish to pry into the secrets of our brothers without their knowledge, you might perhaps tell me what you think you know about me, your Abbot Daniel.” Narcissus raised his lids and looked the Abbot in the eye.
“Is that an order, gentle father?”
“I find it difficult to speak, father.”
“And I, my young brother, I find it difficult to force you to speak. And yet I do. Speak.” Narcissus bowed his head and said in a whisper: “I know little of you, gentle father. I know that you are a servant of God who would rather watch over goats and ring the bell in a hermitage and listen to peasants’ confessions than head a large cloister. I know that you have a special love for the Holy Mother of God and that most of your prayers are addressed to her. Occasionally you pray that Greek and similar subjects that are studied in this cloister do not lead the souls in your care into confusion and danger. Occasionally you pray for continued patience with Prior Gregory. Sometimes you pray for a gentle end. And I think that your prayer will be heard and that your end will be gentle.”
It was very still in the Abbot’s small office. At last the old man spoke. “You are a romantic and you have visions,” said the old gentleman in a friendly voice. “But even pious, friendly visions may trick us; do not rely on them any more than I rely on them.—Can you see, my romantic brother, what I think about this matter in my heart?”
“Father, I can see that you have very friendly thoughts about it. You are thinking the following:
‘This youthful scholar is slightly in danger. He has visions. Perhaps he meditates too much. Perhaps I could impose penance on him; it would do him no harm. But the penance that I shall impose on him, I will also impose on myself.’ That is what you are thinking.”
The Abbot rose and smiled. He waved to the novice to take his leave. “All right,” he said. “Do not take your visions altogether too seriously, my young brother, God demands much else of us besides visions. Let us assume that you have flattered an old man by promising him an easy death. Let us assume that, for an instant, the old man was glad to hear this promise. That is sufficient for now. You will say a rosary tomorrow morning, after early mass. You will say it humbly and with devotion, not superficially. And I shall do the same. Go now, Narcissus, there have been words enough.”
On another occasion Abbot Daniel had to settle a disagreement between the youngest of the teaching fathers and Narcissus on the point of the teaching method. Narcissus passionately urged the introduction of certain changes and justified them with convincing arguments; but out of a kind of jealousy Father Lorenz refused to hear of any changes, and each new discussion would be followed by days of ill-humored silence and sulking, until Narcissus, who was sure he was right, would broach the subject once more. Finally Father Lorenz, mildly offended, said: “Well, Narcissus, let us put an end to this quarrel. As you know, the decision is mine and not yours. You are not my colleague, you are my assistant, you must do as I say. But since this matter seems so important to you and since I am your superior only by rank and not by knowledge or talent, I will not take the decision upon myself. We shall submit the matter to our father the Abbot and let him decide.”
This they did. Abbot Daniel listened with gentle patience as the two learned men argued about their conceptions of the teaching of grammar.
After each had stated his point of view and defended it, the old man looked at them with an amused air, shook his gray head softly, and said: “My dear brothers, neither of you thinks that I know as much of these matters as you do. I commend Narcissus for having a keen enough interest in the school to want to improve the teaching method. However, if his superior holds a different opinion, Narcissus must be silent and obey, because no improvement of the school would make up for the slightest disturbance of order and obedience in this house. I reprove Narcissus for not knowing how to give in. And I hope that you two young scholars may never lack superiors who are less intelligent than you; it is the best cure for pride.” With this amiable jest he dismissed them. But during the next few days he did not forget to keep an eye on the two teachers to see if harmony had been restored.
And then it happened that a new face appeared in this cloister which had seen so many faces come and go, a new face that did not pass unremarked and unremembered. An adolescent, previously enrolled by his father, arrived one day in spring to study at the cloister school. Father and son tethered their horses under the chestnut tree; the porter came out to meet them. The boy looked up at the tree still bare with winter. “I’ve never seen a tree like that,” he said.
“What a strange, beautiful tree. I wonder what it is called.”
The father, an elderly gentleman with a worried, slightly pinched face, paid no attention to his son’s question. But the porter, who liked the boy immediately, told him the tree’s name. The young man thanked him in a friendly voice, held out his hand, and said: “I am Goldmund, I’ll be going to school here.” The porter smiled and led the newcomers through the portal and up the wide stone steps, and Goldmund entered the cloister with confidence, feeling that he had already met two beings in his new environment with whom he could be friends, the tree and the porter. Father and son were received first by the priest who headed the school, then, toward evening, by the Abbot himself. Both times the father, who was in the service of the Emperor, introduced his son Goldmund and was invited to stay for a while as a guest of the cloister. But he accepted only for a night, saying that he had to ride back the next day. He offered one of his two horses to the cloister as a gift, and it was accepted. His conversation was courteous and cool; but both abbot and priest looked with pleasure upon the respectfully silent Goldmund. They had taken an immediate liking to the delicate, good-looking boy. Without regret, they let the father depart the following day; they were glad to keep the son. Goldmund was taken to see the teachers and given a bed in the students’ dormitory. Sad-faced and respectful, he said goodbye to his father and stood gazing after him until he had disappeared through the narrow arched gate of the cloister’s outer wall, between the granary and the mill. A tear hung on his long blond lashes when he finally turned away; but the porter was there to give him a friendly pat on the shoulder.
“Young master,” he said consolingly, “don’t be sad. Most everyone is a little homesick at first, for his father, his mother, his brothers and sisters. But you’ll see: life isn’t bad here either, not bad at all.”
“Thank you, brother porter,” said the boy. “I have no brothers or sisters, and no mother; my father is all I have.”
“You’ll find schoolmates here to make up for him, and books and music and new games you never played before, all kinds of things, you’ll see. And if you feel the need for a friend, come to me.”
Goldmund smiled at him. “Thank you very much. Would you do me a favor then, please, and show me where I can find the horse my father left behind. I’d like to say hello to him and see if he is happy here.”
The porter led him to the stable beside the granary. The lukewarm twilight smelled strongly of horses, manure, and oats, and in one of the stalls Goldmund found the little brown horse that had carried him to the cloister. He wrapped both arms around the neck of the animal, which was stretching a long head toward him in greeting; he put his cheek to the wide dappled forehead, caressed it tenderly, and whispered into an ear: “Hello there, Bless, my dear, my good horse, are you happy? Do you love me still? Have you been fed? Do you still remember our home? Bless, my little horse, my friend, I’m so glad that you’ve stayed, I’ll come to see you often.” From the cuff of his sleeve he pulled a slice of bread that he had hidden there, broke it into small pieces, and fed it to the horse. Then he said goodbye and followed the porter across a courtyard as wide as the marketplace of a large city, shaded in places by linden trees. At the inner gate he thanked the porter and shook his hand. Then he realized that he no longer knew the way to the classroom he had been shown yesterday, laughed a little, blushed, and asked the porter to take him there, which the porter was glad to do. He entered the classroom, where a dozen boys and young men were sitting on benches, and the assistant teacher, Brother Narcissus, turned his head. “I am Goldmund,” he said, “the new scholar.”
Narcissus nodded to him, and briefly, without a smile, indicated a seat on the rear bench and went on with the lesson.
Goldmund sat down. He was surprised to find the teacher so young, only a few years older than himself, surprised and deeply delighted to find this young teacher so handsome and refined, so stern, yet so charming and likable. The porter had been nice to him; the Abbot had given him a friendly reception. Not far away in the stable was his Bless, a little bit of home, and now there was this surprisingly young teacher, grave as a scholar, polished as a prince, with his cool, controlled, matter-of-fact yet compelling voice. He listened gratefully, although without at first understanding the subject of the lesson. He began to feel happy. He was among good, likable men and was ready to seek their friendship. In his bed that morning he had awakened with a feeling of anguish, still tired from the long journey. And saying goodbye to his father had made him cry a little. But now all was well, he was happy. Again and again, for long moments, he looked at the teacher, took pleasure in the straight, slender figure; the cool, sparkling eyes; the firm lips that were forming clear, precise syllables; the inspired, untiring voice.
But when the lesson was over and the pupils stood up noisily, Goldmund started and realized a little shamefacedly that he had been asleep for quite some time. And he was not the only one to realize it; the boys on the bench beside him had noticed too and passed it on in whispers. As soon as the young teacher had walked out of the room, they nudged Goldmund and pulled at him from all sides.
“Had a nice nap?” asked one of them with a grin.
“A fine scholar!” jeered another. “He’s going to be a true pillar of the church, falling asleep during his first lesson!”
“Let’s put the baby to bed,” proposed another. And they seized his arms and legs to carry him off with mocking laughter.
Goldmund was startled; it made him angry. He struck out at them, tried to free himself, got punched several times, and was finally dropped to the ground, one of the boys still holding him by a foot. He kicked himself free, threw himself upon the boy who happened to be standing nearest, and was soon involved in a violent fistfight. His adversary was strong; everyone watched the fight eagerly. When Goldmund stood his ground and landed a few well-aimed blows, he made a few friends among his classmates before he knew a single one by name. But suddenly they all scattered and were hardly gone when Father Martin, the head of the school, entered and faced the boy, who was still standing on the same spot, alone. Astonished, he looked at the boy, whose embarrassed blue eyes were looking out of a flushed, somewhat scarred face.
“What has happened to you?” Father Martin asked “Aren’t you Goldmund? Have they been rough with you, the scoundrels?”
“Oh no,” said the boy. “I got even with him.”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anyone by name yet. One of them had a fight with me.”
“He did? Did he start it?”
“I’m not sure. No, I guess I started it myself. They were teasing me and I got angry.” “An auspicious beginning, my boy. Now you listen to me. If I catch you once more fighting in the classroom, you’ll be punished. Now off with you to supper!”
With a smile he watched the embarrassed Goldmund run off, trying to smooth his tousled blond hair with his fingers as he ran.
Goldmund thought that his first act in the cloister had been ill-mannered and foolish; rather dejectedly, he looked for his classmates at the supper table. But they welcomed him with friendship and respect. He made an honorable peace with the enemy and from that moment on he felt that he belonged to the school.
Although he was on good terms with everyone, he had not made a real friend. There was no one among his classmates for whom he felt any particular affinity, let alone fondness. And to their amazement, the others discovered in the fistfighter they had first taken for a rowdy a peace-loving companion, a model student who seemed to be striving for scholarly laurels. There were two men in the cloister to whom Goldmund’s heart reached out, who filled his thoughts, whom he admired and revered: Abbot Daniel and the assistant teacher, Brother Narcissus. He felt that the Abbot was a saint. He was immensely attracted by his kind simplicity, his clear, concerned eyes, by the way he gave orders and made decisions, humbly, as though it were a task, by his good, quiet gestures. He would have liked to become the personal servant of this pious man, to be in his presence constantly, obedient and serving, to bring him the sacrifice of all his youthful need for devotion and dedication, to learn a pure, noble, saintly life from him. Goldmund wished not only to finish the cloister school but to remain in the cloister, indefinitely perhaps, dedicating his life to God. This was his intention, as it was his father’s wish and command and, most likely, God’s own decision and command. Nobody seemed aware of the burden that lay upon the handsome radiant boy, an original burden, a secret destiny of atonement and sacrifice. Even the Abbot was not aware of it, although Goldmund’s father had dropped several hints and clearly expressed the wish that his son remain in the cloister forever. Some secret flaw seemed attached to Goldmund’s birth, something unspoken that sought expiation. But the Abbot felt little sympathy for the father, whose words and air of self-importance he had countered with polite reserve, dismissing the hints as not particularly important.
The other man who had aroused Goldmund’s admiration had sharper eyes and a keener intuition, but he did not come forward. Narcissus knew only too well what a charming golden bird had flown to him. This hermit soon sensed a kindred soul in Goldmund, in spite of their apparent contrasts. Narcissus was dark and spare; Goldmund, a radiant youth. Narcissus was analytical, a thinker; Goldmund, a dreamer with the soul of a child. But something they had in common bridged these contrasts: both were refined; both were different from the others because of obvious gifts and signs; both bore the special mark of fate.
Narcissus took an ardent interest in this young soul, whose character and destiny he had been quick to recognize. Fervently Goldmund admired his beautiful, outstandingly intelligent teacher.
But Goldmund was timid; the only way he knew to court Narcissus was to exhaust himself in being an attentive, eager student. But more than timidity held him back. He sensed a danger to himself in Narcissus. It was impossible to emulate simultaneously the kindly humble Abbot and the extremely intelligent, learned, brilliant Brother Narcissus. Yet every fiber of his youthful soul strove to attain these two incompatible ideals. It caused him much suffering. There were days during his first months at the cloister school when Goldmund’s heart was so torn, so confused, he felt strongly tempted to run away or to take his anguish and anger out on his classmates. Sometimes a bit of innocent teasing or a prank would stir such a wild rage inside this warm-hearted boy that the utmost control was required to hold it in; he would close his eyes and turn away, silent and deathly pale. Then he would go to the stable to find Bless, lean his head against the horse’s neck, kiss him and cry his heart out. Gradually his suffering increased and became noticeable. His face grew thinner; his eyes became dull; he rarely laughed the laugh all liked so much.
He didn’t know what was happening to him. He honestly wished, was honestly determined, to be a good scholar, to begin his novitiate as soon as possible, and after that to become a quiet, prayerful monk of the cloister. He firmly believed that all his strength and talent drove toward this mild, pious goal; he knew nothing of other drives.
How strangely sad then to find this simple, beautiful goal so difficult to attain. Occasionally he would be discouraged, bewildered to detect hateful moods and tendencies in himself: he’d feel distracted, unwilling to learn. He’d daydream or drowse through a lesson, rebel with sudden distaste against the Latin teacher, be cranky and impatient with his classmates. And what was most confusing was that his love for Narcissus seemed to fight his love for Abbot Daniel. Yet at moments he felt almost certain that Narcissus loved him also, that he was concerned about him, was waiting for him.
Narcissus’s thoughts were far more occupied with Goldmund than Goldmund imagined. He wanted the bright boy as a friend. He sensed in him his opposite, his complement; he would have liked to adopt, lead, enlighten, strengthen, and bring him to bloom. But he held himself back, for many reasons, almost all of them conscious. Most of all, he felt tied and hemmed in by his distaste for teachers or monks who, all too frequently, fell in love with a pupil or a novice. Often enough, he had felt with repulsion the desiring eyes of older men upon him, had met their enticements and cajoleries with wordless rebuttal. He understood them better now that he knew the temptation to love the charming boy, to make him laugh, to run a caressing hand through his blond hair. But he would never do that, never. Moreover, as a mere tutor, with the rank but not the position or the authority of a teacher, he had become especially cautious and watchful. He was used to conducting himself with pupils only a few years younger than himself as though he were twenty years their senior, to forbidding himself sternly all partiality toward a pupil, to forcing himself to particular fairness and concern for those pupils who were naturally repugnant to him. His was the service of the mind, and to that he dedicated his strict life. Only secretly, during his most unguarded moments, did he permit himself the pleasure of arrogance. No, no matter how tempting a friendship with Goldmund seemed, it could only be a danger; he must never let it touch the core of his existence. The core and meaning of his life was to serve the mind, to serve the word: the quiet, superior, selfnegating guidance of his pupils—and not only of his pupils—toward high spiritual goals. For a year or more, Goldmund had been a student at the cloister school of Mariabronn. He had played some hundred times with his classmates under the linden trees in the courtyard and under the beautiful chestnut tree—ball games, races, snowball fights. Now spring had come, but Goldmund felt tired and sick and often had headaches; he found it hard to stay awake in class, hard to concentrate.
Then one evening Adolf came up to him, the classmate he had first met during a fistfight and with whom he had begun to study Euclid that winter. It was in the hour after supper, an hour of recreation when the boys were permitted to play in the dormitories, to walk and talk in the outer cloister yard.
“Goldmund,” he said, pulling him down the stairs after him, “I want to tell you something, something funny. But you’re such a model student—you’ll probably end up a bishop one of these days. First you must give me your word of honor that you won’t tell the teachers on me.”
Goldmund immediately gave his word. There was cloister honor and student honor, and occasionally one contradicted the other, Goldmund was well aware of that. But, as anywhere else in the world, the unwritten law defeated the written one; he would never try to evade student laws and codes while he was himself a student.
Adolf dragged him outside the arch under the trees. There was, he whispered, a group of good, strong-hearted classmates—he himself was one of them—who were carrying on an old student tradition, of reminding themselves that they were not monks. They would occasionally steal away from the cloister for an evening in the village. It was the kind of prank or adventure no decent fellow could avoid taking part in; later during the night they would sneak back again. “But the gates are locked at that hour,” Goldmund objected.
Of course they were locked. Precisely. That was the fun of the whole thing. But there were secret ways to get back inside unnoticed; it wouldn’t be the first time.
Goldmund recalled hearing the expression: “going to the village.” It stood for boys’ nocturnal escapades, for all kinds of secret adventures and pleasures which were forbidden on pain of heavy punishment. He froze inside. “Going to the village” was a sin, something forbidden. At the same time he understood only too well that that was precisely why the “regulars” considered it a point of honor to take the risk and that it was a certain distinction to be asked to join in this adventure. He would have liked to say no, to run back and go to bed. He felt tired and weak; his head had ached all afternoon. But he felt slightly embarrassed in front of Adolf. And who could tell: perhaps there would be something new, something beautiful outside the cloister, something that might make one forget headaches and listlessness and all kinds of pain. It was an excursion into the world— although secret and forbidden, nothing to feel proud of. Still, perhaps it would bring release, be an experience. He stood undecided while Adolf continued to talk; suddenly he laughed and said yes. Unobserved, they slipped out under the linden trees in the vast darkening courtyard; the outer gate had already been locked. Adolf led him to the cloister mill through which one could easily sneak out, unseen in the twilight, and unheard because of the constant whirring of wheels. In complete darkness they climbed through a window onto a pile of slippery-wet planks, one of which they pulled out and used as a bridge to cross the little stream. And now they were outside, on the pale glistening road that disappeared into the dark forest. All this was exciting and secret; he enjoyed it very much.
At the edge of the forest they found a third classmate, Konrad; they waited for a long time and were joined by a fourth, big Eberhard. All four tramped through the forest. Nightbirds rose above them in a rustle of wings; a few stars peeked wet and bright through quiet clouds. Konrad chattered and joked. Occasionally he’d make the others laugh, but there hung above them the solemn anxiety of night that made their hearts beat faster.
After barely an hour they came to the village on the other side of the forest. It seemed asleep. The low gables shimmered faintly, criss-crossed by dark ribs of timber; there wasn’t a light anywhere. Adolf led the way. Silent, on tiptoe, they circled several houses, climbed a fence, stood in a garden, sank into the soft earth of a flower bed, stumbled over steps, stopped by the wall of a house. Adolf knocked at a shutter, waited, knocked again. There was a sound inside. Soon a light shone, the shutter opened, and one after the other they climbed into a kitchen with a black hearth and an earthen floor. A tiny oil lamp was standing on the stove, its feeble flame flickering on a thin wick. And there was a girl, a haggard servant girl, who stood holding out her hand to greet the intruders. Another girl stepped out of the shadows behind the first one, a young thing with long black braids. Adolf had brought gifts for them, half a loaf of white cloister bread, and something in a paper sack, a handful of stolen incense perhaps, thought Goldmund, or candle wax or the like. The young girl with the braids went out of the kitchen, groped her way through the darkness to the door, stayed away for a long while, returned with a jug of gray clay with a blue flower painted on it and offered the jug to Konrad. He drank from it, passed it on. They all drank; it was strong apple cider. In the light of the tiny lamp they sat down, the girls on rigid little stools and the students around them on the floor. They spoke in whispers, with interruptions for sips of cider, Adolf and Konrad making most of the conversation. From time to time one of them would get up and caress the hair and neck of the older girl, and whisper into her ear; no one touched the younger girl. The big one was probably the maid, Goldmund thought, and the smaller, pretty one the daughter of the house.
But what difference did it make. It was none of his business and he would never come back here. The secrecy of the escapade, the walk through the night forest had been beautiful, out of the ordinary, exciting but not dangerous. Forbidden yes, but even so the transgression did not burden one’s conscience. Whereas this, visiting girls at night, was more than just forbidden; he felt it was a sin. Perhaps for the others even this was only a small adventure, but not for him; he knew that he was destined for the ascetic life of a monk, and playing with girls was not permitted him. No, he would never come back here. But his heart pounded with anguish in the flickering half light of the poor kitchen.
The others were showing off in front of the girls and spiking their talk with tidbits of Latin. The servant girl seemed to like all three; they would sidle up to her with their awkward little caresses, a timid kiss at most. They seemed to know exactly how much was permitted. And since the whole conversation had to be held in whispers, there was something rather silly about the scene, but Goldmund did not see it that way. He crouched on the floor and stared into the flickering flame of the lamp, not saying a word. Occasionally a slightly eager side glance would catch one of the caresses the others were exchanging. Stiffly he stared straight ahead again. More than anything else he would have liked to look at the younger girl with the braids, at no one but her, but that especially he forbade himself. And every time his will slackened and his eyes strayed to the sweet quiet face of the girl, he found her dark eyes riveted on his face, staring at him as though she were spellbound. An hour may have passed—never had Goldmund lived through a longer hour. The students had exhausted their conversation and caresses; they sat in embarrassed silence; Eberhard began to yawn. The servant girl said it was time to leave. They stood up, shook her hand—Goldmund last. Then they shook hands with the younger girl—Goldmund last. Konrad was first to climb out through the window, followed by Eberhard and Adolf. As Goldmund was climbing out, he felt a hand hold him back by a shoulder. He could not stop; once outside on the ground he slowly turned his head. The younger girl with the braids was leaning out of the window.
“Goldmund!” she whispered. He stood and waited.
“Are you coming back?” she asked. Her timid voice was no more than a breath. Goldmund shook his head. She reached out with both hands, seized his head; her small hands felt warm on his temples. She bent far down, until her dark eyes were close before his. “Do come back!” she whispered, and her mouth touched his in a child’s kiss. Quickly he ran through the small garden, toppled across the flower beds, smelled wet earth and dung. A rosebush tore his hand. He climbed over the fence and trotted after the others out of the village toward the forest. “Never again!” commanded his will. “Again! Tomorrow!” begged his heart.
Nobody surprised the night owls. Nothing hindered their return to Mariabronn, across the little stream, through the mill, across the square of linden trees, along secret passageways, over gables, around window columns, into the cloister and the dormitory.
Big Eberhard had to be punched awake in the morning, he was sleeping so heavily. They were all on time for early mass, morning soup and assembly in the auditorium; but Goldmund looked pale, so pale Father Martin asked him if he were ill. Adolf shot him a warning glance and Goldmund said he felt all right. But during Greek, around noon, Narcissus did not take his eyes off him. He, too, saw that Goldmund was ill, but said nothing and watched closely. At the end of the lesson he called him, sent him on an errand to the library to avoid rousing the students’ curiosity, and followed him there.
“Goldmund,” he said, “can I help you? I see you are in trouble. Perhaps you’re not feeling well. In which case we shall put you to bed and send you some soup and a glass of wine. You have no head for Greek today.”
For a long while he waited for an answer. The pale boy looked at him out of troubled eyes, hung his head, raised it again. His lips quivered; he wanted to speak but could not. Suddenly he sank to one side, leaned his head on a lectern, between the two small oak angels’ heads that framed the lectern, and burst into such violent weeping that Narcissus felt embarrassed and averted his eyes for some time before touching the sobbing boy to raise him up.
“All right,” he said in a voice that was friendlier than Goldmund had ever heard from him. “All right, amicus meus, you just weep; it will soon make you feel better. There, sit down; there is no need to speak. I can see that it has been too much for you. It was probably difficult for you to stay on your feet all morning without letting anyone notice; you’ve been very courageous. Weep now, it is the best you can do. No? All finished? Back on your feet so soon? All right, we’ll go to the infirmary then and you’ll lie down, and by evening you’ll feel much better. Let’s go.” He led Goldmund to the sick room, careful not to pass any study halls on the way. He pointed to one of two empty beds and left the room when Goldmund obediently began to undress, and went to the superior to have the boy put on the sick list. He also ordered the promised soup and a glass of wine at the refectory, two special treats the cloister habitually allowed the ailing, who enjoyed it greatly when they did not feel too sick.
Goldmund lay on the bed in the sick room, trying to think himself out of his confusion. Something like an hour ago he could perhaps have explained to himself why he felt so indescribably tired today, what deathly strain on the soul drained his mind and made his eyes burn. It was the desperate, constantly renewed, constantly failing effort to forget last night—but not the night itself, not the foolish, enjoyable escapade from the locked cloister, or the walk through the forest, or the slippery makeshift bridge across the little black stream behind the mill, or the climbing over fences in and out of gardens, through windows, sneaking along passageways, but the single second outside the dark kitchen window, the girl’s words, her breath, the pressure of her hands, the touch of her lips.
But now something new had occurred, another shock, another experience. Narcissus cared for him, Narcissus loved him, Narcissus had taken trouble over him—the refined, distinguished, intelligent young teacher with the narrow, slightly sarcastic mouth—and he, Goldmund, had let himself break down in front of him, had stood before him in stammering embarrassment, and had finally started to bawl! Instead of winning this superior being with the noblest weapons, with Greek and philosophy, with spiritual heroism and dignified stoicism, he had collapsed in disgraceful weakness. He’d never forgive himself for it. Never would he be able to look Narcissus in the eye again without shame.
But his weeping had released the great tension. The quiet loneliness of the room and the bed were doing him good; the despair had lost more than half of its impact. After an hour or so, one of the lay brothers came in, brought a gruel soup, a piece of white bread, and a small mug of red wine which the students normally drank only on holidays. Goldmund ate and drank, emptied half the plate, pushed it aside, started to think again, but couldn’t, reached for the bowl once more, ate a few more spoonfuls. And when, somewhat later, the door quietly opened and Narcissus came in to look after his patient, Goldmund was asleep and a rosy glow had already returned to his cheeks. Narcissus looked at him for a long time, with love, curiosity, and also a slight envy. He saw that Goldmund was not ill; there would be no need to send him wine tomorrow. But he knew that the ice was broken, that they would be friends. Today it was Goldmund who needed him, whom he was able to serve. Another time he himself might be weak and in need of assistance and love. And from this boy he would be able to accept it, were it to come to that some day.
It was a curious friendship that had begun between Narcissus and Goldmund, one that pleased only a few; at times it seemed to displease even the two friends.
At first it was Narcissus, the thinker, who had the harder time of it. All was mind to him, even love; he was unable to give in to an attraction without thinking about it first. He was the guiding spirit of this friendship. For a long time he alone consciously recognized its destiny, its depth, its significance. For a long time he remained lonely, surrounded by love, knowing that his friend would fully belong to him only after he had been able to lead him toward recognition. With glowing fervor, playful and irresponsible, Goldmund abandoned himself to this new life; while Narcissus, aware and responsible, accepted the demands of fate.
For Goldmund it was a release at first, a convalescence. His youthful need for love had been powerfully aroused, and at the same time hopelessly intimidated, by the looks and the kiss of a pretty girl. Deep inside himself he felt the life he had dreamed of up to now, all his beliefs, all the things for which he felt himself destined, his entire vocation, threatened at the root by the kiss through the window, by the expression of those dark eyes. His father had decided that he was to lead the life of a monk; and with all his will he had accepted this decision. The fire of his first youthful fervor burned toward a pious, ascetic hero-image, and at the first furtive encounter, at life’s first appeal to his senses, at the first beckoning of femininity he had felt that there was an enemy, a demon, a danger: woman. And now fate was offering him salvation, now in his most desperate need this friendship came toward him and offered his longing a new alter for reverence. Here he was permitted to love, to abandon himself without sinning, to give his heart to an admired older friend, more intelligent than he, to spiritualize the dangerous flames of the senses, to transform them into nobler fires of sacrifice.
But during the first spring of this friendship he ran up against unfamiliar obstacles, unexpected, incomprehensible coolness, frightening demands. It never occurred to him to see himself as the contradiction, the exact opposite of his friend. He thought that only love, only sincere devotion was needed to fuse two into one, to wipe out differences and bridge contrasts. But how harsh and positive this Narcissus was, how merciless and precise! Innocent abandonment, grateful wandering together in the land of friendship seemed unknown and undesirable to him. He did not seem to understand, to tolerate dreamy strolls on paths that led in no particular direction. When Goldmund had seemed ill, he had shown concern, and loyally he helped and advised him in all matters of school and learning; he explained difficult passages in books, opened new horizons in the realm of grammar, logic, and theology. Yet he never seemed genuinely satisfied with his friend, or to approve of him; quite often he seemed to be smiling, seemed not to take him seriously. Goldmund felt that this was not mere pedantry, not just the condescension of someone older and more intelligent, but that there was something else behind it, something deeper and important. But he was unable to recognize this deeper something, and this friendship often made him feel sad and lost. Actually Narcissus recognized his friend’s qualities only too well; he was not blind to the budding beauty, the vital force of nature in him, his flowering opulence. He was no pedant bent on feeding Greek to a fervent young soul, on repaying an innocent love with logic. On the contrary, he loved the blond adolescent altogether too much, and this was dangerous for him, because loving, to him, was not a natural condition but a miracle. To fall in love was not permitted him; he could not be content with the joyful contemplation of those eyes, with the nearness of this golden light. Not even for a second could he let this love dwell upon the senses. Because where Goldmund felt himself destined for monkish asceticism and a lifelong striving for saintliness, Narcissus was truly destined for that life. To him, loving was permitted only in its highest form. Narcissus did not believe in Goldmund’s calling to be an ascetic. He knew how to read people more clearly than most, and here love increased his clarity. He recognized Goldmund’s nature and understood it deeply, in spite of the contrasts, because it was the other, the lost half of his own. He saw that this nature was armored by a hard shell, by fantasies, faults of upbringing and paternal words; he had long sensed the whole, uncomplicated secret of this young life. He was fully aware of what he must do: reveal this secret to its bearer, free him from the shell, give him back his true nature. It would be hard, and the hardest was that perhaps it would make him lose his friend.
With infinite caution he drew closer to his goal. Months went by before a serious approach became possible between the two, a deep-reaching conversation. In spite of their friendship, they were so far apart, the bowstring was so taut between them: a seeing man and a blind man, they walked side by side; the blind man’s unawareness of his own blindness was a consolation only to himself. Narcissus made the first breakthrough when he tried to discover what the experience had been that had driven the boy toward him at a weak moment. It turned out to be less difficult than he had expected. Goldmund had long felt the need to confess the experience of that night, but there was no one, outside the Abbot, whom he trusted enough, and the Abbot was not his confessor. And when Narcissus reminded his friend, at a moment he judged favorable, of the very beginnings of their bond and gently hinted at the secret, Goldmund immediately said, “If only you were an ordained priest and able to confess me; I would have liked to free myself of that matter in confession and I would gladly have done penance for it. But I couldn’t tell my confessor.” Carefully, shrewdly, Narcissus dug deeper; the vein had been found. “You remember the morning when you seemed to be ill,” he ventured. “You can’t have forgotten, since that was when we became friends. I think of it often. Perhaps you didn’t notice, but I was rather helpless that morning.”
“You helpless!” cried his friend, incredulous. “But I was the helpless one! It was I who stood there, swallowing, unable to utter a word, who finally began to weep like a child! Ugh, to this day I feel ashamed of that moment; I thought I could never face you again. You had seen me so disgracefully weak.”
Narcissus groped ahead.
“I understand,” he said. “It must have been unpleasant for you. Such a firm, courageous boy breaking into tears in front of a stranger, and a teacher at that, it was quite out of character. Well, that morning I merely thought you were ill. In the throes of a fever, even a man like Aristotle may behave strangely. But you were not ill. You had no fever! And that is why you feel ashamed. No one feels ashamed of succumbing to a fever, does he? You felt ashamed because you had succumbed to something else, to something that overpowered you? Did something special happen?” Goldmund hesitated a second, then he said slowly: “Yes, something special did happen. Let’s pretend you’re my confessor; sooner or later this thing must be told.” With bowed head, he told his friend the story of that night.
Smilingly, Narcissus replied: “Well yes, ‘going to the village’ is of course forbidden. But one can do all kinds of forbidden things and laugh them away, or one can confess them and that is that; they need no longer concern one. Why shouldn’t you commit these little foolishnesses like other students? What is so terrible about that?”
Angrily, without holding back, Goldmund burst out: “You do talk like a schoolmaster! You know very well what it is all about! Of course I don’t see a great sin in breaking the house rules for once, to play a student prank, although it’s not exactly part of the preparatory training for cloister life.”
“Just a moment, my friend,” Narcissus called sharply. “Don’t you know that many pious fathers went through precisely that kind of preparatory training? Don’t you know that a wastrel’s life may be one of the shortest roads to sainthood?”
“Oh, don’t lecture!” protested Goldmund. “It wasn’t a trifling disobedience that weighed on my conscience. It was something else. It was that girl. I can’t describe the sensation to you. It was a feeling that if I gave in to the enticement, if I merely reached out to touch the girl, I’d never be able to turn back, that sin would swallow me like the maw of hell and not give me up ever. That it would be the end of every beautiful dream, of all virtue, of all love of God and good.” Narcissus nodded, deep in thought.
“Love of God,” he said slowly, searching for words, “is not always the same as love of good, I wish it were that simple. We know what is good, it is written in the Commandments. But God is not contained only in the Commandments, you know; they are only an infinitesimal part of Him. A man may abide by the Commandments and be far from God.”
“But don’t you understand?” Goldmund complained.
“Certainly I understand. You feel that woman, sex, is the essence of everything you call ‘world’ or ‘sin’. You think yourself incapable of all other sins; or, if you did commit them, you think they would not crush you, that you could confess them and be whole again.” “Yes, that is exactly how I feel.”
“You see, I do understand. You’re not so terribly wrong after all; the story of Eve and the serpent is certainly no idle tale. And yet you are not right about this, my dear friend. You would be right if you were the Abbot Daniel, or your baptismal saint, the holy Chrysostom, or a bishop, or a priest, even a simple monk. But you aren’t. You are a student, and although you wish to remain in the cloister for life, or your father wishes it for you, still you have not taken any vows; you have not been consecrated. If some pretty girl were to tempt you one of these days and you were to give in to the temptation, you would not have broken any vows.”
“No written vows!” Goldmund cried heatedly. “But an unwritten one, the most sacred, something I carry inside me. Can’t you see that this may apply to many others but not to me? You have not been consecrated either, nor have you taken any vows yet, but you would never permit yourself to touch a woman! Or am I mistaken? Isn’t that how you are? Or aren’t you the man I thought you were? Didn’t you long ago, in your heart, make the vow that has not yet been made with words before superiors, and don’t you feel bound by it forever? Aren’t you exactly like me?” “No, Goldmund, I am not like you, not in the way you think, although I, too, am keeping an unspoken vow—in that respect you are right—but I am in no way like you. Some day you will think of what I am going to say to you now: our friendship has no other purpose, no other reason, than to show you how utterly unlike me you are.”
Goldmund was stunned; Narcissus’s expression and tone permitted no contradiction. He was silent. Why had Narcissus said these words? Why should Narcissus’s unspoken vow be more sacred than his own? Didn’t he take him at all seriously? Did he see nothing but a child in him? The confusions and griefs of this strange friendship were beginning all over again. Narcissus no longer had any doubt about the nature of Goldmund’s secret. It was Eve who stood behind it, the original mother. But how was it possible that the awakening of sex met with such bitter antagonism in such a beautiful, healthy, flowering adolescent? There must be a secret enemy who had managed to split this magnificent human being within himself and turn him against his natural urges. This demon had to be discovered, had to be conjured up and made visible; only then could it be defeated.
Meanwhile Goldmund had been more and more neglected by his classmates, or rather they felt neglected by him, betrayed. His friendship with Narcissus pleased no one. The slanderers, those who had themselves been in love with one or the other, said the whole thing was against nature. Even those who were certain that no vice could be suspected here shook their heads. No one wanted to see these two friends together. It seemed that they were setting themselves apart from the others by this friendship, arrogantly, as though they were aristocrats for whom the others were not good enough; that was unbrotherly, not in keeping with the cloister spirit, not Christian. Many things about the two—rumors, accusations, slander—reached Abbot Daniel. He had seen many friendships between young men in over forty years of cloister life; they belonged to cloister life and were a pleasant tradition, sometimes amusing, sometimes a danger. He waited, watched, did not intervene. Such a violent, exclusive friendship was rare, probably not undangerous, but since he did not for an instant doubt its purity, he decided to let it take its course. If it had not been for Narcissus’s exceptional position among students and teachers, the Abbot would not have hesitated to place a few separating rules between the two. It was not good for Goldmund to have withdrawn from his classmates and to be in close association only with someone older, with a teacher. But was it permissible to disturb the extraordinary, highly gifted Narcissus, whom all teachers considered their equal if not their superior, in his privileged career and relieve him of his teaching position?
Had Narcissus not proved himself as a teacher, had this friendship led to partiality and neglectfulness, the Abbot would have demoted him immediately. But there was nothing to be held against him, only rumors and others’ jealous suspicions. Moreover, the Abbot knew of Narcissus’s special gifts, of his curiously penetrating, perhaps slightly presumptuous, insight into people. He did not overestimate these gifts, he would have preferred Narcissus to have other gifts; but he did not doubt that Narcissus had noticed something unusual in the student Goldmund, that he knew him far better than he, or anyone else in the cloister. He himself, the Abbot, had not noticed anything unusual about Goldmund, apart from his winning nature, and perhaps a certain eagerness, a somewhat precocious zeal that made him conduct himself, still a student and a boarder, as though he belonged to the cloister and was one of the brothers. He saw no reason to fear that Narcissus would encourage this immature though touching zeal or that he would spur it on. He feared rather, for Goldmund, that his friend might infect him with a certain spiritual pride and erudite arrogance; but this danger seemed unlikely for this particular pupil; it was all right to wait and see. When he thought how much simpler it was for a superior, how much more peaceful and comfortable, to rule over average rather than strong or exceptional characters, he had to sigh and smile. No, he was not going to let himself be infected by suspicions; he did not wish to be ungrateful for the two exceptional human beings entrusted to his care.
Narcissus pondered a great deal about his friend. His special gift of spotting and emotionally recognizing the nature and destiny of others had long since told him about Goldmund. All that was alive and radiant in this young man spoke only too clearly: he bore all the marks of a strong human being, richly endowed sensually and spiritually, perhaps an artist, but at any rate a person with a great potential for love, whose fulfillment and happiness consisted of being easily inflamed and able to give himself. Then why was this being with such rich and perceptive senses so set on leading the ascetic life of the mind? Narcissus thought at great length about it. He knew that Goldmund’s father favored his son’s determination. Could the father have inspired it? What spell had he cast over his son to make him believe that this was his destiny, his duty? What sort of a person was this father? Narcissus had often intentionally touched on the subject of this father—and Goldmund had frequently spoken of him—and yet he could not imagine him, could not see him. Was it not strange and suspicious? Whenever Goldmund told a story about a trout he had caught as a boy, when he described a butterfly, imitated the call of a bird, spoke of a friend, a dog, a beggar, he created a vivid picture. Whenever he spoke of his father, one saw nothing. No, if his father had really been such an important, powerful, dominant figure in Goldmund’s life, he would have been able to describe him differently, to conjure up vivid images of him. Narcissus did not think highly of this father, he did not like him; sometimes he wondered if he were really Goldmund’s father. But what gave him such power? How had he succeeded in filling Goldmund’s soul with dreams so alien to his soul?
Goldmund also brooded a great deal. He did feel warmly loved by his friend, and yet he often had the unpleasant sensation of not being taken seriously, of being treated a little like a child. And what did it mean when his friend insinuated, again and again, that he was not like him? Yet thinking did not fill all of Goldmund’s days. He was not able to think for too long at a time. There were other things to be done in the course of a day. He often went to see the friar porter, with whom he was on excellent terms. He’d beg and coax for an opportunity to ride the horse Bless for an hour or two, and he was very popular with the few nearby cloister tenants, especially with the miller. He’d often stalk otters with the miller’s man, or they’d bake pancakes with the finely ground prelate’s flour, which Goldmund could tell from all other kinds of flour, eyes closed, just by the smell of it. Although he spent time with Narcissus, there still remained a number of hours in which he pursued his old habits and pleasures. And usually the service was also a joy to him. He loved to sing in the student choir; he loved to say a rosary in front of a favorite altar, to listen to the solemnly beautiful Latin of the mass, to see the gold of the receptacles and ornaments glitter through clouds of incense, and the quiet venerable saints’ figures standing on columns, the evangelists with the beasts, St. Jacob with his hat and pilgrim’s satchel.
He felt drawn toward these wood and stone figures; he liked to think that they stood in secret relationship to him, perhaps like immortal, omniscient godfathers who protected and guided his life. He felt the same secret bond and love for the columns and capitals of the windows and doors, for the altar ornaments, for the beautifully profiled staves and wreaths, for the flowers and thickets of sprouting leaves that burst from the stone of the columns and unfolded so eloquently and intensely. It seemed a valuable, intimate secret to him that, outside of nature with its plants and creatures, there existed a second, silent, man-made nature: these men, beasts, and plants of stone and wood. He spent many of his free hours copying these figures, animal heads and leaf clusters; sometimes he also tried to draw real flowers, horses, human faces.
And he was very fond of the hymns, especially of those in honor of Mary. He loved the firm severe pace of these songs, their constantly recurring rhythms and praises. He could follow their reverent meaning adoringly, or he could forget their meaning and become engrossed in the solemn cadence of the verses and let himself be filled by them, by the deep, drawn-out notes, the full sound of the vowels, the pious refrains. Deep down in his heart he had no love for learning, grammar, and logic, although they, too, had their beauty. His real love was for the image-and-sound world of liturgy.
And every so often, for brief moments, he’d break the estrangement that had set in between him and his classmates. It annoyed and bored him in the long run to find himself surrounded by rejection and coolness. Every so often he’d make a grumpy bench companion laugh or start a taciturn bed neighbor chatting; he’d work at it for an hour, ingratiating himself and winning back a couple of friends for a while. Twice these approaches brought him, much against his intention, an invitation to “go to the village.” Then he’d become frightened and quickly draw back. No, he was not going to the village again, and he managed to forget the girl with the braids, never—or almost never—to think of her any more.
Narcissus’s long siege had not succeeded in bringing Goldmund’s secret out into the open. For a long time he had apparently labored in vain to awaken him, to teach him the language in which the secret could be told.
Goldmund’s description of his home and childhood gave no clear picture. There was a shadowlife, faceless father whom he venerated, and then there was the legend of a mother who had vanished, or perished, long ago, who was nothing but a pallid name. Narcissus, the experienced reader of souls, had gradually come to recognize that Goldmund was one of those people part of whose lives have been lost; pressure of circumstances or some kind of magic power has obliterated a portion of their past. He realized that nothing would be gained by mere questioning and teaching, that he had overestimated the power of logic and spoken many useless words. But the love that bound him to his friend and their habit of spending much time together had not been fruitless. In spite of the vast differences of their characters, each had learned much from the other. Beside the language of reason, a language of the soul had gradually come into being between them; it was as if, branching off the main street, there are many small, almost secret lanes. Gradually the imaginative power of Goldmund’s soul had tracked such paths into Narcissus’s thoughts and expressions, making him understand—and sympathize with—many of Goldmund’s perceptions and feelings, without need for words. New links from soul to soul developed in the warm glow of love; words came later. That is how, one holiday, in the library, there occurred a conversation between the friends that neither had expected—a conversation that touched at the core and purpose of their friendship and cast new, far-reaching lights.
They had been talking about astrology, a forbidden science that was not pursued in the cloister. Narcissus had said that astrology was an attempt to arrange and order the many different types of human beings according to their natures and destinies. At this point Goldmund had objected:
“You’re forever talking of differences—I’ve finally recognized a pet theory of yours. When you speak of the great difference that is supposed to exist between you and me, for instance, it seems to me that this difference is nothing but your strange determination to establish differences.” Narcissus: “Yes. You’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s it: to you, differences are quite unimportant; to me, they are what matters most. I am a scholar by nature; science is my vocation. And science is, to quote your words, nothing but the ‘determination to establish differences.’ Its essence couldn’t be defined more accurately. For us, the men of science, nothing is as important as the establishment of differences; science is the art of differentiation. Discovering in every man that which distinguishes him from others is to know him.”
Goldmund: “If you like. One man wears wooden shoes and is a peasant; another wears a crown and is a king. Those are differences, I grant you. But children can see them, too, without any science.”
Narcissus: “But when peasant and king are dressed alike, the child can no longer tell one from the other.”
Goldmund: “Neither can science.”
Narcissus: “Perhaps it can. Not that science is more intelligent than the child, but it has more patience; it remembers more than just the most obvious characteristics.” Goldmund: “So does any intelligent child. He will recognize the king by the look in his eyes, or by his bearing. To put it plainly: you learned men are arrogant, you always think everybody else stupid. One can be extremely intelligent without learning.”
Narcissus: “I am glad that you’re beginning to realize that. You’ll soon realize, too, that I don’t mean intelligence when I speak of the difference between us. I do not say, you are more intelligent, or less intelligent; better or worse. I merely say, you are different.”
Goldmund: “That’s easy enough to understand. But you don’t speak only of our difference in character; you often speak also of the differences in fate, in destiny. Why, for instance, should your destiny be different from mine? We are both Christians, we are both resolved to lead the life of the cloister, we are both children of our good Father in heaven. Our goal is the same: eternal bliss. Our destiny is the same: the return to God.”
Narcissus: “Very good. True, in the view of dogma, one man is exactly like another, but not in life. Take Our Saviour’s favorite disciple, John, on whose breast he rested his head, and that other disciple who betrayed him—you hardly can say that they had the same destiny.” Goldmund: “Narcissus, you are a sophist. We’ll never come together on that kind of road.”
Narcissus: “No road will bring us together.”
Goldmund: “Don’t speak like that.”
Narcissus: “I’m serious. We are not meant to come together, not any more than sun and moon were meant to come together, or sea and land. We are sun and moon, dear friend; we are sea and land. It is not our purpose to become each other; it is to recognize each other, to learn to see the other and honor him for what he is: each the other’s opposite and complement.” Goldmund was perplexed. He bowed his head, and his face was sad.
Finally he said: “Is that why you so often don’t take my thoughts seriously?” Narcissus hesitated before he answered. His voice was clear and hard when he said: “Yes, that is why. I take only you seriously, dear Goldmund; you’ll have to get used to that. Believe me, there isn’t an intonation in your voice, not a gesture, not a smile that I don’t take seriously. But your thoughts I take less seriously. I take seriously all that I find essential and necessary in you. Why do you want particular attention paid to your thoughts, when you have so many other gifts?” Goldmund smiled bitterly: “You’ve always considered me a child; I’ve said it before.” Narcissus remained firm: “Part of your thought I consider a child’s thought. Remember what we said earlier: an intelligent child need not be less intelligent than a learned scholar. But when the child wants to assert its opinion in matters of learning, then the scholar doesn’t take it seriously.” Goldmund said with violence: “You smile at me even when we don’t discuss matters of learning! For instance, you always act as though all my piety, my efforts to advance my studies, my desire to become a monk were so many childish fantasies.”
Narcissus looked at him gravely: “I take you seriously when you are Goldmund. But you’re not always Goldmund. I wish nothing more than to see you become Goldmund through and through. You are not a scholar, you are not a monk—scholars and monks can have a coarser grain. You think you’re not learned or logical or pious enough for me. On the contrary, you are not enough yourself.” Perplexed and even hurt, Goldmund had withdrawn after this conversation. And yet a few days later he himself wished to hear more. And this time Narcissus was able to give Goldmund a picture of their different natures that he found more acceptable.
Narcissus had talked himself into a fever; he felt that Goldmund was accepting his words more openly and willingly, that he had power over him. His success made him give in to the temptation to say more than he had intended; he let himself be carried away by his own words. “Look,” he said, “I am superior to you only in one point: I’m awake, whereas you are only half awake, or completely asleep sometimes. I call a man awake who knows in his conscious reason his innermost unreasonable force, drives, and weaknesses and knows how to deal with them. For you to learn that about yourself is the potential reason for your having met me. In your case, mind and nature, consciousness and dream world lie very far apart. You’ve forgotten your childhood; it cries for you from the depths of your soul. It will make you suffer until you heed it. “But enough of that! Being awake, as I’ve already said, makes me stronger than you. This is the one point in which I am superior to you and that is why I can be useful to you. In every other respect you are superior to me, my dear Goldmund—or rather, you will be, as soon as you’ve found yourself.”
Goldmund had listened with astonishment, but at the words “you’ve forgotten your childhood” he flinched as though pierced by an arrow. Narcissus didn’t notice; he often kept his eyes closed for long moments while he spoke, or he’d stare straight ahead, as though this helped him to find his words. He did not see Goldmund’s face twitch suddenly.
“I … superior to you!” stammered Goldmund, feeling as though his whole body had been lamed. “Why, yes,” Narcissus continued. “Natures of your kind, with strong, delicate senses, the souloriented, the dreamers, poets, lovers are almost always superior to us creatures of the mind. You take your being from your mothers. You live fully; you were endowed with the strength of love, the ability to feel. Whereas we creatures of reason, we don’t live fully; we live in an arid land, even though we often seem to guide and rule you. Yours is the plenitude of life, the sap of the fruit, the garden of passion, the beautiful landscape of art. Your home is the earth; ours is the world of ideas. You are in danger of drowning in the world of the senses; ours is the danger of suffocating in an airless void. You are an artist; I am a thinker. You sleep at the mother’s breast; I wake in the desert. For me the sun shines; for you the moon and the stars. Your dreams are of girls; mine of boys …” Goldmund listened, wide-eyed. Narcissus spoke with a kind of rhetorical self-intoxication. Several words struck Goldmund like swords. Toward the end he grew pale and closed his eyes, and when Narcissus became aware of it and asked with sudden fear what was wrong, the deathly pale boy said: “Once I broke down in front of you and burst into tears—you remember. That must not happen again. I’d never forgive myself—or you! Please go away at once and let me be alone. You’ve said terrible words to me.”
Narcissus was overcome. His words had carried him away; he had felt that he was speaking better than usual. Now he saw with consternation that some of his words had deeply affected his friend and somehow pierced him to the quick. He found it hard to leave him at that moment and hesitated a second or two, but Goldmund’s frown left him no choice. Confused, he ran off to allow his friend the solitude he needed.
This time the extreme tension in Goldmund’s soul did not dissolve itself in tears. He was still, feeling deeply, desperately wounded, as though his friend had plunged a knife into his breast. He breathed heavily, with mortally contracted heart, a wax-pale face, limp hands. This was the old pain, only considerably sharper, the same inner choking, the feeling that something frightful had to be looked in the eye, something unbearable. But this time there was no relief of tears to overcome the pain. Holy Mother of God, what then could this be? Had something happened? Had he been murdered? Had he killed someone? What had been said that was so frightful? He panted, pushing his breath away from him. Like a person who has been poisoned, he was bursting with the feeling that he had to free himself of something deadly, deep inside him. With the movements of a swimmer he rushed from his room, fled unconsciously to the quietest, loneliest parts of the cloister, through passages, down stairways and out into the open. He had wandered into the innermost refuge of the cloister, into the court of the cross. The sky stretched clear and sunny over the few bright flower beds; the scent of roses drifted through the cool stony air in sweet hesitant threads.
Without knowing it, Narcissus had accomplished his long-desired aim: he had named the demon by which his friend was possessed; he had called it out into the open. One of his many words had touched the secret in Goldmund’s heart, which had reared up in furious pain. For a long time Narcissus wandered through the cloister, looking for his friend, but he could not find him. Goldmund was standing under one of the massive stone arches that led from the passageway out into the little cloister garden; on each column three animal heads, the stone-carved heads of dogs and wolves, glared down at him. Pain was raging inside him, pushing, finding no way toward the light, toward reason. Deathly fear clutched at his throat, knotted his stomach. Mechanically he looked up, saw the animal heads on the capital of one of the columns, and began to feel that those three monstrous heads were squatting, glaring, barking inside him.
“I’m going to die any moment,” he felt with terror. “I’ll lose my mind and those animal snouts will devour me.”
His body twitched; he sank down at the foot of the column. The pain was too great; he had reached the limit. He fainted; he drowned in longed-for oblivion.
It had been a rather unsatisfactory day for Abbot Daniel. Two of the older monks had come to him, foaming with excitement, full of accusations, bringing up petty old jealousies, squabbling furiously. He had listened to them altogether too long, had unsuccessfully admonished them, and dismissed them severely with rather heavy penances. With a feeling of futility in his heart, he had withdrawn for prayer in the lower chapel, prayed, and stood up again, unrefreshed. Now he stepped out into the court a moment for some air, attracted by the smell of roses. There he found the pupil Goldmund lying in a faint on the stones. He looked at him with sadness, frightened by the pallor and remoteness of the usually winsome face. It had not been a good day, and now this to top it all! He tried to lift the young man, but was not up to the effort. With a deep sigh the old man walked away to call two younger brothers to carry Goldmund upstairs and to send Father Anselm to him, the cloister physician. He also sent for Brother Narcissus, who soon appeared before him. “Have you heard?” he asked.
“About Goldmund? Yes, gentle father, I just heard that he has been taken ill or has had an accident and has been carried in.”
“Yes, I found him lying in the inner court, where actually he had no business to be. It was not an accident that he fainted. I don’t like this. It would seem to me that you are somehow connected with it, or at least know of it, since you are so intimate. That is why I have called you. Speak.” With his usual control of bearing and speech, Narcissus gave a brief account of his conversation with Goldmund and of its surprisingly violent effect on him. The Abbot shook his head, not without ill humor.
“Those are strange conversations,” he said, forcing himself to remain calm. “What you have just described to me is a conversation that might be called interference with another soul, what I might call a confessor’s conversation. But you’re not Goldmund’s confessor. You are no one’s confessor; you have not been ordained. How is it that you discussed matters with a pupil, in the tone of an adviser, that concern no one but his confessor? As you can see, the consequences have been harmful.”
“The consequences,” Narcissus said in a mild but firm voice, “are not yet known to us, gentle father. I was somewhat frightened by the violence of his reaction, but I have no doubt that the consequences of our conversation will be good for Goldmund.”
“We shall see. I am not speaking of the consequences now, I am speaking of your action. What prompted you to have such conversations with Goldmund?”
“As you know, he is my friend. I have a special fondness for him and I believe that I understand him particularly well. You say that I acted toward him like a confessor. In no way have I assumed any religious authority; I merely thought that I knew him a little better than he knows himself.” The Abbot shrugged.
“I know, that is your métier. Let us hope that you did not cause any harm with it. But is Goldmund ill? I mean, is anything wrong with him? Does he feel weak? Has he been sleeping poorly? Does he eat badly? Has he some kind of pain?”
“No, until today he’s been healthy. In his body, that is.”
“His soul is ailing. As you know, he is at an age when struggles with sex begin.”
“I know. He is seventeen?”
“He is eighteen.”
“Eighteen. Well, yes, that is late enough. But these struggles are natural; everybody goes through them. That is no reason to say that he is ailing in his soul.”
“No, gentle father. That is not the only reason. But Goldmund’s soul has been ailing for a long time; that is why these struggles hold more danger for him than for others. I believe that he suffers because he has forgotten a part of his past.”
“Ah? And what part is that?”
“His mother, and everything connected with her. I don’t know anything about her, either. I merely know that there must lie the source of his illness. Because Goldmund knows nothing of his mother apparently, except that he lost her at an early age. I have the impression that he seems ashamed of her. And yet it must be from her that he inherited most of his gifts, because his description of his father does not make him seem a man who would have such a winsome, talented, original son. Nothing of this has been told me; I deduced it from signs.” At first the Abbot had smiled slightly at this precocious, arrogant-sounding speech; the whole matter was a troublesome chore to him. Now he began to think. He remembered Goldmund’s father as a somewhat brittle, distrustful man; now, as he searched his memory, he suddenly remembered a few words the father had, at that time, uttered about Goldmund’s mother. He had said that she had brought shame upon him and run away, and that he had tried to suppress the mother’s memory in his young son, as well as any vices he might have inherited from her. And that he had most probably succeeded, because the boy was willing to offer his life up to God, in atonement for his mother’s sins.
Never had Narcissus pleased the Abbot less than today. And yet—how well this thinker had guessed; how well he really did seem to know Goldmund.
He asked a final question about the day’s occurrences, and Narcissus said: “I had not intended to upset Goldmund so violently. I reminded him that he does not know himself, that he had forgotten his childhood and his mother. Something I said must have struck him and penetrated the darkness I have been fighting so long. He seemed beside himself; he looked at me as though he no longer knew himself or me. I have often told him that he was asleep, that he was not really awake. Now he has been awakened, I have no doubt about that.”
He was dismissed, without a scolding but with an admonition not to visit the sick boy for the time being.
Meanwhile Father Anselm had ordered the boy put to bed and was sitting beside him. He had not deemed it advisable to shock him back into consciousness by violent means. The boy looked altogether too sick. Out of his kind, wrinkled face, the old man looked fondly upon the adolescent. Meanwhile he checked his pulse and heartbeat. The boy must have eaten something impossible, a bunch of sorrel, or something equally silly; that kind of thing happened sometimes. The boy’s mouth was closed, so he couldn’t check his tongue. He was fond of Goldmund but had little use for his friend, that precocious, overly young teacher. Now it had come to this. Brother Narcissus surely had something to do with this stupid mishap. Why had this charming, clear-eyed youngster, this dear child of nature, picked the arrogant scholar, the vain grammarian, who valued his Greek more highly than all living creatures of this world!
When the door opened much later, and the Abbot came in, Father Anselm was still sitting beside the bed, staring into the boy’s face. What a dear, trusting young face this was, and all one could do was to sit beside it, wishing, but probably unable, to help. It might all be due to a colic, of course; he would prescribe hot wine, perhaps some rhubarb. But the longer he looked into the greenish pale, distorted face, the more his suspicions leaned toward another cause, a much more serious one. Father Anselm was experienced. More than once, in the course of his long life, he had seen men who were possessed. He hesitated to formulate this suspicion even to himself. He would wait and observe. But if this poor boy had really been hexed, he thought grimly, we probably won’t have to look far for the culprit, and he shall not have an easy time of it.
The Abbot stepped up to the bed, bent over the sick boy, and gently drew back one of the eyelids.
“Can he be roused?” he asked.
“I’d rather wait a bit longer. His heart is sound. We must not let anyone in to see him.”
“Is he in danger?”
“I don’t think so. There aren’t any wounds, no trace of a blow or fall. He is unconscious because of a colic, perhaps. Extreme pain can cause loss of consciousness. If he had been poisoned, he’d be running a fever. No, he’ll come to and go on living.”
“Do you think it could be his soul?”
“I wouldn’t rule that out. Do we know anything? Has he had a shock perhaps? News of someone’s death? A violent dispute, an insult? That would certainly explain it.” “We know of nothing. Make sure that no one is allowed to see him. Please stay with him until he comes to. If anything should go wrong, call me, even if it’s in the middle of the night.” Before leaving, the old man bent once more over the sick boy. He thought of the boy’s father, of the day this charming blond head had been brought to him, how everyone had taken to him from the start. He, too, had been glad to see him in the cloister. But Narcissus was certainly right in one respect: nothing in the boy recalled his father. Ah, how much worry there was everywhere, how insufficient all our striving! Had he perhaps been neglectful of this poor boy? Was it right that no one in the house knew this pupil as thoroughly as Narcissus? How could he be helped by someone who was still a novice, who had not yet been consecrated, who was not yet a monk, and whose thoughts and ideas all had something unpleasantly superior about them, something almost hostile? God alone knew whether Narcissus too had not been handled wrongly all this time? Was he concealing something evil behind his mask of obedience, hedonism perhaps? Whatever these two young men would some day become would be partly his responsibility. It was dark when Goldmund came to. His head felt empty, dizzy. He knew that he was lying in bed, but not where. He didn’t think about that; it didn’t matter. But where had he been? From what strange land of experience had he returned? He had been to some far-away place. He had seen something there, something extraordinary, something sublime, but also frightful, and unforgettable—and yet he had forgotten it. Where had it been? What was it that had appeared to him, huge, painful, blissful? That had vanished again?
He listened deeply inside him, to that place from which something had erupted today, where something had happened—what had it been? Wild tangles of images rose before him, he saw dogs’ heads, the heads of three dogs, and he sniffed the scent of roses. The pain he had felt! He closed his eyes. The dreadful pain he had felt! Again he fell asleep.
As he awoke from the rapidly vanishing dream world that was sliding away from him, he saw it.
He rediscovered the image, and trembled with pain and joy. His eyes had been opened: he saw Her. He saw the tall, radiant woman with the full mouth and glowing hair—his mother. And at the same time he thought he heard a voice: “You have forgotten your childhood.” But whose voice was that? He listened, thought, found it. Narcissus’s voice. Narcissus? In a flash everything came back: he remembered. O mother, mother! Mountains of rubbish collapsed, oceans of forgetfulness vanished. The lost woman, the indescribably beloved, was again looking at him with her regal light-blue eyes. Father Anselm had dozed off in the armchair beside the bed; he awoke. He heard the sick boy stir, he heard him breathe. Gently he stood up.
“Is someone in the room?” Goldmund asked.
“It is I, have no fear. I’ll put the light on.”
He lighted the lamp, its glow fell over his well-meaning, wrinkled face.
“But am I ill?” asked the boy.
“You fainted, son. Hold out your hand, let’s take a look at your pulse. How do you feel?” “Fine. Thank you, Father Anselm, you’re very kind. Nothing’s wrong with me now, I’m just tired.”
“I bet you are. And you’ll go right back to sleep. But first you’ll have a sip of hot wine; it’s all made and ready. Let’s drain a mug together, my boy, to good fellowship.” He had kept a small pitcher of hot wine in readiness.
“So we both bad a nice nap,” laughed the physician. “A fine night nurse, huh, who can’t keep awake. Well, we’re all human. Now we’ll take a sip of this magic potion, my boy. Nothing’s more pleasant than a little secret drinking in the middle of the night. Prosit.” Goldmund laughed, clinked cups, and tasted the warm wine. It was spiced with cinnamon and cloves and sweetened; he had never tasted such a drink before. He remembered his previous illness, when Narcissus had taken care of him. Now it was Father Anselm who was caring for him. It was all so pleasant and strange to be lying there in the lamplight, drinking a mug of sweet warm wine with the old father in the middle of the night.
“Have you a pain in your stomach?” the old man asked.
“I thought you probably had the colic, Goldmund. You don’t then. Let’s see your tongue. Well, fine, your old Anselm’s proved his ignorance once again. Tomorrow you’ll stay in bed and I’ll come and take a look at you. Already through with your wine? Fine, may it do you good. Let’s see if there is more. Half a mug each, if we share and share alike.—You really gave us a scare, Goldmund! Lying in the court like a child’s corpse. And you really have no stomach ache?” They laughed together and shared what was left of the convalescent wine. The father joked; gratefully, delightedly Goldmund looked at him. His eyes were clear again. Then the old man went off to bed.
Goldmund lay awake awhile longer. Again the images rose up inside him; his friend’s words flamed up again. The blond radiant woman, his mother, appeared again in his soul. Like a warm south-wind, her image swept through him: like a cloud of life, of warmth and tenderness and innermost enticement. “O my mother! How was it possible, how was I able to forget you!”
Up to now, the few things Goldmund knew of his mother had come from what others had told him. Her image had almost faded from his memory. Of the little he thought he knew of her, he had told Narcissus next to nothing. Mother was a subject he was forbidden to mention—something to be ashamed of. She had been a dancer, a wild beautiful woman of noble, though poor, birth;
Goldmund’s father said that he had lifted her from poverty and shame; and since he couldn’t be sure she was not a heathen, he had arranged to have her baptized and instructed in religion; he had married her and made her respectable. But after a few years of domesticated and ordered existence, she had remembered her old tricks and crafts, had started to make trouble and seduce men, had strayed from home for days and weeks at a time, had acquired the reputation of a witch, and, after her husband had gone to find her and taken her back to his house several times, she had finally disappeared forever. Her reputation had stayed alive, a wicked reputation that flickered like the tail of a comet, until it had been extinguished. Slowly her husband recovered from the years of disorder, fear, and shame, of the never ending surprises she sprang on him. In place of the unredeemed wife, he educated his little son, who greatly resembled his mother in features and build; he grew nagging and bigoted, instilling in Goldmund the belief that he must offer up his life to God to expiate his mother’s sins.
This was the tale Goldmund’s father told of his lost wife, although he preferred not to speak of her. He had hinted at it to the Abbot the day he brought Goldmund to the cloister. It was all known to the son as a terrible legend, but he had learned to push it aside and had almost forgotten it. The real image of his mother had been completely forgotten and lost, an altogether different image that was not made of his father’s and the servants’ tales and dark wild rumors. He had forgotten his own true living mother-memory. And now this image, the star of his earliest years, had risen again. “I can’t understand how I could have forgotten,” he said to his friend. “Never in my life have I loved anyone as much as I loved my mother, unconditionally, fervently. Never did I venerate or admire anyone as I did her; she was sun and moon to me. God only knows how it was possible to darken this radiant image in my soul, to change her gradually to the evil, pallid, shapeless witch she was to my father and to me for many years.”
Narcissus had recently completed his novitiate and had donned the habit. His attitude toward Goldmund was strangely changed. Because Goldmund, who had often before rejected his friend’s hints and counsel as cumbersome superiority and pedantry, was now, since his deep experience, filled with astonished admiration of his friend’s wisdom. How many of his words had come true like prophecies, how deeply had this uncanny man seen inside him, how precisely had he guessed the secret of his life, his hidden wound, how deftly had he healed him!
At least Goldmund seemed to be healed. Not only had the fainting spell been without evil consequences, but all that was unformed and unauthentic in Goldmund’s character had somehow melted away, his mistaken vocation to monkhood, his belief that he was obliged to render particular service to God. The young man seemed to have grown younger and older all at once. He owed it all to Narcissus.
But Narcissus was now conducting himself with a strange caution toward his friend. He looked upon him with great modesty, no longer in the least condescending or instructing, while Goldmund admired him more than ever. He saw Goldmund fed from secret sources to which he, himself, had no access; he had been able to further their growth, but had no part in them. Though he was glad to see his friend freeing himself of his guidance, he also felt sad. He saw that this friendship, which had meant so much to him, was nearing its end. He still knew more about Goldmund than Goldmund knew about himself. Goldmund had rediscovered his soul and was ready to follow its call, but he did not know where it would lead him. Narcissus knew this and felt powerless; his favorite’s path led to regions in which he himself would never travel.
Goldmund’s eagerness to learn had decreased considerably, as had his desire to argue with his friend. Shamefacedly he remembered some of their former discussions. Meanwhile Narcissus began to feel the need for seclusion; either because he had completed the novitiate or because of his experience with Goldmund, he felt drawn to fasting and long prayers, frequent confessions, voluntary penitence, and Goldmund understood this, could almost share in it. Since his cure, his instincts had been sharpened. Although he had no inkling of where his future would lead him, he did feel strongly, often with anguishing clarity, that his destiny was shaping itself, that this respite of innocence and calm was coming to an end, that all within him was taut and ready. These premonitions were often blissful, kept him awake half the night like a sweet infatuation; at other times they were full of darkness and suffocation. His long-lost mother had come back to him: that was deep happiness. But where was her enticing call leading him? Into uncertainty and entanglement, into need, perhaps into death. It did not lead to quiet, mildness, security, to the monk’s cell, to collective cloister life. Her call had nothing in common with his fathers orders, which he had for so long confused with his own wishes. Goldmund’s piety fed on this emotion; it was often as strong and burning as a violent physical sensation. He would repeat long prayers to the holy Mother of God, letting flow the excessive feelings that drew him toward his own mother. But often his prayers would end in those strange, magnificent dreams of which he had so many now: day-dreams, with half-awake senses, dreams of her with all his senses participating. The motherworld would spray its fragrance about him, look darkly from enigmatic eyes of love, rumble deep as an ocean, like paradise, stammer caressing, senseless endearments, or rather endearments that filled his senses with a taste of sweetness and salt and brushed his hungry lips and eyes with silken hair.
His mother meant not only all that was graceful; not only were her gentle look of love and sweet, happiness-promising smile caressing consolations; but somewhere beneath this enticing exterior lay much that was frightful and dark, greedy and fearful, sinful and sorrowful, all that gave birth and all death.
The adolescent would sink deeply into these dreams, into these many-threaded webs of soulinhabited senses. Enchantingly they resurrected not only the beloved past: childhood and mother love, the radiantly golden morning of life; but in them also the future swung, menacing, promising, beckoning, dangerous. At times these dreams, in which mother, Virgin, and mistress all fused into one, seemed horrendous crimes to him afterwards, blasphemies, deadly, unpardonable sins; at other times he found in them nothing but harmony and release. Life stared at him, filled with secrets, a somber, unfathomable world, a rigid forest bristling with fairy-tale dangers—but these were mother secrets, they came from her, led to her, they were the small dark circle, the tiny threatening abyss in her clear eye.
So much of his forgotten childhood surged up during these mother dreams, so many small flowers of memory bloomed from the endless depth of forgetfulness, golden-faced premonitionscented memories of childhood emotions, of incidents perhaps, or perhaps of dreams. Occasionally he’d dream of fish, black and silver, swimming toward him, cool and smooth, swimming into him, through him, coming like messengers bearing joyous news of a more gracious, more beautiful reality and vanishing, tails flipping, shadowlike, gone, having brought new enigmas rather than messages. Or he’d dream of swimming fish and flying birds, and each fish or bird was his creature, depended on him, could be guided like a breath, radiated from him like an eye, like a thought, returned to him. Or he’d dream of a garden, a magic garden with fabulous trees, huge flowers, and deep blue-dark caves; the eyes of unknown animals sparkled in the grass, smooth-muscled serpents slid along the branches; giant moist-glistening berries hung from vine or bush, he’d pick them and they’d swell in his hand and leak warm juices like blood, or they had eyes which they’d move with cunning seduction; groping, he’d lean against a tree, reach for a branch, and see and feel between trunk and branch a curling nest of thick tousled hair like the hair in the pit of an arm. Once he dreamed of himself, or of his name-saint, he dreamed of Goldmund of Chrysostom, who had a mouth of gold, who spoke words with his golden mouth, and the words were small swarms of birds that flew off in fluttering groups.
Once he dreamed that he was tall and adult but sat on the floor like a child, that he had clay in front of him and was modeling clay figures, like a child: a small horse, a bull, a tiny man, a tiny woman. The modeling amused him and he gave the animals and men ridiculously large genitals; it seemed wonderfully witty to him in his dream. Then he grew tired of the game and walked off and felt something alive at his back, something soundless and large that was coming nearer and when he looked around he saw with great astonishment and shock, but not without joy, that his small clay figures bad grown and come to life. Huge mute giants, they marched past him, continuing to grow, monstrous, silent; tower-high, they traveled on into the world.
He lived in this dream world more than in the real one. The real world: classroom, courtyard, library, dormitory, and chapel were only the surface, a quivering film over the dream-filled superreal world of images. The smallest incident could pierce a hole in this thin skin: a sudden hint in the sound of a Greek word during a tedious lesson, a whiff of scent from Father Anselm’s herb satchel, the sight of a garland of stone leaves protruding from the top of a column in a window vault—these small stimulants were enough to puncture the skin of reality, to unleash the raging abysses, streams, and milky ways of an image world of the soul that lay beneath peacefully barren reality. A Latin initial changed to his mother’s perfumed face, a long note in the Ave became the gate to Paradise, a Greek letter a galloping horse, a rearing serpent that quickly slithered off through the flowers, leaving the rigid page of grammar in its place.
He rarely spoke of it, only occasionally did he give Narcissus a hint of his dream world.
“I believe,” he once said, “that the petal of a flower or a tiny worm on the path says far more, contains far more than all the books in the library. One cannot say very much with mere letters and words. Sometimes I’ll be writing a Greek letter, a theta or an omega, and tilt my pen just the slightest bit; suddenly the letter has a tail and becomes a fish; in a second it evokes all the streams and rivers of the world, all that is cool and humid, Homer’s sea and the waters on which Saint Peter
wandered; or it becomes a bird, flaps its tail, shakes out its feathers, puffs itself up, laughs, flies away. You probably don’t appreciate letters like that very much, do you, Narcissus? But I say: with them God wrote the world.”
“I do appreciate them greatly,” Narcissus said sadly. “Those are magic letters, demons can be exorcised with them. But for the pursuit of science they are, of course, unsuitable. The mind favors the definite, the solid shape, it wants its symbols to be reliable, it loves what is, not what will be, what is real and not what is possible. It does not permit an omega to change to a serpent or a bird. The mind cannot live in nature, only against nature, only as its counterpart. Do you believe now that you’ll never be a scholar, Goldmund?”
Yes, Goldmund had long since begun to believe it, resigned himself to it. “I’m no longer intent on striving for a mind like yours,” he said, half jokingly. “I feel about mind and learning the way I did about my father: I thought I loved him very much and wanted to become like him and swore by everything he did. But as soon as my mother reappeared, I knew the meaning of love again and my father’s image had suddenly shrunk next to hers and become joyless, almost repugnant. And now I’m inclined to regard all things of the mind as father-things, as unmotherly, and mother-hostile, and to feel a slight contempt for them.”
He spoke in a joking tone, and yet he was not able to bring a happy expression to his friend’s face. Narcissus looked at him in silence; his look was like a caress. Then he said: “I understand you very well. There’s no need for us to quarrel ever again; you are awakened, and now you recognize the difference between us, between mother-heritage and father-heritage, the difference between soul and mind. Soon you’ll probably also realize that cloister life and striving for monkhood were a mistake for you, an invention of your father’s. He wanted you to atone for your mother’s memory, or perhaps avenge himself on her in this way. Or do you still believe that its your destiny to remain in the cloister all your life?”
Goldmund looked pensively at his friend’s hands. How distinguished they were, severe as well as delicate, bony and white. No one could doubt that they were the hands of an ascetic and a scholar. “I don’t know,” he said in the lilting, slightly hesitant voice he had recently acquired and that seemed to dwell lengthily on every sound. “I really don’t know. You judge my father somewhat harshly. He has not had an easy life. But perhaps you’re right in this too. I’ve been in the cloister school for over three years, and he’s never come to see me. He wants me to stay here forever. Perhaps that would be best, I thought I wanted it myself. But today I’m no longer sure what I really want and desire. Before, everything was simple, as simple as the letters in my textbook. Now nothing is simple any more, not even the letters. Everything has taken on many meanings and faces. I don’t know what will become of me, I can’t think about that now.”
“Nor need you,” said Narcissus. “You’ll find out where your road will lead you. It began by leading you back to your mother, and it will bring you closer to her still. As for your father, I’m not judging him too harshly. Would you want to go back to him?”
“No, Narcissus, certainly not. If I did, it would have to be as soon as I finished school; right now perhaps. Since I’m not going to be a scholar anyhow, I’ve learned enough Latin and Greek and mathematics. No, I don’t want to go back to my father …” Deep in thought, he stared ahead of him. Suddenly he cried out to Narcissus: “How on earth do you do it? Again and again you say words to me, or pose questions that shine a light into me and make me clear to myself. You merely asked if I wanted to go back to my father, and suddenly I knew that I didn’t want to. How do you do it? You seem to know everything. You’ve said so many words that I didn’t quite grasp when I heard them but that became so important to me afterwards! It was you who said that I take my being from my mother, you who discovered that I was living under a spell and had forgotten my childhood! What makes you know people so well? Couldn’t I learn that too?”
Narcissus smiled and shook his head.
“No, my dear Goldmund, you cannot. Some people are capable of learning a great deal, but you are not one of them. You’ll never be a student. And why should you be? You don’t need to. You have other gifts. You are more gifted than I, you are richer and you are weaker, your road will be more beautiful and more difficult than mine. There were times when you refused to understand me, you often kicked like a foal, it wasn’t always easy, I was often forced to hurt you. I had to waken you, since you were asleep. Recalling your mother to your memory hurt at first, hurt you very much; you were found lying in the cloister garden as though dead. It had to be. No, don’t stroke my hair! No, don’t! I don’t like it.”
“Can’t I learn anything then? Will I always remain stupid, a child?”
“There will be others to teach you. What you could learn from me, you child, you have learned.” “Oh no,” cried Goldmund, “we didn’t become friends to end it now! What sort of friendship would that be, that reached its goal after a short distance and then simply stopped? Are you tired of me? Have you no more affection for me?”
Narcissus was pacing vehemently, his eyes on the floor. Then he stopped in front of his friend. “Let that be,” he said softly. “You know only too well that my affection for you has not come to an end.”
With doubt in his eyes he studied his friend. Then he began pacing once more, back and forth; again he stopped and looked at Goldmund, his eyes firm in the taut, haggard face. His voice was low, but hard and firm, when he said: “Listen, Goldmund! Our friendship has been good; it had a goal and the goal has been reached; you’ve been awakened, I would like it not to be over; I would like it to renew itself once more, renew itself again and again, and lead to new goals. For the moment there is no goal. Yours is uncertain, I can neither lead you nor accompany you. Ask your mother, ask her image, listen to her! But my goal is not uncertain, it lies here, in the cloister, it claims me at every hour. I can be your friend, but I cannot be in love. I am a monk, I have taken the vows. Before my consecration I shall ask to be released from my teaching duties and withdraw for many weeks to fast and do exercises. During that period I’ll not speak of worldly matters, nor with you either.”
Goldmund understood. Sadly he said: “So you’re going to do what I would have done too, if I had joined the order. And after your exercises are over and you have fasted and prayed and waked enough—then what will be your goal?”
“You know what it is,” said Narcissus.
“Well, yes. In a few years you’ll be the novicemaster, head of the school perhaps. You’ll improve the teaching methods; you’ll enlarge the library. Perhaps you’ll write books yourself. No? All right, you won’t. But what is your goal?”
Narcissus smiled faintly. “The goal? Perhaps I’ll die head of the school, or abbot, or bishop. It’s all the same. My goal is this: always to put myself in the place in which I am best able to serve, wherever my gifts and qualities find the best soil, the widest field of action. There is no other goal.” Goldmund: “No other goal for a monk?”
Narcissus: “Oh, there are goals enough. One monk may find his life’s goal in learning Hebrew, another in annotating Aristotle, or embellishing the cloister church, or secluding himself in meditation, or a hundred other things. For me those are no goals. I neither want to increase the riches of the cloister, nor reform the order, nor the church. I want to serve the mind within the framework of my possibilities, the way I understand the mind; no more. Is that not a goal?” Goldmund thought for a long while before he answered.
“You’re right,” he said. “Did I hinder you much on the road toward your goal?” “Hinder me! Oh Goldmund, no one furthered me as much as you did. You created difficulties for me, but I am no enemy of difficulties. I’ve learned from them, I’ve partly overcome them.” Goldmund interrupted him. Half laughingly, he said: “You’ve overcome them wonderfully well! But, tell me: when you aided me, guided and delivered me, and healed my soul—were you really serving the mind? In so doing you’ve probably deprived the cloister of an eager, well-intentioned novice, maybe you’ve raised an enemy of the mind, someone who’ll strive for, think and do the exact opposite of what you deem good!”
“Why not?” said Narcissus in deep earnest. “Dear friend, how little you know me still! Perhaps I did ruin a future monk in you, but in exchange I cleared the path inside you for a destiny that will not be ordinary. Even if you burned down our rather handsome cloister tomorrow, or preached a mad doctrine of error to the world, I would not for an instant regret that I helped you on the road toward it.”
With a friendly gesture he laid both hands on his friend’s shoulders.
“See here, little Goldmund, this too is part of my goal: whether I be teacher, abbot, father confessor, or whatever, never do I wish to find myself in the position of meeting a strong, valuable human being and not know what he is about, not further him. And let me say this to you: whatever becomes of either of us, whether we go this way or that, you’ll never find me heedless at any moment that you call me seriously and think that you have need of me. Never.” It sounded like a farewell; it was indeed a foretaste of farewell. Goldmund stood looking at his friend, the determined face, the goal-directed eyes; he had the unmistakable feeling that they were no longer brothers, colleagues, equals; their ways had already parted. The man before him was not a dreamer; he was not waiting for fate to call to him. He was a monk who had pledged his life, who belonged to an established order, to duty; he was a servant, a soldier of religion, of the church, of the mind. Goldmund now knew he did not belong here; this had become clear to him today. He had no home; an unknown world awaited him. His mother had known the same fate once. She had left house and home, husband and child, community and order, duty and honor, to go out into uncertainty; she had probably long since perished in it. She had had no goal, and neither had he. Having goals was a privilege he did not share with others, Oh, how well Narcissus had recognized all this long ago; how right he had been!
Shortly after the day of their conversation, Narcissus seemed to have disappeared, to have become suddenly inaccessible. Another instructor was teaching his courses; his lectern in the library stood vacant. He was still present, he was not altogether invisible, one saw him walk through the arcade occasionally, heard him murmur in one of the chapels, kneeling on the stone floor; one knew that he had begun the great exercise, that he was fasting, that he rose three times each night to exercise. He was still present, but he had crossed over into another world; he could be seen, although not often, but he could not be reached. Nothing could be shared with him; one could not speak with him. Goldmund knew: Narcissus would reappear, he would be standing at his lectern again, sit in his chair in the refectory, he would speak again—but nothing of what had been would be again; Narcissus would belong to him no longer. As he thought about this, it became clear to him that Narcissus alone had made the cloister, the monkish life, grammar and logic, learning and the mind seem important and desirable to him. His example had tempted him; to become like Narcissus had been his ideal. True, there was also the Abbot, whom he had venerated; he had loved him, too, and thought him a high example. But the others, the teachers and classmates, the dormitory, the dining hall, the school, exercises, mass, the entire cloister no longer concerned him without Narcissus. What was he still doing here? He was waiting, standing under the cloister roof like a hesitant wanderer caught in the rain who stops under any roof, a tree, just to wait, for fear of the inhospitality of the unknown. Goldmund’s life, during this span, was nothing but hesitation and bidding farewell. He visited the different places that had become dear and meaningful to him. He was surprised that there were so few persons and faces it would be hard for him to leave. Brother Narcissus and old Abbot Daniel and good dear Father Anselm, the friendly porter maybe, and their jovial neighbor, the miller—but even they had already become unreal. Harder than that would be saying farewell to the tall stone madonna in the chapel, to the apostles of the portal. For a long time he stood in front of them, in front of the beautiful carvings of the choir pews, of the fountain in the cloister garden, the column with the three animal heads; he leaned against the linden trees in the courtyard, against the chestnut tree. One day, all of this would be memory to him, a small picturebook in his heart. Even now, while he was still in its midst, it started to fade away from him, lose its reality, change phantomlike into something that no longer was. He went in search of herbs with Father Anselm, who liked to have him around; he watched the men at work in the cloister mill; every so often he let himself be invited to a meal of wine and baked fish; but already it felt strange to him, half like a memory. In the twilight of the chapel and the penitence of his cell, his friend Narcissus was pacing, alive, but to him he had become a shadow. The cloister now seemed to be drained of reality, and appeared autumnal and transient.
Only the life within him was real, the anguished beating of his heart, the nostalgic sting of longing, the joys and fears of his dreams. To them he belonged; to them he abandoned himself. Suddenly, in the middle of a page or a lesson, surrounded by his classmates, he’d sink into himself and forget everything, listening only to the rivers and voices inside himself which drew him away, into deep wells filled with dark melodies, into colorful abysses full of fairy-tale deeds, and all the sounds were like his mother’s voice, and the thousands of eyes all were his mother’s eyes.
One day Father Anselm called Goldmund into his pharmacy, his pretty herb pantry full of wondrous smells. Goldmund knew his way around there. The monk showed him a dried plant, neatly preserved between two sheets of paper, and asked him if he knew its name and could describe it accurately, the way it looked outside in the fields. Yes, Goldmund could; the plant was John’s-wort. He was asked for a precise description of its characteristics. The old man was satisfied and gave his young friend the mission of gathering a good bundle of these plants during the afternoon, in the plant’s favorite spots, which he indicated to Goldmund.
“In exchange you’ll have the afternoon off from your classes, my boy. You’ll have no objection to that, and you won’t lose anything by it. Because knowledge of nature is a science, too—not only your silly grammar.”
Goldmund thanked him for the most welcome assignment to pick flowers for a couple of hours rather than sit in the classroom. To make his joy complete, he asked the stablemaster to let him take the horse Bless, and soon after lunch he led the animal from the stable. It greeted him enthusiastically; he jumped on and galloped, deeply content, into the warm, glowing day. He rode about for an hour or more, enjoying the air and the smell of the fields, and most of all the riding itself, then he remembered his errand and searched for one of the spots the father had described to him. He found it, tethered the horse in the shade of a maple, talked to it, fed it some bread, and started looking for the plants. There were a few strips of fallow land, overgrown with all kinds of weeds. Small, wizened poppies with a last few fading petals and many ripe seed pods stood among withering vetch and sky-blue chicory and discolored knotweed. The heaps of stones between the two fields were inhabited by lizards, and there, too, stood the first, yellow-flowered stalks of John’swort; Goldmund began to pick them. After he had gathered a sizable bunch, he sat down on a stone to rest. It was hot and he looked longingly toward the shadowy edge of the distant forest, but he didn’t want to go that far from the plants and from his horse, which he could still see from where he sat. So he stayed where he was, on the warm heap of stones, keeping very still to see the lizards who had fled come out again; he sniffed at the John’s-wort, held one of its small leaves to the light to study the hundred tiny pin pricks in it.
Strange, he thought, each of these thousand little leaves has its own miniature firmament pricked into it, like a delicate embroidery. How strange and incomprehensible everything was, the lizards, the plants, even the stones, everything. Father Anselm, who was so fond of him, was no longer able to pick his John’s-wort himself; his legs bothered him. On certain days he could not move at all, and his knowledge of medicine could not cure him. Perhaps he would soon die, and the herbs in his pantry would continue to give out their fragrance, but the old father would no longer be there. But perhaps he would go on living for a long time still, for another ten or twenty years perhaps, and still have the same thin white hair and the same funny wrinkle-sheaves around the eyes; but what would have become of him, Goldmund, in twenty years?
Oh, how imcomprehensible everything was, and actually sad, although it was also beautiful. One knew nothing. One lived and ran about the earth and rode through forests, and certain things looked so challenging and promising and nostalgic: a star in the evening, a blue harebell, a reed-green pond, the eye of a person or of a cow. And sometimes it seemed that something never seen yet long desired was about to happen, that a veil would drop from it all; but then it passed, nothing happened, the riddle remained unsolved, the secret spell unbroken, and in the end one grew old and looked cunning like Father Anselm or wise like Abbot Daniel, and still one knew nothing perhaps, was still waiting and listening.
He picked up an empty snail house, it made a faint tinkling sound among the stones and was warm with sun. Absorbed, he examined the windings of the shell, the notched spiral, the capricious dwindling of its little crown, the empty gullet with its shimmer of mother-of-pearl. He closed his eyes and felt the shape with probing fingers, which was a habit and a game with him. He turned the shell between loose fingers, slidingly retracing its contours, caressingly, without pressure, delighted with the miracle of form, the enchantment of the tangible. One of the disadvantages of school and learning, he thought dreamily, was that the mind seemed to have the tendency to see and represent all things as though they were flat and had only two dimensions. This, somehow, seemed to render all matters of the intellect shallow and worthless, but he was unable to hold on to this thought; the shell slid from his hand; he felt tired and drowsy. His head sank over the herbs, which smelled stronger and stronger as they wilted, he fell asleep in the sun. Lizards ran over his shoes; the plants wilted on his knees; under the maple, Bless waited and grew impatient. From the distant forest someone came walking, a young woman in a faded blue skirt, with a red kerchief tied around black hair, and a tanned summer face. The woman came closer; she was carrying a bundle; a fire-red gillyflower shone between her lips. She noticed the sitting man, watched him from afar for a long while, curious and distrustful, saw that he was asleep, tiptoed closer on naked brown feet, stood in front of Goldmund and looked at him. Her suspicions vanished; this fine young sleeper did not look dangerous; he pleased her greatly—what had brought him out here to these fallow fields? With a smile she saw that he had been picking flowers; they were already wilted.
Goldmund opened his eyes, returning from a forest of dreams. His head was bedded softly; it was lying in a woman’s lap. Strangely close, two warm brown eyes were looking into his, which were sleepy and astonished. He felt no fear; no danger shone in those warm brown stars; they looked friendly. The woman smiled at his astonishment, a very friendly smile, and slowly he, too, began to smile. Her mouth came down on his smiling lips; they greeted each other with a gentle kiss, and Goldmund remembered the evening in the village and the little girl with the braids. But the kiss was not over yet. The woman’s mouth lingered, began to play, teased and tempted, and finally seized his lips with greed and violence, set fire to his blood, made it throb in his veins; in slow, patient play the brown woman gave herself to the boy, teaching him gently, letting him seek and find, setting him afire and stilling the flames. The exalted, brief joy of love vaulted above him, burned with a golden glow, sank down and died. He lay with eyes closed, his face against the woman’s breast. Not a word had been said. The woman didn’t move, softly she stroked his hair, gave him time to come to himself. Finally he opened his eyes.
“You!” he said. “You! But who are you?”
“I’m Lise,” she said.
“Lise,” he repeated after her, tasting her name. “Lise, you are sweet.”
She brought her mouth close to his ear and whispered into it: “Tell me, was this the first time?
Did you never love anyone before me?’
He shook his head. Abruptly he sat up and looked across the fields and up into the sky.
“Oh!” he cried, “the sun is almost down. I must get back.”
“To the cloister, to Father Anselm.”
“To Mariabronn? Is that where you belong? Don’t you want to stay with me a little longer?”
“I’d like to.”
“Well, stay then!”
“No, that would not be right. And I must pick more of these herbs.”
“Do you live in the cloister?”
“Yes, I’m a student. But I’ll not stay there. May I come to you, Lise? Where do you live, where is your home?”
“I live nowhere, dear heart. But won’t you tell me your name? —Ah, Goldmund is what they call you. Give me another kiss, little Goldmouth, then you may go.”
“You live nowhere? But where do you sleep?”
“If you like, in the forest with you, or in the hay. Will you come tonight?”
“Oh, yes. But where? Where will I find you?”
“Can you screech like a barn owl?”
“I’ve never tried.”
He tried. She laughed, satisfied.
“All right, come out of the cloister tonight and screech like a barn owl. I’ll be close by. Do you like me, little Goldmouth, my darling?”
“Oh, Lise, I do like you. I’ll come. Now go with God, I must hurry.”
It was twilight when Goldmund returned to the cloister on his steaming horse, and he was glad to find Father Anselm occupied. A brother had been wading barefoot in the brook and cut himself on a shard of crockery.
Now it was important to find Narcissus. He asked one of the lay brothers who waited at table in the refectory. No, he was told, Narcissus would not be down for supper; this was his fasting day; he’d probably be asleep now since he held vigils during the night. Goldmund hurried off. During the long exercises, his friend slept in one of the penitents’ cells in the inner cloister. Goldmund ran there without thinking. He listened at the door; there wasn’t a sound. He entered softly. That it was strictly forbidden made no difference now.
Narcissus was lying on the narrow cot. In the half light he looked like a corpse, rigid on his back, with pale, pointed face, his hands crossed on his chest. His eyes were open; he was not asleep. He looked at Goldmund without speaking, without reproach, but without stirring, so obviously elsewhere, absorbed in a different time and world, that he had difficulty recognizing his friend and understanding his words.
“Narcissus! Forgive me, dear friend, forgive me for disturbing you. I’m not doing it lightly. I realize that you ought not to speak to me, but do speak to me, I beg you with all my heart.” Narcissus reflected, his eyes blinked violently for a moment as though he were struggling to come awake.
“Is it necessary?” he asked in a spent voice.
“Yes, it is necessary. I’ve come to say farewell.”
“Then it is necessary. You shall not have come in vain. Here, sit with me. I have fifteen minutes before the first vigil.”
Haggard, he sat on the bare sleeping plank. Goldmund sat down beside him. “Please forgive me!” he said guiltily. The cell, the bare cot, Narcissus’s strained face, drawn with lack of sleep, his half-absent eyes—all this showed plainly how much he disturbed his friend. “There is nothing to forgive. Don’t worry about me; there’s nothing amiss with me. You’ve come to take leave, you say? You’re going away then?”
“I’m going this very day. Oh, I don’t know how to tell you! Suddenly everything has been decided.”
“Has your father come, or a message from him?”
“No, nothing. Life itself has come to me. I’m leaving without father, without permission. I’m bringing shame upon you, you know; I’m running away.”
Narcissus looked down at his long white fingers. Thin and ghostlike, they protruded from the wide sleeves of the habit. There was no smile in his severe, exhausted face, but it could be felt in his voice as he said: “We have very little time, dear friend. Tell me only the essentials, tell me clearly and briefly. Or must I tell you what has happened to you?”
“You tell me,” Goldmund begged.
“You’ve fallen in love, little boy, you’ve met a woman.”
“How do you always know these things?”
“You’re making it easy for me. Your condition, amicus meus, shows all the signs of that drunkenness called being in love. But speak now, please.”
Timidly Goldmund touched his friend’s shoulder.
“You have just said it. Although this time you didn’t say it well, Narcissus, not accurately. It is altogether different. I was out in the fields, and I fell asleep in the heat, and when I woke up, my head was resting on the knees of a beautiful woman and I immediately felt that my mother had come to take me home. I did not think that this woman was my mother. Her eyes were brown and her hair was black; my mother had blond hair like mine. This woman didn’t look in the least like her. And yet it was my mother, my mother’s call, a message from her. It was as though an unknown beautiful woman had suddenly come out of the dreams of my own heart and was holding my head in her lap, smiling at me like a flower and being sweet to me. At her first kiss I felt something melt inside me that hurt in an exquisite way. All my longings, all my dreams and sweet anguish, all the secrets that slept within me, came awake, everything was transformed and enchanted, everything made sense. She taught me what a woman is and what secrets she has. In half an hour she aged me by many years. I know many things now. I also suddenly knew that I could no longer remain in this house, not for another day. I’m going as soon as night falls.”
Narcissus listened and nodded.
“It happened suddenly,” he said, “but it is more or less what I expected. I shall think of you often. I’ll miss you, amicus. Is there anything I can do for you?”
“Yes, if you can, please say a word to our Abbot, so that he does not condemn me completely.
He is the only person in this house, besides you, whose thoughts about me are not indifferent to me.
His and yours.”
“I know. Is there anything else?”
“Yes, one thing, please. Later, when you think of me, will you pray for me from time to time?
“For what, Goldmund?”
“For your friendship, your patience, for everything. Also for listening to me today, when it was hard for you. And also for not trying to hold me back.”
“How could I want to hold you back? You know how I feel about it. —But where will you go, Goldmund? Have you a goal? Are you going to that woman?”
“Yes, I’m going with her. I have no goal. She is a stranger—homeless, it seems; perhaps a gypsy.”
“Well, all right. But do you know, my dear Goldmund, that your road with her will be extremely short? I don’t think you should count on her too much. Perhaps she has relatives, a husband perhaps; who knows what kind of reception awaits you there.”
Goldmund leaned against his friend.
“I know,” he said, “although I had not thought of it yet. As I told you, I have no goal. This woman who was so very sweet to me is not my goal, I’m going to her, but I’m not going because of her. I’m going because I must, because I have heard the call.”
He sighed and was silent. They sat shoulder to shoulder, sad and yet happy in the feeling of their indestructible friendship. Then Goldmund continued: “Do not think that I’m completely blind and naive. No. I’m happy to go, because I feel that it has to be, and because something so marvelous happened to me today. But I’m not imagining that I’ll meet with nothing but joy and mirth. I think the road will be hard. But it will also be beautiful, I hope. It is extremely beautiful to belong to a woman, to give yourself. Don’t laugh if I sound foolish. But to love a woman, you see, to abandon yourself to her, to absorb her completely and feel absorbed by her, that is not what you call ‘being in love,’ which you mock a little. For me it is the road to life, the way toward the meaning of life. Oh, Narcissus, I must leave you! I love you, Narcissus, and thank you for sacrificing a moment of sleep to me today. I find it hard to leave you. You won’t forget me?”
“Don’t make us both sad! I’ll never forget you. You will come back, I ask it of you, I expect it. If you are in need some day, come to me, or call to me. Farewell, Goldmund, go with God!”
He had risen. Goldmund embraced him. Knowing his friend’s aversion of caresses, he did not kiss him; he only stroked his hands.
Night was falling. Narcissus closed the cell behind him and walked over to the church, his sandals slapping the flagstones. Goldmund followed the bony figure with loving eyes, until it vanished like a shadow at the end of the corridor, swallowed by the darkness of the church door, claimed by exercises, duties, and virtues. How extraordinary, how infinitely puzzling and confusing everything was! This, too—how strange and frightening: to have come to his friend with his heart overflowing, drunk with blossoming love, at the very moment his friend was in meditation, devoured by fasting and vigils, crucifying his youth, his heart, his senses—all offered up in sacrifice; at the very moment his friend was subjecting himself to the most rigorous obedience, pledging to serve only the mind, to become nothing but a minister verbi divini! There he had lain, tired unto death, extenuated, with his pale face and bony hands, corpselike, and yet he had listened to his friend, lucid and sympathetic, had lent his ear to this love-drunken man with the smell of a woman still on him, had sacrificed his few moments of rest between penances. It was strange and divinely beautiful that there was also this kind of love, this selfless, completely spiritualized kind. How different it was from today’s love in the sunny field, the reckless, intoxicated play of the senses. And yet both were love. Oh, and now Narcissus had gone from him, after showing him once again, clearly, at the last moment, how utterly different and dissimilar they were from one another. Now Narcissus was bent down in front of the altar on tired knees, prepared and purified for a night of prayer and contemplation that permitted him no more than two hours’ sleep, while he, Goldmund, was running off to find his Lise somewhere under the trees and play those sweet animal games with her once more. Narcissus would have said remarkable things about that. But he was Goldmund, not Narcissus. It was not for him to go to the bottom of these beautiful, terrifying enigmas and mazes and to say important things about them. For him there was only giving himself and loving, loving his praying friend in the night-dark church as much as the beautiful warm young woman who was waiting for him.
As he tiptoed away under the lime trees in the courtyard and out through the mill, his heart beating with a hundred conflicting emotions, he had to smile at the memory of that evening with Konrad when he had left the cloister once before by the same secret path, when they were “going to the village.” How excited and secretly afraid he had been, setting out on that little forbidden escapade, and today he was leaving for good, taking far more forbidden, dangerous roads and he was not afraid, not thinking about the porter, the Abbot, the teachers. This time there were no planks beside the brook; he had to cross without a bridge. He pulled off his clothes and tossed them to the opposite bank, then he waded naked through the deep, swirling stream, up to his chest in the cold water.
While he dressed again on the other side, his thoughts returned to Narcissus. With great lucidity that made him feel ashamed, he realized that he was merely executing now what the other had known all along, toward which he had guided him. Very distinctly he saw Narcissus’s intelligent, slightly mocking face, listening to him speak so much foolishness, the man who had once, at a crucial moment, painfully opened his eyes. Again he clearly heard the few words Narcissus had said to him at that time: “You sleep at your mother’s breast; I wake in the desert. Your dreams are of girls; mine of boys.”
For an instant his heart froze. He stood there, utterly alone in the night. Behind him lay the cloister, a home only in appearance, yet a home he had loved and to which he had grown accustomed.
But at the same time he had another feeling: that Narcissus had ceased to be his cautioning, superior guide and awakener. Today he felt he had entered a country in which he must find his own roads, in which no Narcissus could guide him. He was glad that he realized this. As he looked back, the days of his dependence seemed shameful and oppressive to him. Now he had become aware; he was no longer a child, a student. It was good to know this. And yet—how hard it was to say farewell! To know that his friend was kneeling in the church back there and not be able to give him anything, to be of no help, to be nothing to him. And now he would be separated from him for a long time, perhaps forever, and know nothing of him, hear his voice no longer, look into his noble eyes no longer.
He tore himself away and followed the stony little road. A few hundred steps from the cloister walls he stood still, took a deep breath, and uttered the owl call as best he could. A similar call answered in the distance downstream.
“Like animals we call to each other,” was the thought that came to him as he remembered the hour of love in the afternoon. Only now it occurred to him that no words had been exchanged between him and Lise, except at the very end, after the caresses were over, and then only a few and they had been insignificant. What long conversations he had had with Narcissus! But now, it seemed, he had entered a wordless world, in which one called to one another like owls, in which words had no meaning. He was ready for it. He had no more need for words today, or for thoughts; only for Lise, only for this wordless, blind, mute groping and searching, this sighing and melting. Lise was there; she came out of the forest to meet him. He reached out to feel her, framed her head with tender, groping hands, her hair, her neck and throat, her slender waist, her firm hips. One arm about her, he walked on with her, without speaking, without asking where to. She walked with sure step in the dark forest. He had trouble keeping up with her. Like a fox or a marten, she seemed to see with night eyes, walked without stumbling, without tripping. He let himself be led into the night, into the forest, into the blind secret wordless, thoughtless country. He was no longer thinking: not of the cloister he had left behind, not of Narcissus.
Like two mutes they moved through the dark forest, sometimes on soft moss upholstery, sometimes on hard root ribs. Sometimes the sky shone light through sparse high treetops; at other times the darkness was complete. Branches slapped his face; brambles held him back. Everywhere she knew her way and found a passage; she seldom stopped, seldom hesitated. After a long time they arrived in a clearing of solitary pines that stood far apart. The pale night sky opened wide before them. The forest had come to an end; a meadow valley welcomed them with a sweet smell of hay. They waded through a small, soundless creek. Out here in the open the silence was still greater than in the forest: no rustling bushes, no startled night beast, no crackling twigs. Lise stopped in front of a big haystack.
“We’ll stay here,” she said.
They sat down in the hay, taking deep breaths at first and enjoying the rest; they were both a little tired. They lay back, listening to the silence, feeling their foreheads dry and their faces gradually cool off. Goldmund crouched, pleasantly tired. Playfully he bent his knees and stretched them straight again, took deep breaths of the night air and the smell of hay, and thought neither backward nor forward. Slowly he let himself be drawn and enticed by the scent and warmth of the woman beside him, replied here and there to her caressing hands and felt joy when she began to burn and pushed herself closer and closer to him. No, here neither words nor thoughts were needed. Clearly he felt all that was important and beautiful, the youthful strength, the simple, healthy beauty of the female body, felt it grow warm, felt its desire; he also felt clearly that, this time, she wished to be loved differently from the first time, that she did not want to guide and teach him this time, but wanted to wait for his attack, for his greed. Quietly he let the streams flow through him; happily he felt the boundless fire grow, felt it alive in both of them, turning their little lair into the vital, breathing center of all the quiet night.
He bent over Lise’s face and began to kiss her lips in the darkness. Suddenly he saw her eyes and forehead shine with a gentle light. He looked in surprise, watched the glow grow brighter, more intense. Then he knew and turned his head: the moon was rising over the edge of the long black stretch of forest. He watched the white gentle light miraculously inundate her forehead, her cheeks, slide over her round, limpid throat. Softly, delighted, he said: “How beautiful you are!” She smiled as though a present had been made her. He sat up; gently he pulled the gown off her shoulders, helped her out of it, peeled her until her shoulders and breasts shone in the cool light of the moon. Completely enraptured, he followed the delicate shadows with eyes and lips, looking and kissing; she held still as though under a spell, with eyes cast down and a solemn expression as though, even to her, her beauty was being discovered and revealed for the first time.
It grew cool over the fields. The moon climbed higher by the hour. The lovers lay on their softly lighted bed, absorbed in their games, dozing off together, turning toward each other anew upon awakening, kindling each other, entangled once more, falling asleep once more. They lay exhausted after their last embrace. Lise had nestled deep into the hay, breathing heavily. Goldmund was stretched out on his back, motionless; for a long time he stared into the moon-pale sky; a deep sadness rose in both, which they escaped in sleep. They slept profoundly, desperately, greedily, as though for the last time, as though they had been condemned to stay awake forever and had to drink in all the sleep in the world during these last hours.
When Goldmund awoke, he saw Lise busy with her black hair. He watched her for a while, absent-minded, still half asleep.
“You’re awake?” he said finally.
Her head turned with a start.
“I’ve got to go now,” she said, embarrassed and somewhat sad. “I didn’t want to wake you.”
“Well, I’m awake now. Must we move on so soon? After all, we’re homeless.”
“I am,” said Lise. “But you belong to the cloister.”
“I no longer belong to the cloister. I’m like you, completely alone, with nowhere to go. But I’ll go with you, of course.”
Lise looked away.
“You can’t come with me, Goldmund. I must go to my husband; he’ll beat me, because I stayed out all night. I’ll say I lost my way. But he won’t believe me.”
Goldmund remembered Narcissus’s prediction. So that’s how it was. “I’ve made a mistake then,” he said. “I had thought that you and I would stay together. —Did you really want to let me sleep and run off without saying farewell?”
“Oh, I was afraid you might get angry and beat me, perhaps. That my husband beats me, well, that’s how things are, that’s normal. But I didn’t want you to beat me, too.” He held on to her hand.
“Lise,” he said, “I won’t beat you, not now, not ever. Wouldn’t you rather stay with me than with your husband, since he beats you?”
She tugged to get her hand free.
“No, no, no,” she said with tears in her voice. And since he could feel that her heart was pulling away from him, that she preferred the other man’s blows to his good words, he let go of her hand, and now she really began to cry. At the same time she started to run. Clasping both hands over her streaming eyes, she ran off. He stood silently and watched her go. He felt sorry for her, running off across the mowed meadows, summoned and drawn by who knew what power, an unknown power that set him thinking. He felt sorry for her, and a little sorry for himself as well; he had not been lucky apparently; alone and a little stunned, he sat in the hay, abandoned, deserted. But he was still tired and eager for sleep; never had he felt so exhausted. There was time to be unhappy later. Immediately he went back to sleep and woke only when the sun stood high and made the air hot around him.
He felt rested now; quickly he got up, ran to the brook, washed, and drank. Memories came gushing forth; love images from the night exhaled their perfume like unknown flowers, evoked many gentle, tender feelings. His thoughts ran after them as he began to walk briskly. Once more he felt, tasted, smelled, touched everything over and over. How many dreams the unknown woman had fulfilled for him, all the buds she had brought to flowering, stilled so many wonderings and longings, roused so many new ones in their place!
Field and heath lay before him, dry, fallow stretches and dark forest. Beyond it might be farms and mills, a village, a town. For the first time the world lay open before him, wide and waiting, ready to receive him, to do him good or harm. He was no longer a student who saw the world through a window; his walking was no longer a stroll ending with the inevitable return. Now the wide world had become a reality, he was part of it, it contained his fate, its sky was his sky, its weather his weather. He was small in this large world, no bigger than a horse, an insect; he ran through its blue-green infinity. No bell called him out of bed, to mass, to class, to meals. Oh, how hungry he was! Half a loaf of corn bread, a bowl of milk, some gruel soup—what delicious memories! His stomach had come awake. He passed a cornfield, with half-ripe ears. He stripped them with fingers and teeth; avidly he chewed the tiny, slimy kernels, plucked more and still more, stuffed his pockets with ears of corn. Later he found hazelnuts. They were still quite green, but he bit into them joyfully, cracked their shells, and put a handful in his pocket. As he entered the forest, he saw pines and an occasional oak or ash, and soon he found blueberries in unending abundance. He rested and ate and cooled off. Blue harebells grew in the sparse, hard forest grass; brown, sunny butterflies rose and vanished capriciously in ragged flight. Saint Genevieve had lived in a forest like this; he had always loved her story. How much he would have liked to meet her. Or he might find a hermitage in the forest, with an old, bearded father in a cave or a bark hut. Or perhaps peat diggers lived in the forest; he would have liked to speak to them. Or even robbers; they would probably not harm him. It would be pleasant to meet somebody, anybody. But he was well aware that he could walk in the forest for a long time, today, tomorrow, several days more, without meeting anyone. That, too, had to be accepted, if it was his destiny. It was better not to think too much, to take things as they came.
He heard a woodpecker tapping and tried to find it. For a long time he tried in vain to catch sight of the bird. At last he succeeded and watched it for a while: the bird glued to the trunk of the tree, all alone, tap-tap-tapping, turning its busy head this way and that. What a pity that one couldn’t speak to animals. It would have been pleasant to call a greeting up to the woodpecker, to say a friendly word and learn something about its life in the trees perhaps, about its work and its joys. Oh, if one could only transform oneself!
He remembered how he used to draw sometimes, during his hours of leisure, how he used to draw figures with the stylus on his writing tablet, and flowers, leaves, trees, animals, people’s heads. He’d amuse himself that way for hours. Sometimes he had created creatures of his own imagination, like a small God, had drawn eyes and a mouth into the chalice of a flower, shaped figures into a cluster of leaves sprouting on a branch, placed a head on top of a tree. For whole hours those games had made him happy, spellbound, able to perform magic, drawing lines that often surprised him—a figure he had started suddenly turned into a leaf or a tree, the snout of a fish, a foxtail, someone’s eyebrow. That’s how one ought to be able to transform oneself, he thought, the way he had been able to transform the playful lines on his tablet. Goldmund longed to become a woodpecker for a day perhaps, or a month; he would have lived in the treetops, would have run up the smooth trunks and pecked at the bark with his strong beak, keeping balance with his tail feathers. He would have spoken woodpecker language and dug good things out of the bark. The woodpecker’s hammering sounded sweet and strong among the echoing trees.
Goldmund met many animals on his way through the forest. There were quite a number of hares; at his approach they’d bound out of the underbrush, stare at him, turn and run off, ears folded back, white under the tail. He found a long snake lying in a clearing. It didn’t move; it was not a live snake, only an empty skin. He picked it up and examined it carefully: a beautiful gray and brown pattern ran down the back; the sun shone through it; it was cobweb thin. He saw blackbirds with yellow beaks; frightened, they’d look at him from stiff, narrow eyeballs, fly off close to the ground. There were many red robins and finches. He came to a hole, a puddle filled with thick green water, on which long-legged spiders ran in eager, frenzied confusion, absorbed in an incomprehensible game. Above flew several dragonflies with deep-blue wings. And once, toward nightfall, he saw something—or rather, he saw nothing except frantic leaves, branches breaking, clumps of mud slapping the ground. A large, barely visible animal came bursting through the underbrush with enormous impact—a stag perhaps, or a boar; he couldn’t tell. For a long time he stood panting with fright. Terrified, he listened in the direction the animal had taken, was still listening with pounding heart long after everything had grown silent again.
He couldn’t find his way out of the forest; he was forced to spend the night there. He picked a sleeping place and built a bed of moss, trying to imagine what it would be like if he never found his way out of the forest, if he had to stay in it forever. That would surely be a great misfortune. Living on berries was after all not impossible, nor was sleeping on moss. Besides, he would doubtless manage to build a hut for himself eventually, perhaps even to make a fire. But living alone forever and ever, among the quietly sleeping tree trunks, with animals that ran away, with whom one could not speak—that would be unbearably sad. Not to see people, not to say good morning and good night to anyone; no more faces and eyes to look into; no more girls and women to look at, no more kisses; never again to play the lovely secret game of lips and legs, that would be unthinkable! If this were his fate, he thought, he would try to become an animal, a bear or a stag, even if it meant forsaking the salvation of his soul. To be a bear and love a she-bear would not be bad, would at least be much better than to keep one’s reason and language and all that, and vegetate alone, sad and unloved.
Before falling asleep in his bed of moss, he listened to the many incomprehensible, enigmatic night sounds of the forest, with curiosity and fear. They were his companions now. He had to live with them, grow accustomed to them, compete with them, get along with them; he belonged to the foxes and the deer, to pine and fir. He had to live with them, share air and sunshine with them, wait for daybreak with them, starve with them, be their guest.
Then he fell asleep and dreamed of animals and people, was a bear and devoured Lise amid caresses. In the middle of the night he awoke with a deep fear he couldn’t explain, suffered infinite anguish in his heart and lay thinking for a long time, deeply disturbed. He realized that yesterday and today he had gone to sleep without saying his prayers. He got up, knelt beside his moss bed, and said his evening prayer twice, for yesterday and today. Soon he was asleep again. In the morning he looked about the forest with surprise; he had forgotten where he was. Now his fear of the forest began to dwindle. With new joy he entrusted himself to the life around him; and all the while he continued to walk, taking his direction from the sun. At one point he came to a completely smooth stretch in the forest—hardly any underbrush, nothing but very thick old straight pines. After he had walked around these columns for a while, they began to remind him of the columns in the main cloister church, the very same church into which he had watched his friend Narcissus disappear through the dark portal the other day—how long ago? Was it really only two days ago?
It took him two days and two nights to reach the end of the forest. Joyfully he recognized signs of human habitation: cultivated land, strips of field with barley and oats, meadows through which a narrow footpath had been trodden; he could see sections of it here and there. Goldmund pulled out a few stalks of barley and chewed on them. With friendly eyes he looked at the tilled land; everything felt warm and human to him after the long wilderness of the woods: the little footpath, the oats, the wilted, bleached cornflowers. Soon he would meet people. After a short hour he came to a crucifix at the edge of a field; he knelt and prayed to the feet. Coming around the protruding nose of a hill, he suddenly found himself in front of a shady lime tree. Delighted, he heard the music of a well from which water ran through a wooden pipe into a long wooden trough. He drank cold delicious water and noticed with joy a couple of thatched roofs seemingly coming out of the elderberry trees; the berries were already dark. The lowing of a cow touched him still more than all these signs of friendliness; it sounded so pleasantly warm and hospitable, like a greeting that had come to meet him, a welcome.
He investigated a bit and then approached the hut from which the lowing had come. Outside the door, in the mud, sat a small boy with reddish hair and light-blue eyes. An earthen pot was beside him, filled with water, and with its mud and water he was making a dough. His bare legs were already smeared with it. Happy and earnest, he kneaded the wet mud between his hands, watched it squish through his fingers, made it into balls, used one knee for pressing and shaping.
“God bless you, little boy,” Goldmund said in a very friendly voice. The little boy looked up, saw the stranger, opened his mouth, puckered his plump face, and ran bawling, on all fours, through the door. Goldmund followed him and came into a kitchen; it was so dark after the bright noon glare, he could not see anything at first. He said a Christian greeting, just in case, but there was no reply; but the screaming of the frightened child was finally answered by a thin old voice that comforted the boy. Finally, a tiny old woman stood up in the darkness and came closer; she held a hand to her eyes and looked at the stranger.
“God bless you, mother,” Goldmund cried. “May all the dear saints bless your kind face; I haven t seen a human being in three days.”
The little old woman gaped at him, a bit simple, from farsighted eyes, not understanding.
“What is it you want?” she asked suspiciously.
Goldmund took her hand and stroked it lightly.
“I want to say God bless you, little grandmother, and rest awhile, and help you make the fire.
And I won’t refuse a piece of bread if you offer me one, but there’s time for that.” He saw a bench built into the wall and sat down on it, while the old woman cut off a piece of bread for the boy, who was now staring at the stranger with interest and curiosity, but still ready to cry and run off at any moment. The old woman cut a second piece from the loaf and brought it over to Goldmund.
“Thank you,” he said. “May God reward you.”
“Is your belly empty?” asked the woman.
“Not really. It’s full of blueberries.”
“Well, eat then. Where do you come from?”
“From Mariabronn, from the cloister.”
“Are you a preacher?”
“No. I’m a student. I’m traveling.”
She looked at him, half chiding, half simple, and shook her head a little on her long, wrinkled neck. She let Goldmund take a few bites and led the boy back outside into the sunshine. Then she came back and asked curiously: “Have you any news?”
“Not much. Do you know Father Anselm?”
“No. Why, what’s with him?”
“Ill? Is he going to die?”
“Who knows? He has it in the legs. He can’t walk too well.”
“Is he going to die?”
“I don’t know. Maybe.”
“Well, let him die. I must cook my soup. Help me chop the kindling.”
She handed him a pine log, nicely dried beside the hearth, and a knife. He cut kindling, as much as she wanted, and watched her lay it on the ashes, and bend over it, and wheeze and blow until the fire caught. According to a precise, secret system, she piled now pine, now beechwood. The fire shone brightly in the open hearth. A big black kettle hung in the chimney on a sooty chain; she pushed it into the flames.
At her behest Goldmund drew water from the well, skimmed the milk pail. He sat in the smoky twilight and watched the play of the flames and the bony, wrinkled face of the old woman appearing and disappearing above them in the red glow; he could hear the cow rummage and thump on the other side of the wall. He liked everything. The lime tree, the well, the flickering fire under the kettle, the snuffing and munching of the feeding cow, the dull thuds she made against the wall, the half-dark room with table and bench, the small, ancient woman’s gestures—all this was beautiful and good, smelled of food and peace, of people and warmth, of home. There were also two goats, and the old woman told him that they had a pigsty in the back; the old woman was the farmer’s grandmother, the great-grandmother of the little boy. His name was Kuno. Every so often he came inside; he didn’t say anything and still looked a little frightened, but he was no longer crying.
The farmer arrived, and his wife; they were greatly surprised to find a stranger in the house. The farmer was all set to start cursing. Distrustfully, he gripped the young man by the arm and pulled him toward the door to see his face in the daylight. Then he laughed, gave him a well-meaning slap on the shoulder, and invited him to eat with them. They sat down; each dipped his bread into the common milk bowl until the milk was almost gone and the farmer drank up what was left. Goldmund asked if he might stay until tomorrow and sleep under their roof. No, said the man, there wasn’t enough room, but there was enough hay lying around all over the place, outside, for him to find a bed.
The farmer’s wife sat with the boy by her side.
She did not take part in the conversation; but during the meal her inquisitive eyes took possession of the stranger. His curls and eyes had made an impression on her and she noticed with pleasure his lovely white neck and smooth, elegant hands with their free, beautiful gestures. How distinguished and imposing he was, and so young! But most of all she felt drawn by the stranger’s voice. She fell in love with the singing undertone, the radiating warmth and gentle wooing in the young man’s voice; it sounded like a caress. She would have liked to go on listening to his voice much longer.
After the meal, the farmer busied himself in the stable. Goldmund had gone outside to wash his hands under the well; he was sitting on its low edge, cooling himself and listening to the water. His mind was undecided; there was nothing for him to do here any more, yet he regretted having to move on so soon. Just then the farmer’s wife came out with a bucket in her hand; she placed it under the gullet and let it run full. Half loud she said: “If you’re still around here tonight, I’ll bring you some food. There’s hay back there, behind the long barley field; it won’t be taken in before tomorrow. Will you still be there?”
He looked into her freckled face, watched her strong arms lift the bucket; her clear large eyes looked warm. He smiled at her and nodded; she was already walking away with the full bucket, disappearing in the darkness of the door. He sat, grateful and deeply content, listening to the running water. Some time later he went in, looked for the farmer, shook hands with him and with the grandmother, and thanked them. The hut smelled of fire, soot, and milk. A moment ago it had still been shelter and home; now it was already foreign territory. With a farewell, he went out. Beyond the hut he found a chapel, and nearby a beautiful wooded area, a clump of sturdy old oaks in short grass. He remained there, in their shade, strolling among the thick trunks. How strange it was with women and loving! There really was no need for words. The farmer’s wife had said only a few words, to name the place of their meeting; everything else had been said without words. Then how had she said it? With her eyes, yes, and with a certain intonation in her slightly thick voice, and with something more, a scent perhaps, a subtle, discreet emanation of the skin, by which women and men were able to know at once when they desired one another. It was strange, like a subtle, secret language; how fast he had learned that language. He was very much looking forward to the evening, filled with curiosity about this tall blond woman, the looks and sounds she’d have, what kind of body, gestures, kisses—probably altogether different from Lise. Where was Lise at this moment, with her taut black hair, her brown skin and little gasps? Had her husband beaten her? Was she still thinking of him? Or had she found a new lover, as he had found a new woman today? How fast things happened, everywhere happiness lay in one’s path, how beautiful and hot it was, and how strangely transitory! This was a sin, adultery. Not so long ago he would have died rather than commit this sin. And now a second woman was waiting to come to him and his conscience was calm and serene; not so calm perhaps, but neither adultery nor lust were troubling and burdening it. Rather a feeling of guilt for some crime one had not committed but had brought along with one into the world. Perhaps this was what theology called original sin? It might well be. Yes, life itself bore something of guilt within it—why else had a man as pure and aware as Narcissus subjected himself to penance like a condemned felon? And why did he, himself, feel this guilt somewhere deep inside him? Was he not a happy, healthy young man, free as a bird in the sky? Was he not loved by women? Was it not beautiful to feel allowed to give the woman the same profound joy she gave him? Then why was he not fully, not completely happy? Why did this strange pain penetrate his young joy, as it penetrated Narcissus’s virtue and wisdom, this subtle fear, this grief over the transitory? Why was he made to muse like this, every so often, to think, when he knew he was no thinker?
Still, it was beautiful to be alive. He plucked a small purple flower in the grass, held it to his eyes and peered into the tiny, narrow chalice; veins ran through it, hair-thin tiny organs lived there; life pulsated there and desire trembled, just as in a woman’s womb, in a thinker’s brain. Why did one know so little? Why could one not speak with this flower? But then, even human beings were hardly able to speak to each other. Even there one had to be lucky, find a special friendship, a readiness. No, it was fortunate that love did not need words; or else it would be full of misunderstanding and foolishness. Ah, how Lise’s half-closed eyes had looked almost blind at the height of ecstasy; only the white had shown through the slits of twitching lids—ten thousand learned or lyrical words could not express it! Nothing, ah, nothing at all could be expressed—and yet, again and again one felt the urge to speak, the urge to think.
He studied the leaves of the tiny plant; how daintily, with what strange intelligence they were arranged around the stem. Virgil’s verses were beautiful, and he loved them; still, there was more than one verse in Virgil that was not half as clear and intelligent, beautiful and meaningful as the spiraled order of those tiny leaves climbing the stem. What pleasure, what ecstasy, what a delightful, noble, meaningful task it would be for a man to be able to create just one such flower! But no man was able to do that—no hero, no emperor, no pope or saint! When the sun had sunk low, he got up and found the place the farmer’s wife had indicated. There he waited. It was beautiful to be waiting like this, knowing that the woman was on her way, bringing him so much love.
She arrived, carrying a linen cloth in which she had tied a chunk of bread and a piece of lard.
She unknotted it and laid it out before him.
“For you,” she said. “Eat!”
“Later,” he said. “I’m not hungry for bread, I’m hungry for you. Oh, let me see the beautiful things you’ve brought me.”
She had brought him a great many beautiful things: strong thirsty lips, strong gleaming teeth, strong arms that were red from the sun, but on the inside, below the neck and further down she was white and delicate. She didn’t know many words but made a sweet, luring sound in her throat, and when she felt his hands on her, his delicate, gentle hands so full of feeling, the like of which she had never felt before, her skin shivered and her throat made sounds like the purring of a cat. She knew few games, fewer games than Lise, but she was wonderfully strong; she squeezed as though she wanted to break her lover’s neck. Her love was childlike and greedy, simple and still chaste in all its strength; Goldmund was very happy with her.
Then she left, sighing. With difficulty, she tore herself away, because she could not stay. Goldmund remained alone, happy as well as sad. Only much later did he remember the bread and the lard and ate it in solitude. Now it was completely dark.
Goldmund had been walking for quite some time; he rarely spent two nights in the same place.
Everywhere women desired him and made him happy. He was dark from the sun and thin with walking and frugal meals. Many women said farewell in the early hours of the morning, and left him, some in tears. Occasionally he thought: “Why doesn’t one of them stay with me? Why, if they love me and commit adultery for the sake of a single night of love—why do they all run back to their husbands immediately afterwards, even though most of them are afraid of being beaten?” Not one had seriously begged him to stay, not one had asked him to take her along, had loved him enough to share the joys and hardships of his wandering life. Of course he had never asked that of them, had never even hinted at it to any of them, and, when he questioned his heart, he knew that he cherished his freedom. He could not remember a single woman for whom he had not stopped longing in the arms of the next. Still, it seemed a little odd and sad that love had to be so extremely short-lived wherever he went, his own love as well as that of the women, and that it was satiated as rapidly as it was kindled. Was that how it should be? Was that how it was always and everywhere? Or was it because of him: was he perhaps fashioned in such a way that women thought him desirable and beautiful but did not wish to be with him longer than the brief, wordless span in the hay or on the moss? Was it because he lived a wanderer’s life, because the settled have a terror of the homeless? Or was it solely because of something in himself, because of him as a person? Did women desire him as they desired a pretty doll, to hug to their hearts, only to run back to their husbands afterwards, in spite of the beatings that awaited them? He couldn’t tell. He did not grow tired of learning from women. Actually he felt more drawn to girls, to the very young, as yet without husbands, who knew nothing. With them he could fall in love longingly. But most young girls were out of reach; they were the cherished ones, timid and well protected. But he also enjoyed learning from the women. Every one left him something, a gesture, a way of kissing, a particular play, her own special way of giving herself, of holding back. Goldmund gave in to everything; he was as insatiable and pliable as a child, open to every seduction: and only for that reason was he so seductive. His beauty alone would not have been enough to draw women to him so easily; it was his childlike openness, the inquisitive innocence of his desire, his absolute readiness for anything a woman might wish of him. Without knowing it, he was to each woman the lover she had wished for and dreamed of: delicate and patient with one, fast and greedy with another, a boy who experiences love for the first time, or again artful and knowing. He was ready to play, to wrestle, to sigh and laugh, to be chaste, to be shameless; he did nothing but what the woman desired, nothing that she did not prompt him to do. This was what any woman with intelligent senses soon perceived in him, and it made him their darling. All the time he was learning. In a short time he learned many kinds of love, many arts of love, absorbed the experiences of many women. He also learned to see women in their multiplicity, how to feel, to touch, to smell them. His ear grew sensitive to every tone of voice; with certain women a certain tone infallibly told him the type and scope of their amorous capacities. With unending delight he observed their infinite variety: how the head was fastened to the neck, how the forehead emerged from the roots of the hair, the movement of a knee. He learned to tell one type of hair from another in the dark, eyes closed, with discreetly probing fingers, one kind of skin, of down, from another. Quite soon he began to notice that the purpose of his wandering lay, perhaps, in this distinguishing, that he was perhaps driven from woman to woman in order to learn and exercise this gift of recognizing and differentiating still more subtly, more profoundly, with greater variation. Perhaps his destiny was to learn to know women and to learn love in a thousand ways, until he reached perfection, the way some musicians were able to play not only one, but three, four, or a great number of instruments. But to what purpose he knew not, nor where it would lead him; he merely felt that this was his road. He had been able to learn Latin and logic without being particularly gifted for either—but he was gifted for love, for this game with women. Here he had no difficulty learning; he never forgot a thing. Here experience accumulated and classified itself. Goldmund had been walking the roads for a year or two when he came to the homestead of a prosperous knight who had two beautiful young daughters. It was early autumn; soon the nights would be getting cool. He had had a taste of cold weather during the last autumn and winter and he was worried about the months ahead; wandering was difficult in winter. He asked for food and a bed for the night, was received with courtesy, and when the knight heard that he had studied Greek, he called him away from the servants’ table and over to his own and treated him almost as an equal. The daughters kept their eyes cast down. The older was eighteen; the younger just sixteen: Lydia and Julie.
The next day Goldmund wanted to continue on his road. He could not hope to win one of these beautiful blond young ladies, and there were no other women who might have enticed him to stay. But after breakfast the knight drew him aside and led him to a room furnished for a special purpose.
Modestly the old man told the young one of his weakness for learning and books, and showed him a small chest filled with scrolls he had collected, a writing desk he had had built for himself, and a stock of the most exquisite paper and parchment. By and by Goldmund learned that this pious knight had been a scholar in his youth but had completely abandoned his studies for the sake of warfare and worldly affairs until, during a grave illness, God had prompted him to go on a pilgrimage and repent the sins of his youth. He had traveled as far as Rome and Constantinople, had found his father dead upon his return, the house empty, had settled down then and married, lost his wife, raised his daughters, and now, at the beginning of old age, he had begun to write a detailed account of his long-past pilgrimage. He had written several chapters, but—as he confessed to the young man—his Latin was somewhat faulty; it held him up constantly. He offered Goldmund new clothes and free shelter if he agreed to correct and copy out all that had been written so far, and also to help him complete the book.
Goldmund knew the realities of wandering in the cold, nor were new clothes to be scorned either. But most of all the young man enjoyed the prospect of staying in the same house with the two beautiful sisters for many months to come. Without another thought, he said yes. A few days later the housekeeper was asked to unlock the wardrobe, and in it they found a bolt of fine brown cloth, from which a suit and cap were ordered for Goldmund. The knight had fancied black, a kind of scholar’s gown, but his guest would not hear of it and knew how to coax until a handsomelooking outfit, half that of a page, half that of a huntsman, was made for him. It suited him well. His Latin was not too rusty either. Together they went over all that had been written. Goldmund not only corrected the many imprecise, faulty expressions; he also rounded out the knight’s clumsy, short sentences here and there and made them into pleasing Latin constructions, with solid grammar and neat, consecutive tenses. It gave the knight great pleasure and he was not stingy with praise. Every day they worked at least two hours.
Goldmund had no trouble passing his time in the castle—which was in reality a spacious, fortified farmhouse. He went hunting, and huntsman Heinrich taught him how to use a crossbow; he made friends with the dogs and was allowed to ride as much as he pleased. He was rarely alone; he’d either be talking to a dog, or a nag, or to Heinrich, or Lea, the housekeeper, a fat old woman with a man’s voice who liked a laugh and a jest, or the kennel boy, or a shepherd. It would have been easy for him to start a love intrigue with the miller’s wife who lived close by, but he held himself aloof and played innocent.
He took great joy in the knight’s two daughters. The younger was the more beautiful, but so prim she hardly spoke to Goldmund. He treated both of them with great respect and courtesy, but both felt his presence to be a continuous courtship. The younger one shut herself off completely, stubborn with shyness. Lydia, the older, found a special tone for him, treated him with a mixture of respect and mockery, as though he were a monster of learning. She asked him many curious questions, and also about his life in the cloister, but there was always a slight irony in her tone, and the superiority of the lady. He gave in to everything, treated Lydia like a lady and Julie like a little nun, and whenever his conversation detained the girls a little longer than usual at the table after meals, or if Lydia spoke to him outside the house, in the yard or in the garden, and permitted herself to tease him, he was content and felt that he was making progress.
That autumn the leaves stayed late on the tall ash in the courtyard and there were still asters in the garden, and roses. One day visitors arrived. A neighbor with his wife and horseman came riding in; the mildness of the day had tempted them to travel farther than usual. Now they were there and asked shelter for the night. They were courteously received; Goldmund’s bed was moved out of the guest room into the writing room; his room was made up for the visitors, chickens were killed, servants ran to the millpond to get fish. With pleasure Goldmund took part in the festivities and the excitement; he immediately felt the unknown lady’s awareness of him. And as soon as he noticed her interest in him and her desire, by a certain something in her voice and in her eyes, he also noticed with growing interest how changed Lydia was, how silent and remote she became and how she sat watching him and the unknown lady. During the elaborate dinner the lady’s foot came to play with Goldmund’s under the table; he took great delight in this game, but still greater delight in the brooding, silent tension with which Lydia watched it, with inquisitive, burning eyes. Finally he dropped a knife on purpose, bent down to reach for it under the table and touched the lady’s foot and calf with a caressing hand. He saw Lydia turn pale and bite her lip as he continued to tell anecdotes from his cloister days and felt the unknown lady listen intently, not so much to his stories as to the wooing in his voice. The others, too, sat listening, his master with benevolence, the guest with a stony face, although he, too, was affected by the fire that burned in the young man. Lydia had never heard him speak this way. He had blossomed, lust hung in the air, his eyes shone, ecstasy sang in his voice, love pleaded. The three women felt it, each in her own fashion: little Julie with violent resistance and rejection, the knight’s wife with radiant satisfaction, and Lydia with a painful commotion in her heart, a mixture of deep longing, soft resistance, and the most violent jealousy, which made her face look narrow and her eyes burn. Goldmund felt all these waves. Like secret answers to his courtship they came flooding back to him. Like birds, thoughts of love fluttered about him, giving in, resisting, fighting each other.
After the meal Julie withdrew; night had long since fallen; with her candle in a clay candlestick, she left the hall, frigid as a little cloister woman. The others stayed up for another hour, and while the two men discussed the harvest, the emperor, and the bishop, Lydia listened ardently to the idle chatter that was being spun between Goldmund and the unknown lady, among the loose threads of which a thick sweet net of give and take, of glances and intonations and small gestures had come into being, each one overcharged with meaning, overheated with desire. Greedily the girl drank in the atmosphere, but also felt disgust when she saw, or sensed, Goldmund touch the unknown lady’s knee under the table. She felt the contact on her own flesh and gave a start. Afterwards she could not fall asleep and lay listening half the night, with pounding heart, sure that the two would come together. In her imagination she performed what was denied them, saw them embrace, heard their kisses, trembling with excitement all the while, wishing as much as fearing that the betrayed knight might surprise the lovers and sink his knife into the odious Goldmund’s heart. The next morning the sky was overcast, a wet wind blew, the guests declined all urging to stay longer and insisted on immediate departure. Lydia stood by while the guests mounted. She shook hands and spoke words of farewell, but she was not aware of what she was doing. All her senses were focused in her eyes as she watched the knight’s wife place her foot in Goldmund’s proffered hands, watched his right hand wrap around the shoe, wide and firm, and clutch the woman’s foot forcefully for an instant.
The strangers had ridden off; Goldmund was in the study, working. Half an hour later he heard Lydia’s voice giving orders under the window, heard a horse being led from the stable. His master stepped to the window, looking down, smiling, shaking his head. Then both watched Lydia ride out of the courtyard. They seemed to be making less progress in their Latin composition today. Goldmund was distracted; with a friendly word, his master released him earlier than usual. No one saw Goldmund sneak a horse out of the courtyard. He rode against the cool wet wind into the discolored landscape, galloping faster and faster; he felt the horse grow warm under him, felt his own blood catch fire. He rode through the gray day, across stubble fields, heath, and swampy spots overgrown with shave grass and reeds, breathed deeply, crossed small valleys of alder, rotting pine forest, and once again brownish, bare heath.
On the high ridge of a hill, sharply outlined against the pale gray, cloudy sky, he saw Lydia’s silhouette, sitting high on her slowly trotting horse.
He raced toward her; she saw that he was following her and spurred her horse and fled. She would appear and then disappear, her hair flowing behind her. He gave chase as though she were a fox; his heart laughed. With brief, tender calls he encouraged his horse, scanned the landscape with happy eyes as he flew past low-crouching fields, an alder forest, maples, the clay-covered banks of ponds. Again and again his eyes returned to his target, to the beautiful, fleeing woman. Soon he would catch up with her.
When Lydia saw that he was close, she abandoned the race and let her horse walk. She did not turn her head to look at her pursuer. Proudly, apparently casually, she trotted ahead of him as though nothing had happened, as though she were alone. He pushed his horse up to hers; the two horses walked gently side by side, but the animals and their riders were hot from the chase. “Lydia!” he called softly.
There was no answer.
She remained silent.
“How beautiful that was, Lydia, to watch you ride from a distance, your hair trailing after you like a golden flash of lightning. That was so beautiful! How wonderful of you to flee from me. That’s when I realized that you care for me a little. I didn’t know, I doubted until last night. But when you tried to flee from me suddenly, I understood. You must be tired, my beauty, my love, let’s dismount.”
He jumped from his horse, seizing the reins of her horse in the same motion to keep her from galloping off once more. Her snow-white face looked down at him. As he lifted her from her saddle, she broke into tears. Carefully he led her a few steps, made her sit down in the wilted grass, and knelt beside her. There she sat, fighting her sobs. She fought bravely and overcame them. “Oh, why are you so bad?” she began when she was able to speak. She could hardly utter the words.
“Am I so bad?”
“You are a seducer of women, Goldmund. Let me forget those words you said to me; they were impudent words; it does not become you to speak to me that way. How can you imagine that I care for you? Let us forget that! But how am I to forget the things I was forced to see last night?” “Last night? But what did you see last night?”
“Oh, stop pretending, don’t lie like that! It was horrible and shameless, the way you played up to that woman under my eyes! Have you no shame? You even stroked her leg under the table, under our table! Before me, under my eyes! And now that she’s gone, you come chasing after me. You really don’t know what shame means.”
Goldmund had long since regretted the words he had said before lifting her off her horse. How stupid of him; words were unnecessary in love; he should have kept silent. He said no more. He knelt by her side; she looked at him, so beautiful and unhappy that her misery became his misery; he, too, felt that there was something to be deplored. But in spite of all she had said, he still saw love in her eyes, and the pain on her quivering lips was also love. He believed her eyes more than he believed her words.
But she had expected an answer. As it was not forthcoming, Lydia’s lips took on an even more bitter expression. She looked at him somewhat tearfully and repeated: “Have you really no shame?” “Forgive me,” he said humbly. “We’re talking about things that should not be talked about. It is my fault, forgive me. You ask if I have no shame. Yes, I have shame. But I also love you, and love knows nothing of shame. Don’t be angry with me.”
She seemed hardly to hear him. She sat with a bitter mouth, looking into the distance, as though she were alone. He had never been in such a situation. This was the result of using words. Gently he laid his face against her knee; immediately the contact made things better. Yet he felt a little confused and sad, and she too seemed to be sad. She sat motionless, saying nothing, looking into the distance. All this embarrassment and sadness! But the knee accepted his leaning cheek with friendliness; it did not reject him. Eyes closed, his face lay on her knee; slowly it took in the knee’s noble shape. With joy and emotion Goldmund thought how much this knee with its distinguished youthful form corresponded to her long, beautiful, neatly rounded fingernails. Gratefully he embraced the knee, let his cheek and mouth speak to it.
Now he felt her hand posing itself bird-light and fearful on his hair. Dear hand, he could feel her softly, childishly stroke his hair. Many times before, he had examined her hand in great detail and admired it; he knew it almost as well as his own, the long, slender fingers with their long, beautifully rounded pink nails. Now the long, delicate fingers were having a timid conversation with his curls. Their language was childlike and fearful, but it was love. Gratefully he nestled his head into her hand, feeling her palm with his neck, with his cheeks.
Then she said: “It’s time, we must go.”
He raised his head and looked at her tenderly. Gently he kissed her slender fingers.
“Please, get up,” she said. “We must go home.”
He obeyed instantly. They stood up, mounted, rode.
Goldmund’s heart was filled with joy. How beautiful Lydia was, how like a child, pure and delicate! He had not even kissed her, and yet he felt so showered with gifts by her, and fulfilled. They rode briskly.
Only at their arrival a few yards before the entrance to the court she grew fearful and said: “We shouldn’t have both come back at the same time. How foolish we are!” And at the last moment, while they dismounted and a servant came running, she whispered quickly and hotly in his ear:
“Tell me if you were with that woman last night!” He shook his head many times and began unsaddling the horse.
In the afternoon, after her father had gone out, she appeared in the study.
“Is it really true?” she asked at once and with passion. He knew what she meant. “But then, why did you play with her like that, in that disgusting fashion, and make her fall in love with you?”
“That was for you,” he said. “Believe me, I would have a thousand times rather caressed your foot than hers. But your foot never came to me under the table; it never asked me if I loved you.” “Do you really love me, Goldmund?”
“But what will happen?”
“I don’t know, Lydia. Nor do I worry about it. It makes me happy to love you. I don’t think of what will happen. I am happy when I see you ride, and when I hear your voice, and when your fingers caress my hair. I’ll be happy when you’ll allow me to kiss you.” “A man is only allowed to kiss his bride, Goldmund. Have you never thought of that?” “No, I’ve never thought of that. Why should I? You know as well as I that you cannot become my bride.”
“That’s true. And since you cannot become my husband and stay with me forever, it was very wrong of you to speak to me about love. Did you think that you would be able to seduce me?” “I thought and believed nothing, Lydia. I think much less than you imagine, I wish nothing except that you might wish to kiss me. We talk so much. Lovers don’t do that. I think you don’t love me.”
“This morning you said just the opposite.”
“And you did just the opposite!”
“I? What do you mean?”
“First you fled before me when you saw me. That’s when I thought that you loved me. Then you cried, and I thought that was because you loved me. Then my head lay on your knee and you caressed me, and I thought that was love. But now you’re not behaving in a loving manner with me.”
“I’m not like that woman whose foot you stroked yesterday. You seem to be accustomed to women like that.”
“No, thank God you’re much more beautiful and refined than she is.”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh, but it’s true. Don’t you know how beautiful you are?”
“I have a mirror.”
“Have you ever looked at your forehead in the mirror, Lydia? And at your shoulders, at your fingernails, at your knees? And have you ever noticed how each part blends into and rhymes with each part, how they all have the same shape, an elongated, taut, firm, very slender shape? Have you noticed that?”
“The way you talk! I’ve never noticed that, actually, but now that you say it, I do know what you mean. Listen, you really are a seducer. Now you’re trying to make me vain.” “What a shame that I can do nothing right with you. Why should I be interested in making you vain? You’re beautiful and I’d like to try to show you that I’m grateful for your beauty. You force me to tell you with words; I could say it a thousand times better without words. With words I can give you nothing! With words I can’t learn from you, nor you from me.” “What is there for me to learn from you?”
“For me from you, Lydia, and for you from me. But you don’t want to. You only want to love the man whose bride you’ll be. He’ll laugh when he discovers that you haven’t learned anything, not even how to kiss.”
“So you wish to give me kissing lessons, you learned man?”
He smiled at her. He didn’t like her words, but he could sense her girlhood from behind her slightly brusque, false-ringing talk, could sense desire taking possession of her and fear fighting against it.
He gave no answer. He smiled at her, caught her restless glance in his eyes, and while she surrendered to the spell, not without resistance, he slowly brought his face close to hers until their lips met. Gently he brushed her mouth; it answered with a little childlike kiss and opened, as though in painful surprise, when he did not let it go. Gently courting, he followed her retreating mouth until it hesitatingly came back to meet his and then he taught the spellbound girl without violence the receiving and giving of a kiss, until, exhausted, she pressed her face against his shoulder. There he let it rest, smelled with delight her thick blond hair, murmured tender, calming sounds into her ear and remembered how he, an ignorant pupil, had once been introduced to the secret by Lise, the gypsy. How black her hair had been, how brown her skin, how the sun had burned down on him, how the wilting John’s-wort had smelled! And how far back it was, from what distance it came flashing across his memory. That was how fast everything wilted, it had hardly time to bloom! Slowly Lydia stood up straight, her face was transformed, her loving eyes looked large and earnest.
“Let me go, Goldmund,” she said. “I’ve stayed with you so long, my love.” Every day they found their secret hour, and Goldmund let himself be guided in everything by her. This girlish love touched and delighted him most wonderfully. Sometimes she’d only hold his hand in hers for a whole hour and look into his eyes and depart with a child’s kiss. Other times, on the contrary, she’d kiss him insatiably but would not permit him to touch her. Once, deeply blushing and struggling with herself, she let him see one of her breasts, with the intention of giving him a great joy; timidly she brought the small white fruit out of her dress; he knelt and kissed it and she carefully covered it up again, still blushing all the way down to her neck. They also spoke, but in a new way, differently than on the first day. They invented names for each other; she liked to tell him about her childhood, her dreams and games. She also often said that her love was wrong since he could not marry her; sadly and with resignation she spoke of it and draped her love with the secrecy of this sadness as with a black veil.
For the first time Goldmund felt not only desired by a woman but loved. Once Lydia said: “You are so handsome and you look so happy. But deep inside your eyes there is no gaiety, there is only sorrow, as though your eyes knew that happiness did not exist and that all that is beautiful and lovely does not stay with us long. You have the most beautiful eyes of anyone I know, and the saddest. I think that that’s because you’re homeless. You came to me out of the woods, and one day you’ll go off again and sleep on moss and walk the roads. —But where is my home? When you go away, I’ll still have my father and my sister and my room and a window where I can sit and think of you; but I’ll no longer have a home.”
He’d let her talk. Sometimes he’d smile at her words, and sometimes he’d grow sad. He never consoled her with words, only with gentle caresses, only by holding her head against his chest, humming soft, meaningless, magic sounds that nurses hum to comfort children when they cry. Once Lydia said: “I’d really like to know what will become of you, Goldmund. I often think about it. You’ll have no ordinary life, and it won’t be easy. Oh, I hope you’ll do well! Sometimes I think you ought to become a poet, a man who has visions and dreams and knows how to describe them beautifully. Ah, you’ll wander over the whole world and all women will love you, and yet you’ll always remain alone. You’d better go back to the cloister to your friend of whom you’ve told me so much! I’ll pray for you that you will not be made to die alone in the forest.” She’d speak that way, in deep earnest, with lost eyes. But then again she’d ride laughingly with him across the late-autumn land or ask him funny riddles, or throw dead leaves and shiny acorns at him.
One night Goldmund was lying in his bed in his room, waiting for sleep. His heart was heavy with a soft pain; full and heavy it was beating in his chest, brimming over with love, and with grief; he didn’t know what to do. He heard the November wind rattle at the roof; he had grown accustomed to lying like that for quite some time before falling asleep; sleep would not come.
Softly, as was his custom in the evening, he intoned a chant to the Virgin:
tu advocata peccatorum!
et macula originalis non est in te.
Tu laetitia Israel,
tu advocata peccatorum!
With its soft music the song sank into his soul, but at the same time the wind sang outside, a song of strife and wandering, of wood, autumn, of the life of the homeless. He thought of Lydia and of Narcissus and of his mother. Full and heavy was his restless heart. Suddenly he started and stared, not believing. The door of his room had opened, in the dark a figure in a long white gown came in; soundlessly Lydia came walking on bare feet across the stone floor, gently closed the door, and sat down on his bed.
“Lydia,” he whispered, “my little doe, my white flower! Lydia, what are you doing?” “I’ve come to you only for an instant,” she said. “Just once I wanted to see my Goldmund in his bed, my goldheart.”
She lay down beside him, they didn’t move, their hearts were beating heavily. She let him kiss her, let his admiring hands play with her body, but more was not permitted. After a short while she gently pushed his hands away, kissed him on the eyes, got up soundlessly, and vanished. The door creaked, the wind tinkled and thumped in the attic. Everything was under a spell, full of secrecy and anguish, promise and menace. Goldmund did not know what he was thinking, what he was doing. When he woke again after a troubled slumber, his pillow was wet with tears. A few nights later she came back, the sweet white ghost, lay down beside him for fifteen minutes, as she had the last time. In whispers she spoke into his ear as she lay folded in his arms. She had much to tell, much to complain about. Tenderly he listened; she was lying on his left arm; his right hand caressed her knees.
“Little Goldmouth,” she said in a completely muffled voice near his cheek, “it is so sad that I may never belong to you. Our small happiness won’t last much longer, our small secret. Julie is already suspicious; soon she’ll force me to tell her. Or my father will notice. If he found me here in your bed, my little golden bird, your Lydia would fare ill; with tear-swollen eyes she would stand and look up to the trees to see her lover hang high up there, swaying in the wind. Oh, you had better run away, right now would be best, rather than let my father have you bound and hanged. I saw a man hanged once, a thief. I could not bear to see you hanged. You had better run away and forget me; I don’t want you to die, my golden one, I don’t want the birds to hack out your blue eyes! Oh no, my treasure, you must not go away. Ah, what am I to do if you leave me all alone?” “Won’t you come with me, Lydia? We’ll flee together, the world is wide!”
“That would be wonderful,” she sighed, “oh, so wonderful to wander into the world with you! But I can’t. I can’t sleep in the forest and be homeless and have straw in my hair, I can’t do that. Nor can I bring such shame upon my father. No, don’t speak, that’s not just my imagination. I can’t. I couldn’t do it any more than eat off a dirty plate or sleep in a leper’s bed. Ah, everything good and beautiful is forbidden us, we were both born for sadness. My golden one, my poor little boy, I should have to see you hanged after all. And I, I’ll be locked up in my room and later sent to a convent. You must leave me, sweetheart, and sleep with the gypsies again and the peasant women. Oh, leave, go before they catch you and bind you! We’ll never be happy, never!” Softly he stroked her knee, touched her sex very delicately, and begged: “My little flower, we could be so very happy. Won’t you let me?”
Not angrily but firmly she pushed his hand aside and drew away slightly.
“No,” she said, “no, I won’t let you. It is forbidden me. Perhaps you can’t understand that, you little gypsy. I am doing wrong, I’m a bad girl, I’m bringing shame upon the whole house. But somewhere inside my soul I still have pride, and nobody may enter there. You must let me keep that, or else I can never again come to your room.”
He would never have ignored an interdiction, a wish, a hint from her. He himself was surprised that she had so much power over him. But he was suffering. His senses remained stirred up, often his heart fought violently against his dependence. Sometimes he made efforts to free himself. Sometimes he’d court little Julie with elaborate flattery, and it was indeed most important to remain on good terms with this powerful person and to dupe her if possible. He had a strange relationship with this little Julie, who often behaved like a child and often seemed omniscient. She really had more beauty than Lydia, an extraordinary beauty which, combined with her somewhat precocious child-innocence, was a great attraction for Goldmund; he was often deeply in love with Julie. In this strong attraction he felt for the little sister, he recognized with surprise the difference between loving and desiring. In the beginning he had looked at both sisters with the same eyes, had found both desirable, but Julie more beautiful and seductive, had courted both equally, always kept an eye on both. And now Lydia had gained this power over him! Now he loved her so much that he had even renounced full possession of her, out of love. Her soul had become familiar and dear to him. In its childlike tenderness and inclination to sadness it seemed similar to his own. He was often deeply astonished and delighted to see how much her own soul corresponded to her body; she’d do something, say something, express a wish or an opinion, and her words and the attitude of her soul were molded in the same shape as the slant of her eyes and the form of her fingers. These instants during which he thought he recognized the basic forms and laws that constituted her being, her soul as well as her body, had more than once roused in Goldmund the desire to retain something of this form and to re-create it. On a few sheets of paper that he kept most secret, he had made several attempts to draw from memory the outline of her head with the strokes of a pen—the line of her eyebrows, her hand, her knee.
With young Julie the situation was becoming rather difficult. She obviously sensed the wave of love in which her older sister was swimming, and her senses turned toward this paradise with curiosity and greed, while her stubborn mind refused to admit it. She treated Goldmund with exaggerated coolness and dislike. Yet, during moments of forgetfulness, she’d watch him with admiration and desiring curiosity. With Lydia she was often most tender, and occasionally even came to visit her in her bed, to breathe in the atmosphere of love and sex with wordless greed, purposely brushing against the forbidden and longed-for secret. Then again she’d make clear with almost offensive brusqueness that she knew of Lydia’s secret transgression and felt contempt for it. Attractive and disturbing, the beautiful, capricious child flittered between the two lovers, tasted of love’s secrecy in thirsty dreams, played innocent, and then again dangerously knowing. The child rapidly gained a kind of power over them. Lydia suffered from it more than Goldmund, who rarely saw the younger sister except during meals. And Lydia also realized that Goldmund was not insensitive to Julie’s charms; sometimes she’d see his appreciative, delighted eyes gazing at her. She could not say anything about it, everything was so complicated, so filled with danger. Julie must especially not be offended or angered; alas, any day, any hour the secret of her love could be discovered and an end put to her heavy, anguished bliss, perhaps a dreadful end. Sometimes Goldmund asked himself why he had not left long ago. It was difficult to live the way he was now living: loved, but without hope for either a sanctioned, lasting happiness, or the easy fulfillments to which his love desires had been accustomed until now. His senses were constantly excited and hungry, never stilled; moreover, he lived in permanent danger. Why was he staying and accepting it all, all these entanglements and confused emotions? These were experiences, emotions, and states of mind for the sedentary, the lawful, for people in heated rooms. Had he not the right of the homeless, of the nonpossessing, to extricate himself from these delicate complications and to laugh at them? Yes, he had that right, and he was a fool to look for a kind of home here and to be paying for it with so much suffering, so much embarrassment. And yet he did.
He not only put up with it, but was secretly happy to do so. It was foolish, difficult, a strain to live this way, but it was also wonderful. The darkly beautiful sadness of his love was wonderful, in its foolishness and hopelessness; his sleepless, thought-filled nights were beautiful; it was all as beautiful and delectable as the fold of suffering on Lydia’s lips, or like the lost, resigned tone of her voice when she spoke of her love and sorrow. In a few weeks, lines of suffering had appeared on Lydia’s young face. It seemed so beautiful and so important to him to retrace the lines of this face with a pen, and he felt he himself had become another person in these few weeks: much older; not more intelligent, yet more experienced; not happier, yet much more mature, much richer in his soul. He was no longer a boy.
In her gentle, lost voice Lydia said to him: “You mustn’t be sad, not because of me; I want to bring you only joy, to see you happy. Forgive me, I’ve made you sad, I’ve infected you with my fears and my grief. I have such strange dreams at night: I’m always walking in a desert, it is vast and dark, I can’t tell you how vast and dark, and I walk there, looking for you, but you’re not there and I know that I have lost you and that I will have to walk like that forever and ever, alone like that. Then I wake up and think: oh, how good, how wonderful that he’s still here, that I’ll see him, perhaps for many weeks more, or days, it doesn’t matter, it only matters that he’s still here!” One morning Coldmund awoke shortly after dawn and continued to lie in his bed for a while, musing. Images from a dream hovered about him, disconnected. He had dreamed of his mother and of Narcissus; he could still see both figures clearly. As he extricated himself from the strands of the dream, a peculiar light caught his attention, a strange kind of brightness was filtering through the small window. He jumped up, ran to the window, and saw that the windowsill, the roof of the stable, the gate to the courtyard, the entire landscape beyond was shimmering bluish-white, covered by the first snow of winter. He was struck by the contrast between his agitated heart and the quiet, resigned winter landscape: how quiet, how gracefully and piously field and forest, hill and heath gave in to sun, wind, rain, draft and snow, how beautifully and gently maple and ash bore the burden of winter! Could one not become as they, could one learn nothing from them? Deep in thought, he walked out to the courtyard, waded in the snow, touched it with his hands, went into the garden and looked over the high, snow-covered fence at the snow-bent rose branches. As they ate their gruel for breakfast, everybody mentioned the first snow. Everyone—even the girls—had already been outside. Snow had come late this year, Christmas was not far off. The knight spoke about the lands to the south that were strangers to snow. But the event that made this first winter day unforgettable for Goldmund occurred long after nightfall. The two sisters had quarreled during the day, but Goldmund knew nothing of it. At night, after the house had grown quiet and dark, Lydia came to his room in accord with her custom. Wordlessly she lay down beside him, leaned her head against his chest to hear his heartbeat and to console herself with his nearness. She was sad and full of apprehension; she feared that Julie might betray her; yet she could not make up her mind to speak to her lover about it and to cause him sorrow. She was lying quietly against his heart, listening to the tender words he whispered to her from time to time, feeling his hand in her hair.
But suddenly—she had not been lying there for very long—she had a terrible shock and sat up, her eyes growing wide. Goldmund was also greatly frightened when he saw the door of his room open and a figure enter. His shock kept him from recognizing immediately who it was. Only when the apparition stood close beside his bed and bent over it did he recognize with anguish in his heart that it was Julie. She slipped out of the coat she had thrown over her nightgown and let it drop to the floor. With a cry of pain, as though cut by a knife, Lydia sank back and clung to Goldmund. In a mocking, triumphant, though shaking voice Julie said: “I don’t enjoy being in my room by myself all the time. Either you take me in with you, and we lie together all three of us, or I go and wake father.”
“Well, come in then,” said Goldmund, folding back the cover. “You’ll freeze your feet off there.”
She climbed in and he had trouble making room for her in the narrow bed, because Lydia had buried her face in the pillow and was lying motionless. Finally, all three were in the bed, a girl on each side of Goldmund. For a second he could not resist the thought that not so long ago this situation corresponded to his most secret wishes. With strange anguish and secret delight, he felt Julie’s hip against his side.
“I just had to see,” she began again, “how it feels to lie in your bed, since my sister enjoys coming here so much.”
In order to calm her, Goldmund softly rubbed his cheek against her hair and caressed her hip and knee with a quiet hand, the way one caresses a cat. Silent and curious she surrendered to his probing hand, felt the magic with curious reverence, offered no resistance. But while he cast his spell, he also took pains to comfort Lydia, hummed soft, familiar love sounds into her ear and finally made her lift her face and turn it toward him. Soundlessly he kissed her mouth and eyes, while his hand kept her sister spellbound on the other side. He was aware how embarrassing and grotesque the whole situation was; it was becoming almost unbearable.
It was his left hand that taught him the truth: while it explored the beautiful, quietly waiting body of Julie, he felt for the first time not only the deep hopelessness of his love for Lydia, but how ridiculous it was. While his lips were with Lydia and his hand with Julie, he felt that he should either force Lydia to give in to him, or he should leave. To love her and yet renounce her had been wrong, had been nonsense.
“My heart,” he whispered into Lydia’s ear, “we are suffering unnecessarily. How happy all three of us could be now! Let us do what our blood demands!”
She drew back, shrinking, and his desire fled to the other girl. His hand was doing such pleasing things to Julie that she answered with a long quivering sigh of lust.
Lydia heard the sigh and her heart contracted with jealousy, as though poison had been dropped into it. She sat up abruptly, tore the cover off the bed, jumped to her feet and cried: “Julie, let’s leave!”
Julie was startled. The thoughtless violence of Lydia’s cry, which might betray them all, showed her the danger. Silently she got up.
But Goldmund, offended and betrayed in all his senses, quickly put his arms around Julie as she sat up, kissed her on each breast, and hotly whispered into her ear: “Tomorrow, Julie, tomorrow!” Barefoot, in her nightgown, Lydia stood on the stone floor, her feet blue with cold. She picked up Julie’s coat and hung it around her sister with a gesture of suffering and submission that did not escape Julie in spite of the darkness; it touched and reconciled her. Softly the sisters vanished from the room. With conflicting emotions, Goldmund listened intently and breathed with relief as the house remained deathly quiet.
The three young people were forced to meditate in solitude over their strange and unnatural association. The two sisters found nothing to say to each other, after they hurried back to their bedroom. They lay awake in their respective beds, each alone, silent, and stubborn. A spirit of grief, contradiction, nonsense, alienation, and innermost confusion seemed to have taken hold of the house. Goldmund did not fall asleep until after midnight; Julie not until the early hours of morning. Lydia lay torturously awake until the pale day rose over the snow. Then she got up, dressed, knelt for a long time in prayer before the small wooden Saviour in her room, and as soon as she heard her father’s step on the stairs went out and asked him to hear her. Without trying to distinguish between her fears for Julie’s virginity and her own jealousy, she had decided during the night to put an end to the matter. Goldmund and Julie were still asleep when the knight was informed of everything Lydia had decided to tell him. She did not mention Julie’s part in the adventure. When Goldmund appeared in the writing room at the usual hour that morning, he found the knight in boots, vest, and girdled sword, instead of the slippers and housecoat he usually wore while they wrote. At once he knew the meaning of this.
“Put on your cap,” said the knight. “I have a walk to take with you.”
Goldmund took his cap from the nail and followed his master down the stairs, across the courtyard, and out the gate. Their soles made crunching noises on the slightly frozen snow; the sky was still red with dawn. The knight walked ahead in silence; the young man followed. Several times he looked back at the house, at the window of his room, at the steep, snow-covered roof, until all disappeared and there was nothing more to see. He would never see that roof, those windows again, never again the study, the bedroom, the two sisters. He had so often toyed with the thought of sudden departure. Now his heart contracted with pain, and it hurt bitterly to leave this way. For an hour they walked in this fashion, the master going on ahead. Neither spoke, and Goldmund began to think about his fate. The knight was armed; perhaps he would kill him. But he did not believe that he would. The danger was small; he’d only have to run and the old man would stand there helpless with his sword. No, his life was not in danger. But this silent walking behind the offended, solemn man, this being led away wordlessly pained him more with every step. Finally the knight halted.
“From here on,” he said in a broken voice, “you will continue alone, always in the same direction, you’ll lead the wanderer’s life you did before. If you ever show your face again in the neighborhood of my house, you will be killed. I have no desire to take revenge on you; I should have been more intelligent than to allow so young a man to live intimately with my daughters. But if you have the audacity to come back, your life is lost. Go now, and may God forgive you!” As he stood in the sallow light of the snowy morning, his gray-bearded face looked almost dead.
Like a ghost he stood there, and did not move until Goldmund had disappeared over the next ridge. The reddish tint in the cloudy sky had faded, the sun did not come out, and snow began to fall in thin, hesitant flakes.
Goldmund knew the area from many previous rides. The knight owned a barn beyond the frozen marsh, and farther on there was a farmhouse where he was known; he’d be able to rest and spend the night in one of those places. Everything else had to wait until tomorrow. Gradually, the feeling of freedom and detachment took hold of him again; he had grown unaccustomed to it. It did not have a pleasant taste on this icy, gloomy winter day; it smelled strongly of hardship, hunger, and want, and yet the vastness of it, its great expanse, its merciless harshness was almost comforting and soothing to his spoiled, confused heart.
He walked until he felt tired. My riding days are over, he thought. Oh, wide world! A little snow was falling. In the distance the edges of the forest fused with gray clouds; infinite silence stretched to the end of the world. What was happening to Lydia, that poor, anguished heart? He felt bitterly sorry for her; he thought of her tenderly as he rested under a bare, lonely ash in the middle of the deserted marshland. Finally the cold drove him on. Stiff-legged, he stood up, forced himself to a brisk pace; the meager light of the drab day already seemed to be dwindling. The slow trot across the bare fields put an end to his musing. It was not a question of thinking now, or of having emotions, no matter how delicate and beautiful; it was now a question of keeping alive, of reaching a spot for the night in time, of getting through this cold, inhospitable world like a marten or a fox, and not giving out too soon, in the open fields. Everything else was unimportant. He thought he heard the sound of distant hoofs and looked around in surprise. Could anyone be following him? He reached for the small hunting knife in his pocket and slipped off the wooden sheath. The rider became visible; he recognized a horse from the knight’s stable; stubbornly it was heading toward him. Fleeing would have been useless. He stopped and waited, without actual fear, but very tense and curious, his heart beating faster. For a second a thought shot through his head: “If I killed this rider, how well off I’d be; I’d have a horse and the world would be mine.” But when he recognized the rider, the young stableboy Hans, with his light-blue, watery eyes and the good, embarrassed boy’s face, he had to laugh; to murder this good dear fellow, one would have to have a heart of stone. He greeted Hans with a friendly hand and tenderly patted Hannibal, the horse, on its warm, moist neck; it recognized him immediately.
“Where are you headed, Hans?” he asked. “To you,” laughed the boy with shining teeth. “You’ve run a good distance. I can’t stay; I’m only here to give you regards and this.”
“Regards from whom?”
“From Lady Lydia. Well, you certainly gave us a nasty day, Master Goldmund, I was glad to get away for a while. But the squire must not know that I’ve been gone, and with an errand that could cost me my neck. Here!”
He handed him a small package; Goldmund took it.
“I say, Hans, you don’t happen to have a piece of bread in one of your pockets that you might give me?”
“Bread? I might find a crust.” He rummaged in his pockets and pulled out a piece of black bread.
Then he wanted to ride off again.
“How is the lady?” asked Goldmund. “Didn’t she give you any message? No little letter?” “Nothing. I saw her only for a moment. There’s a storm at the house, you know; the squire is pacing like King Saul. She told me to give you these things, and nothing else. I’ve got to get back now.”
“All right, all right, just a moment more! Say, Hans, you couldn’t let me have your hunting knife? I’ve only a small one. When the wolves come and all that—it would be better if I had something solid in hand.”
But Hans would not hear of that. He’d be very sorry, he said, if something should happen to Master Goldmund. But he could not part with his jackknife, no, never, not for money, nor a swap either, no, no, not even if Saint Genevieve in person asked him for it. There, and now he had to get a move on, and he did wish him well, and he did feel sorry about everything. They shook hands and the boy rode off. Goldmund looked after him with a strange pain in his heart. Then he unpacked the things, happy to have the strong calf’s-leather cord that held them together. Inside he found a knitted undervest of thick gray wool, which apparently Lydia had made for him herself, and there was also something hard, well wrapped in the wool, a piece of ham: a small slit had been cut into the ham and a shiny gold piece had been stuck into the slit. There was no written message. He stood in the snow, undecided, holding Lydia’s gifts in his hands. Then he took off his jacket and slipped into the knitted vest; it felt pleasantly warm. Quickly he put his jacket back on, hid the gold piece in his safest pocket, wound the cord around his waist, and continued his walk across the fields. It was time he reached a place to rest; he had grown very tired. But he didn’t feel like going to the farmhouse, although it would have been warmer and he’d probably also have found some milk there; he didn’t feel like chatting and being asked questions. He spent the night in the barn, continued on his way early the next morning, in frost and sharp wind, driven to long marches by the cold. For many nights he dreamed of the knight with his sword and of the two sisters; for many days loneliness and melancholy weighed on his heart. The following evening he found a place for the night in a village, where the peasants were so poor they had no bread, only gruel. Here, new adventures awaited him. During the night, the peasant woman whose guest he was gave birth to a child. Goldmund was present while it happened; they had waked him in the straw to come and help, although there was nothing for him to do finally, except hold the light while the midwife went about her business. For the first time he witnessed a birth. With astonished, burning eyes he gazed at the face of the woman in labor, richer suddenly by this new experience. At any rate the expression in the woman’s face seemed most remarkable to him. In the light of the torch, as he stared with great curiosity into the face of the screaming woman, lying there in pain, he was struck by something unexpected: the lines in the screaming woman’s distorted face were little different from those he had seen in other women’s faces during the moment of love’s ecstasy. True, the expression of great pain was more violent and disfiguring than the expression of ultimate passion—but essentially it was not different, it was the same slightly grinning contraction, the same sudden glow and extinction. Miraculously, without understanding why, he was surprised by the realization that pain and joy could resemble each other so closely.
And yet another experience awaited him in that village. The morning after the birth, he ran into the neighbors wife, who soon replied to the amorous questioning of his eyes. He stayed a second night and made the woman very happy since it was the first time in many weeks of excitation and disappointment that his desires were finally stilled. This delay led to a new experience: he found a companion on that second day in the village, a lanky, daring fellow named Viktor, who looked half like a priest and half like a highway robber.
Viktor greeted him with scraps of Latin, claiming to be a traveling student, although he was long past his student years. He wore a pointed beard and treated Goldmund with a certain heartiness and highway humor that quickly won the younger man.
To Goldmund’s questions, where he had studied and where he was headed, this strange fellow replied: “By my destitute soul, I have visited enough places of high learning. I’ve been to Cologne and to Paris, and few scholars have expressed deeper thoughts on the metaphysics of liverwurst than I in my dissertation at Leyden. Since then, amicus, I, poor bastard that I am, have crossed and recrossed the German Empire in all directions, my dear soul tortured by immeasurable hunger and thirst. Viktor, the peasant terror, they call me. My profession is teaching Latin to young wives and tricking sausages out of chimneys and into my belly. My goal is the bed of the mayor’s wife, and if the crows don’t chew me up beforehand, I’ll hardly be able to avoid the obligation of dedicating myself to the tiresome profession of archbishop. It is better, my dear young colleague, to live from hand to mouth than the other way round, and, after all, a roasted hare has never felt better than in my humble stomach. The king of Bohemia is my brother, and our father in heaven feeds him as he does me, although he insists that I lend him a hand, and the day before yesterday this father, hardhearted as fathers are, tried to misuse me in order to save the life of a half-starved wolf. If I hadn’t killed the beast, you, my dear colleague, would not have the honor of making my fascinating acquaintance. In saecula saeculorum, amen.”
Goldmund was still unfamiliar with the gallows humor and wayfaring Latin of this wanderer. He felt a bit scared of the lanky, bristly rascal and the rasping laughter with which he applauded his own jokes, yet there was something about this hard-boiled vagrant that did please him, and he readily let himself be persuaded to continue the journey with him, because, whether the vanquished wolf was boasting or the truth, two were indisputably stronger than one and had less to fear. But before continuing the journey, brother Viktor wanted to speak a bit of Latin to the people, as he called it, and installed himself in the house of one of the poorer peasants. He did not follow the practice Goldmund had so far applied on the road, wherever he had been the guest of a farmhouse or a village; Viktor went from hut to hut, chatted with every woman, stuck his nose into every stable and kitchen, and did not seem willing to leave before each house had paid him a toll and a tribute. He told the peasants about the war in Italy and sang, beside their hearths, the song of the battle of Pavia. He recommended remedies for arthritis and loose teeth to the grandmothers; he seemed to know everything, to have been everywhere. He stuffed his shirt above the belt full to bursting with the pieces of bread, nuts, and dried pears the peasants had given him. With surprise Goldmund watched him wage his campaign, listened to him now frighten, now flatter the people, boast and win their admiration, speak broken Latin and play the scholar, and the next moment impress them with brash, colorful thieves’ slang, saw how, in the middle of a tale or learned talk his sharp, watchful eyes recorded every face, every table drawer that was pulled open, every dish, every loaf of bread. He saw that this was a seasoned adventurer who had been exposed to all walks of life, who had seen and lived through much, who had starved a good deal, and shivered, and grown shrewd and impudent in the bitter struggle for a meager, dangerous existence. So this was what became of people who led a wanderer’s life for a long time! Would he, too, be like that one day?
The next morning, as they moved on, for the first time Goldmund had a taste of walking in company. For three days they were on the road together, and Goldmund found this and that to learn from Viktor. Applying everything to the three basic needs of the homeless—skirting death, finding a place for the night, and a source of food—had become an instinct with Viktor. He had learned much during the many years of roaming the world. To recognize the proximity of human habitation by almost invisible signs, even in winter; at night, to inspect every nook and cranny in forest or field as a potential resting or sleeping place; to sense instantly, upon entering a room, the degree of prosperity or misery of the owner, as well as the degree of his goodheartedness, or his curiosity, or fear—these were tricks which Viktor had long since mastered. He told his young companion many instructive things. Once Goldmund replied that he would not like to approach people from such a purposeful point of view and that, although he was unfamiliar with all these tricks, he had only rarely been refused hospitality upon his friendly request. Lanky Viktor laughed and said goodhumoredly:
“Well sure, little Goldmund, you may not have to, you’re so young and pretty, you look so innocent, your face is a good recommendation. The women like you and the men think: ‘Oh Lord, he’s harmless, he wouldn’t hurt a fly.’ But look here, little brother, a man gets older, the baby face grows a beard and wrinkles, your pants wear out and before you know it you are an ugly, unwelcome guest, and instead of youth and innocence, nothing but hunger is staring out of your eyes. At that point you’ve got to be hard, you’ve got to have learned a few things about the world; or else you’ll soon find yourself lying on the dung heap and the dogs’ll come and pee on you. But I don’t think that you’ll be running around for too long anyhow, your hands are too delicate and your curls too pretty, you’ll crawl back to where life is easier, into a nice warm conjugal bed or a good fat cloister or some beautifully heated writing room. And your clothes are so fine, you could be taken for a squire.”
Still laughing, he ran his hands over Goldmund’s clothes. Goldmund could feel these hands grope and search along every seam and pocket; he drew back and thought of his gold piece. He told of his stay at the knight’s house, that he had earned his fine clothes by writing Latin. Viktor wanted to know why he had left such a warm nest in the middle of winter, and Goldmund, who was not accustomed to lying, told him a little about the knight’s two daughters. This led to their first quarrel. Viktor thought Goldmund an incomparable fool for having run off and left the castle and the ladies to the care of the good Lord. That situation had to be remedied, he’d see to that. They’d visit the castle; of course Goldmund could not be seen there, but he should leave that to him. Goldmund was to write a little letter to Lydia, saying this and that, and he, Viktor, would take it to the castle and, by the Saviour’s wounds, he would not come back without a little something of this and that, money and loot. And so on. Goldmund refused and finally became violent; he did not want to hear another word about the matter, nor did he tell Viktor the name of the knight or the way to the castle. When Viktor saw him so angry, he laughed again and played the jovial companion. “Well,” he said, “don’t bite your teeth out! I’m merely telling you that you’re letting a good catch slip through our fingers, my boy. That’s not very nice and brotherly of you. But you don’t want to, you’re a nobleman, you’ll return to your castle on a high horse and marry the lady! Boy, your head is bursting with nonsense! Well, it’s all right with me, let’s walk on and freeze our toes off.” Goldmund remained grumpy and silent until evening, but since they came neither upon a house nor upon people that day, he gratefully let Viktor pick a place for the night, let him build a windbreak between two trees at the edge of the forest and make a bed with an abundance of pine branches. They ate bread and cheese from Viktor’s full pockets. Goldmund felt ashamed of his anger and tried to be polite and helpful; he offered his companion his woolen jacket for the night. They agreed to take turns keeping watch against the animals, and Goldmund took over the first vigil while Viktor lay down on the pine branches. For a long time Goldmund stood quietly with his back against a fir trunk in order not to keep the other man from falling asleep. Then he felt cold and began to pace. He ran back and forth at greater and greater distances, saw the tips of firs jut sharply into the pale sky, felt the deep silence of the solemn and slightly awesome winter night, heard his warm living heart beat lonely in the cold, echoless silence, walked quietly back and listened to the breathing of his sleeping companion. More powerfully than ever he was seized by a feeling of homelessness, without a house, castle, or cloister wall between him and the great fear, running naked and alone through the incomprehensible, hostile world, alone under the cool mocking stars, among the watchful animals, the patient, steady trees.
No, he thought, he would never become like Viktor, even if he wandered for the rest of his life.
He would never be able to learn Viktor’s way of fighting the horror, his sly, thievish squeaking by, his loud brazen jests and wordy humor. Perhaps this shrewd, impudent man was right; perhaps
Goldmund would never completely become his equal, never altogether a vagrant. Perhaps he would some day creep back behind some sort of wall. Although even then he would remain homeless and aimless, never feel really safe and protected, the world would always surround him with mysterious beauty and eeriness; again and again he would be made to listen to this silence in which his heartbeat sounded anguished and fleeting. Few stars were visible, there was no wind, but way up high the clouds seemed to be moving.
After a long time Viktor awoke—Goldmund had not felt like waking him—and called to him.
“Come,” he called, “your turn to catch some sleep, or you’ll be no good tomorrow.” Goldmund obeyed; he stretched out on the pine bed and closed his eyes. He was extremely tired but did not fall asleep. His thoughts kept him awake, and something else besides thoughts, a feeling he did not admit to himself, an uneasiness and distrust that had to do with his companion. It was inconceivable to him now that he had told this crude, loud-laughing man, this jester and brazen beggar, about Lydia. He was angry with him and with himself and wondered how he could find a way and an opportunity to get rid of him.
After an hour or so, Viktor bent over him and again began feeling his pockets and seams; Goldmund froze with rage. He did not move, he merely opened his eyes and said disdainfully: “Go away, I have nothing worth stealing.”
His words shocked the thief; he grabbed Goldmund by the throat and squeezed. Goldmund fought back and tried to get up, but Viktor pressed harder, kneeling on his chest. Goldmund could hardly breathe. Violently he writhed and jerked with his whole body, and when he could not free himself, the fear of death shot through him and made his mind sharp and lucid. He managed to slip one hand in his pocket, pull out his small hunting knife, and while the other man continued strangling him he thrust the knife several times into the body that was kneeling on him. After a moment, Viktor’s hands let go; there was air again and Goldmund breathed it deeply, wildly, savoring his rescued life. He tried to sit up; limp and soft, his lanky companion sank into a heap on top of him with a ghastly sigh. His blood ran over Goldmund’s face. Only now was he able to sit up. In the gray shimmer of the night he saw the long man lying in a huddle; he reached out to him and touched only blood. He lifted the man’s head; it fell back, heavy and soft like a bag. Blood spilled from his chest and neck; from his mouth life ran out in delirious, weakening sighs. “Now I have murdered a man,” thought Goldmund. Again and again he thought it, as he knelt over the dying man and saw pallor spread over his face. “Dear Mother of God, I have killed a man,” he heard himself say.
Suddenly he could not bear to stay a moment longer. He picked up his knife, wiped it across the woolen vest which the other man was wearing, which Lydia’s hands had knitted for her beloved; he slipped the knife back into its wooden sheath and into his pocket, jumped up and ran away as fast as he could.
The death of the cheerful wayfarer lay heavy on his soul; shuddering, as the day grew light he washed away in the snow the blood he had spilled; and then he wandered about for another day and another night, aimless and anguished. Finally his body’s needs shocked him out of his fear-filled repentance.
Lost in the deserted, snow-covered landscape, without shelter, without a path, without food and almost without sleep, he fell into a bottomless despair. Hunger cried in his belly like a wild beast; several times exhaustion overcame him in the middle of a field. He closed his eyes and thought that his end had come, wished only to fall asleep, to die in the snow. But again and again something forced him back on his feet. Desperately, greedily he ran for his life, delighted and intoxicated in the midst of bitter want by this insane, savage strength of will not to die, by this monstrous force of the naked drive to live. With frost-blue hands he picked tiny, dried-up berries off the snow-covered juniper bushes and chewed the brittle, bitter stuff, together with pine needles. The taste was excitingly sharp; he devoured handfuls of snow against his thirst. Breathless, blowing into his stiff hands, he sat on top of the hill for a brief rest. Avidly he looked about: nothing but heath and forest, no trace of a human being. A few crows circled above him; he looked at them angrily. No, they were not going to feed on him, not as long as there was an ounce of strength left in his legs, a spark of warmth in his blood. He got up and resumed his merciless race with death. He ran on and on, in a fever of exhaustion and ultimate effort. Strange thoughts took hold of him; he held mad conversations with himself, now silent, now loud. He spoke to Viktor, whom he had stabbed to death. Harshly and ironically he spoke to him: “Well, my shrewd brother, how is it with you? Is the moon shining through your bowels, old fellow? Are the foxes pulling your ears? You killed a wolf, you say? Did you bite him through the throat, or tear off his tail, or what? You wanted to steal my gold piece, you old guzzler! But little Goldmouth surprised you, didn’t he, old friend, he tickled you in the ribs! And all the while you still had bags full of bread and sausage and cheese, you stuffed pig!” He coughed and barked mockeries; he insulted the dead man, he triumphed over him, he jeered at him because he had let himself be slaughtered, the fool, the stupid braggart! But after a while his thoughts and words turned away from lanky Viktor. He saw Julie walking ahead of him, beautiful little Julie, as she had left him that night; he called countless endearments to her, tried to seduce her with delirious, shameless cajoleries, to make her come to him, to make her drop her nightgown, to ride up to heaven with him during this last hour before death, for a short moment before his miserable end. He implored and commanded her high little breasts, her legs, the blond kinky hair under her arms.
Trotting through the barren, snow-covered heath with stiff, stumbling legs, drunk with misery, triumphant with the flickering desire to live, he began to whisper. Now it was Narcissus to whom he spoke, to whom he communicated his recent revelations, insights, and ironies. “Are you scared, Narcissus,” he said to him, “are you shuddering, did you notice something? Yes, my respected friend, the world is full of death, full of death. Death sits on every fence, stands behind every tree. Building walls and dormitories and chapels and churches won’t keep death out; death looks in through the window, laughing, knowing every one of you. In the middle of the night you hear laughter under your window and someone calls your name. Go ahead, sing your psalms, burn pretty candles at the altar, say your evening prayers and your morning prayers, gather herbs in your laboratory, collect books in your libraries. Are you fasting, dear friend? Are you depriving yourself of sleep? He’ll lend you a hand, our old friend the Reaper, he’ll strip you to the bones. Run, dear friend, run as fast as you can, death is giving a party in the fields, run and see that your bones stay together, they’re trying to escape, they don’t want to stay with us. Oh, our poor bones, our poor throat and belly, our poor little scraps of brains under our skulls! It all wants to become free, it all wants to go to the devil, the crows are sitting in the trees, those black-frocked priests.” He had long since lost all sense of direction; he didn’t know where he was running, what he was saying, whether he was lying or standing. He stumbled over bushes, ran into trees; falling, he groped for snow and thorns. But the drive was strong in him. Again and again it pulled him forward, spurred his blind flight. When he collapsed for the last time, it was in the same little village in which he had met the wayfaring charlatan a few days earlier, where he had held the torch during the night for the woman who was giving birth. There he lay and people came running and stood about him and talked, yet he did not hear them. The woman whose love he had enjoyed earlier recognized him; she was shocked by the way he looked, and took pity. Let her husband scold her; she dragged the half-dead Goldmund into the stable.
It was not long before he was back on his feet. The warmth of the stable, sleep, and the goat’s milk the woman gave him to drink revived him and let him recover his strength; but all recent events had been pushed back in his mind as though much time had passed since they happened. His journey with Viktor, the cold, anguished winter night under the pines, the dreadful struggle on the bed of boughs, his companion’s horrible death, the days and nights lost and cold and hungry—it had all become the past. He had almost forgotten it; although it was not wiped out, it had been lived through and was nearly over. Something remained, something inexpressibly horrible but also precious, something drowned and yet unforgettable, an experience, a taste on the tongue, a ring around the heart. In less than two years he had learned all the joys and sorrows of homeless life: loneliness, freedom, the sounds of forests and beasts, wandering, faithless loving, bitter deathly want. For days he had been the guest of the summery fields, of the forest, of the snow, had spent days in fear of death, close to death. Fighting death had been the strongest emotion of all, the strangest, knowing how small and miserable and threatened one was, and yet feeling this beautiful, terrifying force, this tenacity of life inside one during the last desperate struggle. It echoed, it remained etched in his heart, as did the gestures and expressions of ecstasy that so much resembled the gestures and expressions of birth-giving and dying. He remembered how the woman had screamed that night in childbirth, distorting her face; how Viktor had collapsed, how quietly and quickly his blood had run out! Oh, and how he himself had felt death snooping around him on hungry days, and how cold he had been, how cold! And how he had fought, how he had struck death in the face, with what mortal fear, what grim ecstasy he had defended himself! There was nothing more to be lived through, it seemed to him. Perhaps he could talk about it with Narcissus, but with no one else.
When Goldmund first came to his senses on his bed of straw in the stable, he missed the gold piece in his pocket. Had he lost it during the terrible, half-unconscious stumbling march during those final days of hunger? He thought about it for a long time. He had been fond of the gold piece; he did not want to think it lost. Money meant little to him; he hardly knew its value. But this gold piece had become important to him for two reasons. It was the only gift from Lydia that was left him, since the woolen vest was lying in the forest with Viktor, soaked in Viktor’s blood. And then, keeping the gold coin had been the reason for defending himself against Viktor; he had murdered Viktor because of it. If the gold piece was lost, the whole experience of that ghastly night would be useless, would have no value. After much thinking about it, he confided in the peasant woman. “Christine,” he whispered to her, “I had a gold piece in my pocket, and now it’s no longer there.” “Oh, so you noticed?” she asked with a loving smile that was both sly and clever. It delighted him so much that he put his arm around her in spite of his weakness. “What a strange boy you are,” she said tenderly. “So intelligent and refined, and yet so stupid. Does one run around the world with a loose gold piece in one’s open pocket? Oh, you childish boy, you darling fool! I found your gold piece as soon as I laid you down on the straw.” “You did? Where is it?”
“Find it,” she laughed and let him search for quite a while before she showed him the spot in his jacket where she had sewed it. She added good motherly advice too, which he quickly forgot, but he never forgot her loving care and the sly-kind look in her peasant face, and he tried hard to show her his gratitude. Soon he was able to walk again and eager to move on, but she held him back because on that day the moon was changing and the weather would be turning milder the next. And so it was. By the time he left, the snow lay soiled and gray, the air was heavy with wetness. High up, one could hear the spring winds groan.
Again ice was floating down the rivers, and a scent of violets rose from under the rotten leaves. Goldmund walked through the colorful seasons: his insatiable eyes drank in the forests, the mountains, the clouds; he wandered from farm to farm, from village to village, from woman to woman. Many a cool evening he’d sit anguished, with aching heart, under a lighted window; from its rosy shimmer radiated all that was happiness and home and peace on earth, all that was lovely and unreachable for him. Everything repeated itself over and over, all the things he thought he had come to know so well; everything returned, and yet different each time: the long walks across field and heath, or along stony roads, sleeping in the summer forest, strolls through villages, trailing after bands of young girls coming home, hand in hand, from turning over the hay or gathering hops; the first shudder of autumn, the first angry frosts—everything came back: once, twice, endlessly the colorful ribbon rolled past his eyes.
Much rain, much snow had fallen on Goldmund. One day he climbed uphill through a sparse beech forest already light green with buds. From the mountain ridge he saw a new landscape lying at his feet; it gladdened his eyes and a flood of expectations, desires, and hopes gushed through his heart. For several days he had known that he was close to this region; he had been looking forward to it. Now, during this noon hour, it came as a surprise and his first visual impression confirmed and strengthened his expectations. Through gray trunks and softly swaying branches he looked down into a valley lying green and brown, furrowed by a wide river that shimmered like blue glass. He felt that his pathless roaming through landscapes of heath, forest, and solitude, with an isolated farm here and there, or a shabby village, was over for a long time. Down there the river flowed, and along the river ran one of the most beautiful and famous roads in the empire. A rich and bountiful land lay there, barges and boats sailed there, the road led to beautiful villages, castles, cloisters, and prosperous towns, and anyone who so desired could travel along that road for days and weeks and not fear that it would suddenly peter out in a forest or in humid reeds like those miserable peasant paths. Something new lay ahead and he was looking forward to it.
That evening he came to a beautiful village, wedged between the river and red vineyards along the wide highway. The pretty woodwork on the gabled houses was painted red; there were arched entranceways and narrow alleys full of stone steps. A forge threw a red fiery glow across the street; he heard the clear ringing of the anvil. Goldmund snooped about in every alley and corner, sniffed at cellar doors for the smell of wine barrels and along the riverbank for the cool fish odor of the water; he inspected church and cemetery and did not forget to look for a good barn for the night. But first he wanted to try his luck at the priest’s house and ask for food. A plump, red-headed priest asked him questions and Goldmund told him the story of his life, with a few omissions and additions. Thereupon he was given a friendly reception and spent the evening in long conversation over good food and wine. The next day he continued his journey on the highway, along the river. He saw barges and rafts float by; he passed horse carts, and some of them gave him a ride for a stretch of the way. The spring days sped by, filled with color: villages and small towns received him; women smiled behind garden fences, knelt in the brown earth, planting bulbs; young girls sang in the village streets in the evening.
A young servant girl in a mill pleased him so much he spent two days in the area and tried to get to know her. She liked to laugh and chat with him; he thought he would have been happy to work at the mill and stay there forever. He sat with the fishermen; he helped the carters feed and comb their horses, was given bread and meat and a ride in exchange. The sociable world of travelers did him good after the long loneliness; with a good meal every day, after so much hunger, he gladly let himself be carried along by the joyous wave. It swept him on, and the closer he got to the bishop’s city, the more crowded and joyful the highway became.
In one village he took an evening stroll along the river, with the trees already in leaf. The water ran quietly, mightily; the current sighed and gushed under the overhanging roots of trees; the moon came up over the hill, casting light on the river and shadows under the trees. He came upon a girl who was sitting there, weeping: she had quarreled with her lover; he had walked off and left her. Goldmund sat down beside her and listened to her sorrowful tale; he caressed her hand, told her about the forest and the deer, comforted her a little, made her laugh a little, and she permitted him a kiss. But at that point her young man came back looking for her; he had calmed down and regretted the quarrel. When he found Goldmund sitting beside her, he threw himself upon him and hammered at him with both fists. Goldmund had difficulty defending himself, but finally he fought the fellow off, and watched him run cursing toward the village; the girl had long since fled. But Goldmund did not trust the truce; he renounced his bed for the night and wandered on half the night in the moonlight, through a silent silver world, extremely content, glad of his strong legs, until the dew washed the white dust from his shoes and he suddenly felt tired, lay down under the next tree, and fell asleep. It was broad daylight when he was awakened by something tickling his face. He brushed it aside with a sleepy, groping hand, fell asleep again, was once more awakened by the tickling; a peasant girl was standing there, looking at him, tickling him with the tip of a willow switch. He stumbled to his feet. With a smile they nodded to each other; she led him into a shed, where the sleeping was more comfortable. There they lay together for a while, then she ran off and came back with a small pail of milk, still warm from the cow. He gave her a blue hair ribbon he had recently found in the street, and they kissed once more before he wandered on. Her name was Franziska; he was sorry to leave her.
That evening he found shelter in a cloister, and the next morning he went to mass. A thousand memories welled up in his heart; the cool stone air of the dome and the flapping of sandals in the marble corridors felt movingly familiar. After mass, when the cloister church had grown quiet, Goldmund remained on his knees. His heart was strangely moved; he had had many dreams that night. He felt the urge to unburden himself of his past, to change his life somehow, he knew not why; perhaps it was only the memory of Mariabronn and of his pious youth that moved him. He felt the urge to confess and purify himself. Many small sins, many small vices had to be admitted, but most heavily he felt burdened by the death of Viktor, who had died by his hand. He found a father and confessed to him, especially the knife stabs in poor Viktor’s neck and back. Oh, how long since he had been to confession! The number and weight of his sins seemed considerable to him; he was willing to do a stiff penance for them. But his confessor seemed familiar with the life of the wayfarers: he was not shocked; he listened calmly. Earnest and friendly, he reprimanded and warned without speaking of damnation.
Relieved, Goldmund stood up, prayed in front of the altar as the father had ordered and was about to leave the church when a ray of sunshine fell through one of the windows. His eyes followed it; in a side chapel he saw a statue that spoke to him so strongly and attracted him so much that he turned toward it with loving eyes and looked at it with reverence and deep emotion. It was a wooden madonna. Delicately, gently she leaned forward; the blue cloak hung from her narrow shoulders; she stretched out a delicate, girlish hand, and the expression of her eyes above the grieving mouth and the gracefully rounded forehead were so alive and beautiful, so deeply permeated with spirit that Goldmund thought he had never seen anything like it anywhere before. He could not look enough at the mouth, at the lovely angle of the inclined neck. It seemed to him that he saw something standing there that he had often seen in dreams and inklings, something he had often wished for. Several times he turned to go; again and again the statue drew him back. When he finally turned to leave, the father confessor was standing behind him.
“Do you find her beautiful?” he asked in a friendly tone.
“Inexpressibly beautiful,” said Goldmund.
“That’s what some people say,” said the priest. “Others say that this is no mother of God, that she is much too modern and worldly, that the whole thing is untrue and exaggerated. There is a great deal of controversy about it. So you like her; I’m glad. We’ve had her only for a year, a donation from a benefactor of our order. She was made by Master Niklaus.”
“Master Niklaus? Who is he, where does he live? Do you know him? Tell me about him, please!
What a magnificent, blessed man who can create a work like that.”
“I don’t know much about him. He is a carver in our bishop’s city, a day’s journey from here; he has a great reputation as an artist. Artists usually are no saints, he’s probably no saint either, but he certainly is a gifted, high-minded man. I have seen him a few times …” “Oh, you have seen him! What does he look like?”
“You seem completely fascinated with him, my son. Well, go to see him then, and give him regards from Father Bonifazius.”
Goldmund thanked him exuberantly. The father walked off with a smile; for a long time Goldmund stood before the mysterious statue, whose bosom seemed to heave and in whose face so much pain and sweetness were living side by side that it made his heart ache. He left the church a changed man. His feet carried him through a completely changed world. Since that moment in front of the sweet saintly wooden figure, Goldmund possessed something he had not possessed before, something he had so often mocked or envied in others: a goal! He had a goal. Perhaps he would reach it; perhaps his whole, ragged existence would grow meaningful and worthwhile. This new feeling filled him with joy and fear and gave wings to his steps. The gay, beautiful highway on which he was walking was no longer what it had been the day before, a festive playground, a cozy place to be. Now it was only a road that led to the city, to the master. Impatiently he hurried on. He arrived before evening: towers rose from behind walls; he saw chiseled escutcheons and painted signs over the city gates, entered with pounding heart, hardly noticing the noise and bustle in the streets, the knights on their horses, the carts and carriages.
Neither knights nor carriages, city nor bishop mattered to him. He asked the very first person he met where Master Niklaus lived, and was deeply disappointed when the man didn’t know who Master Niklaus was.
He came to a square surrounded by stately houses, many painted or decorated with images. Over the door of a house stood the figure of a lansquenet in robust, laughing colors. It was not as beautiful as the statue in the cloister church, but it had such a way of pushing out its calves and sticking its bearded chin into the world that Goldmund thought this figure might have been made by the same master. He walked into the house, knocked at doors, climbed stairs; finally he ran into a squire in a fur-trimmed velvet coat and asked him where he might find Master Niklaus. What did he want from him, the squire asked in return. Goldmund had difficulty holding himself back, to say merely that he had a message for him. Thereupon the squire told him the name of the street on which the master lived. By the time Goldmund had asked his way there, night had fallen. Anxious but happy, he stood outside the master’s house, looking up at the windows; he almost ran up to the door. But it was already late, he was sweaty and dusty from the day’s march. He mastered his impatience and waited. For a long time he stood outside the house. He saw a light go on in a window, and just as he was about to leave, he saw a figure step to the window, a very beautiful blond girl with the gentle shimmer of lamplight flowing through her hair from the back. The next morning, after the city had awakened and become noisy, Goldmund washed his face and hands in the cloister where he had been a guest for the night, slapped the dust from his clothes and shoes, found his way back to the master’s street and knocked at the door of the house. A servant appeared who first refused to lead him to the master, but he managed to soften the old woman’s resistance, and finally she led him into a small hall. It was a workshop and the master was standing there, a leather apron around his waist: a bearded, tall man of forty or fifty, Goldmund thought. He scanned the stranger with piercing, pale blue eyes and asked curtly what he desired. Goldmund delivered Father Bonifazius’s greetings.
“Is that all?”
“Master,” Goldmund said with baited breath, “I saw your madonna in the cloister there. Oh, don’t give me such an unfriendly look; nothing but love and veneration have brought me to you. I am not a fearful man, I have lived a wanderer’s life, sampled forest, snow, and hunger; I’m not afraid of anyone, but I am afraid of you. I have only a single gigantic desire, which fills my heart to the point of pain.”
“And what desire is that?”
“To become your apprentice and learn with you.”
“You are not the only young man to wish that. But I don’t like apprentices, and I already have two assistants. Where do you come from and who are your parents?” “I have no parents, I come from nowhere. I was a student in a cloister, where I learned Latin and Greek. Then I ran away, and for years I have wandered the roads, until today.” “And what makes you think you should become an image carver? Have you ever tried anything similar before? Have you any drawings?”
“I’ve made many drawings, but I no longer have them. But let me tell you why I wish to learn this art. I have done a great deal of thinking and seen many faces and figures and thought about them, and some of these thoughts have tormented me and given me no peace. It has struck me how a certain shape, a certain line recurs in a person’s structure, how a forehead corresponds to the knee, a shoulder to the hip, and how, deep down, it corresponds to the nature and temperament of the person who possesses that knee, that shoulder, that forehead, and fuses with it. And another thing has struck me: one night, as I had to hold a light for a woman who was giving birth, I saw that the greatest pain and the most intense ecstasy have almost the same expression.” The master gave the stranger a piercing look. “Do you know what you are saying?”
“Yes, Master, it is the truth. And it was that precisely that I found expressed in your madonna, to my utter delight and consternation, that is why I have come. Oh, there is such suffering in the beautiful delicate face, and at the same time all the suffering is also pure joy, a smile. When I saw that, a fire shot through me; all my year-long thoughts and dreams seemed confirmed. Suddenly they were no longer useless; I knew immediately what I had to do and where I had to go. Dear Master Niklaus, I beg you with all my heart, let me learn with you!”
Niklaus had listened attentively, without making a friendlier face.
“Young man,” he said, “you know surprisingly well how to speak about art, and it puzzles me that, young as you are, you have so much to say about ecstasy and pain. I’d gladly chat with you about this some evening over a mug of wine. But look: to speak pleasantly and intelligently with each other is not the same as living and working together for a couple of years. This is a workshop. Work is carved here, not conversation. What a man may have thought up and know how to express does not count here; here only what he can make with his hands counts. You seem to mean what you say. Therefore I’ll not simply send you on your way again. We’ll see if you can do anything at all. Did you ever shape anything in clay or wax?”
Goldmund found himself thinking of a dream he had long ago in which he had modeled small clay figures that had stood up and grown into giants. But he did not mention it and said that he had never tried.
“Good. You’ll draw something then. There is a table; you’ll find paper and charcoal. Sit down and draw, take your time, you can stay till noon or evening. Perhaps that will tell me what you are good for. Now then, we have talked enough. I’ll do my work; you’ll do yours.” Goldmund sat in the chair Niklaus had indicated to him, in front of the drawing table. He was in no hurry to accomplish his task. First he sat, waiting and silent like an apprehensive student. With curiosity and love he stared toward the master, whose back was half turned and who continued to work at a small clay figure. Attentively he studied this man, whose stern, already slightly graying head and hard, though noble and animated artisan’s hands held such graceful magic. He looked different than Goldmund had imagined: older, more modest, soberer, much less radiant and heartwinning, and not in the least happy. The merciless sharpness of his probing eyes was now concentrated on his work. Freed from it, Goldmund minutely took in the master’s entire figure. This man, he thought, might also have been a scholar, a quiet earnest searcher, who has dedicated himself to a task that many predecessors have begun before him, that he will one day leave to his successors, a tenacious, long-lived never-ending work, the accumulation of the effort and dedication of many generations. At least this was what Goldmund read from the master’s head: great patience, years of study and thinking, great modesty, and an awareness of the dubious value of all human undertaking, but also faith in his mission. The language of his hands was something else again; there was a contradiction between the hands and the head. These hands reached with firm but extremely sensitive fingers into the clay they were molding. They treated the clay like a lover’s hands treat the willing mistress: lovingly, with tenderly swaying emotion, greedy but without distinguishing between taking and giving, filled with desire but also with piety, masterful and sure as though from the depth of ancient experience. Goldmund watched these blessed hands with delighted admiration. He would have liked to draw the master, had it not been for the contradiction between face and hands which paralyzed him.
For about an hour he watched the steadily working artist, full of searching thoughts about the secret of this man. Then another image began to form inside him, to become visible in front of his soul, the image of the man he knew best of all, whom he had loved deeply and greatly admired; and this image was without flaw or contradiction, although it too bore many lines and recalled many struggles. It was the image of his friend Narcissus. It grew more and more tangible, became an entity, a whole. The inner law of the beloved person appeared more and more clearly in his picture: the noble head shaped by the mind; the beautiful controlled mouth, tightened and ennobled by the service to the mind; the slightly sad eyes; the haggard shoulders animated with the fight for spirituality; the long neck; the delicate, distinguished hands. Not since his departure from the cloister had he seen his friend so clearly, possessed his image so completely within him.
As though in a dream, will-less and yet eager, Goldmund cautiously began to draw. With loving fingers he brushed reverently over the figure that lived in his heart; he forgot the master, himself, and the place at which he sat. He did not notice the light slowly wandering across the workshop, or the master looking over at him several times. Like a sacrificial ritual he accomplished the task that had been given him, that his heart had given him: to gather his friend’s image and preserve it the way it lived in his soul today. Without thinking of it, he felt he was paying back a debt, showing his gratitude.
Niklaus stepped up to the drawing table and said: “It’s noon. I’m going to eat; you can come along. Let’s see—did you draw something?”
He stepped behind Goldmund and looked at the large sheet. Then he pushed him aside and carefully took the sheet in his able hands. Goldmund had come out of his dream and was now looking at the master with anxious expectation. The master stood, holding the drawing in both hands, looking at it very carefully with his sharp stern light-blue eyes. “Who is the man you have drawn here?” he asked after a while.
“My friend, a young monk and scholar.”
“Fine. Wash your hands, there’s a well in the yard. Then we’ll go and eat. My assistants aren’t here, they’re working outside the city.”
Obediently Goldmund went out, found the courtyard and the well, washed his hands and would have given much to know the masters thoughts. When he came back, the master was gone; he heard him rummaging about in the adjoining room. When he reappeared, he too had washed himself and wore a beautiful cloth jacket instead of the apron; he looked solemn and imposing. He led the way, up a flight of stairs—there were small carved angels’ heads on the walnut banister posts—lined with old and new statues, into a beautiful room with floor, walls, and ceiling of polished wood; a table had been in the window corner. A young girl came running in. Goldmund knew her; it was the beautiful girl of the evening before.
“Lisbeth,” the master said, “bring another plate. I’ve brought a guest. He is—well, I don’t even know his name yet.”
Goldmund said his name.
“Goldmund then. Is dinner ready?”
“In a minute, Father.”
She fetched a plate, ran out and soon returned with the maid, who served the meal: pork with lentils and white bread. During the meal the father spoke of this and that with the girl, Goldmund sat in silence, ate a little and felt very ill at ease and apprehensive. The girl pleased him greatly, a stately, beautiful figure, almost as tall as her father, but she sat, well-mannered and completely inaccessible as though behind glass, and did not speak to the stranger, or look at him. When they finished eating, the master said: “I’ll rest for half an hour. You go down to the workshop or stroll around a bit outside. Afterwards we’ll talk.”
Goldmund bowed slightly and went out. It had been an hour or more since the master had seen his drawing, and he had not said a word about it. Now he had to wait another half hour! Well, there was nothing he could do about it; he waited. He did not go into the workshop; he did not want to see his drawing again just now. He went into the courtyard, sat down on the edge of the well, and watched the thread of water trickling endlessly from the pipe into the deep stone dish, making tiny waves as it fell, always carrying a little air down with it, which kept rising up in white pearls. He saw his own face in the dark mirror of the well and thought that the Goldmund who was looking up at him from the water had long since ceased being the Goldmund of cloister days, or Lydia’s Goldmund, or even the Goldmund of the forests. He thought that he, that all men, trickled away, changing constantly, until they finally dissolved, while their artist-created images remained unchangeably the same.
He thought that fear of death was perhaps the root of all art, perhaps also of all things of the mind. We fear death, we shudder at life’s instability, we grieve to see the flowers wilt again and again, and the leaves fall, and in our hearts we know that we, too, are transitory and will soon disappear. When artists create pictures and thinkers search for laws and formulate thoughts, it is in order to salvage something from the great dance of death, to make something that lasts longer than we do. Perhaps the woman after whom the master shaped his beautiful madonna is already wilted or dead, and soon he, too, will be dead; others will live in his house and eat at his table—but his work will still be standing a hundred years from now, and longer. It will go on shimmering in the quiet cloister church, unchangingly beautiful, forever smiling with the same sad, flowering mouth. He heard the master come downstairs and ran into the workshop. Master Niklaus was pacing; several times he looked at Goldmund’s drawing; finally he walked to the window and said, in his somewhat hesitant, dry manner: “It is customary for an apprentice to study at least four years, and for his father to pay for the apprenticeship.” He paused and Goldmund thought the master was afraid that he could not pay him. Quick as lightning, he pulled out his knife, cut the stitches around the hidden gold piece, and held it up. Niklaus watched him in surprise and broke out laughing when Goldmund handed him the coin.
“Ah, is that what you thought?” he laughed. “No, young man, you keep your gold piece. Listen now. I told you how our guild customarily deals with apprentices. But I am no ordinary master, nor are you an ordinary apprentice. Usually an apprentice begins his apprenticeship at thirteen or fourteen, fifteen at the latest, and half of his learning years are spent running errands and playing the servant. But you are a grown man; according to your age, you could long have been journeyman or master even. Our guild has never had a bearded apprentice. Besides, as I told you before, I don’t like to keep an apprentice in my house. Nor do you look like a man who lets himself be ordered about.”
Goldmund’s impatience was at its peak. Every new thoughtful word from the master put him on tenterhooks; it all seemed disgustingly boring and pedantic to him. Vehemently he cried: “Why do you tell me all this, if you don’t want to make me your apprentice?”
Firmly the master continued: “I have thought about your request for an hour. Now you must have the patience to listen to me. I have seen your drawing. It has faults, but it is beautiful. If it were not beautiful, I would have given you half a guilder and sent you on your way and forgotten about you. That is all I wish to say about the drawing. I would like to help you become an artist; perhaps that is your destiny. But you’re too old to become an apprentice. And only an apprentice who has served his time can become journeyman and master in our guild. Now you know the conditions. But you shall be allowed to give it a try. If you can maintain yourself in this city for a while, you may come to me and learn a few things. There will be no obligation, no contract, you can leave again whenever you choose. You may break a couple of carving knives in my workshop and ruin a couple of woodblocks, and if we see that you’re no wood carver, you’ll have to try your skill at other things. Does that satisfy you?”
Ashamed and moved, Goldmund had heard his words.
“I thank you with all my heart,” he cried. “I am homeless; I’ll be able to keep alive in this city as well as in the woods. I understand that you don’t wish to assume responsibility for me as for a young apprentice. I consider it a great fortune to be allowed to learn from you. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for doing this for me.”
New images surrounded Goldmund in this city; a new life began for him. Landscape and city had received him happily, enticingly, generously, and so did this new life, with joy and many promises. Although sorrow and awareness remained essentially untouched in his soul, life, on the surface, played for him in rainbow colors. The gayest and lightest period in Goldmund’s life had begun. Outwardly, the rich bishop’s city offered itself in all its arts; there were women, and hundreds of pleasant games and images. On the inside, his awakening craftsmanship offered new sensations and experiences. With the master’s help he found lodgings in the house of a gilder at the fish market, and at the master’s as well as at the gilder’s he learned how to handle wood, plaster, colors, varnish, and gold leaf.
Goldmund was not one of those forsaken artists who, though highly gifted, never find the right means of expression. Quite a number of people are able to feel the beauty of the world profoundly and vastly, and to carry high, noble images in their souls, but they are unable to exteriorize these images, to create them for the enjoyment of others, to communicate them. Goldmund did not suffer from this lack. The use of his hands came easily to him; he enjoyed learning the tricks and practices of the craft, and he easily learned to play the lute with companions in the evening after work and to dance on Sundays in the village. He learned it easily; it came by itself. He worked hard at wood carving, met with difficulties and disappointments, spoiled a few pieces of good wood, and severely cut his fingers several times. But he quickly surmounted the beginnings and acquired skill. Still, the master was often dissatisfied with him and would say: “Fortunately we know that you’re not my apprentice or my assistant, Goldmund. Fortunately we know that you’ve wandered in from the woods and that you’ll go back there some day. Anybody who didn’t know that you’re a homeless drifter and not a burgher or artisan might easily succumb to the temptation to ask this or that of you, the things every master demands of his men. You don’t work badly at all when you’re in the mood. But last week you loafed for two days. Yesterday you slept half the day in the courtyard workshop, instead of polishing the two angels you were supposed to polish.”
The master was right, and Goldmund listened in silence, without justifying himself. He knew he was not a reliable, hard-working man. As long as a task fascinated him, posed problems, or made him happily aware of his skill, he’d work zealously. He did not like heavy manual work, or chores that were not difficult but demanded time and application. Many of the faithful, patient parts of craftsmanship were often completely unbearable to him. It sometimes made him wonder. Had those few years of wandering been enough to make him lazy and unreliable? Was his mother’s inheritance growing in him and gaining the upper hand? Or was something else missing? He thought of his first years in the cloister, when he had been such a good and zealous student. Why had he managed so much patience then? Why did he lack it now; why had he been able to learn Latin syntax and all those Greek aorists indefatigably, although, at the bottom of his heart, they were quite unimportant to him? Occasionally he’d muse about that. Love had steeled his will; love had given him wings. His life had been a constant courtship of Narcissus, whose love one could woo only by esteem and recognition. In those days he was able to slave for hours and days in exchange for an appreciative glance from the beloved teacher. Finally the desired goal had been reached: Narcissus had become his friend and, strangely enough, it had been that learned Narcissus who had shown him his lack of aptitude for learning, who had conjured up his lost mother’s image. Instead of learning, monkhood, and virtue, powerful drives and instincts had become his masters: sex, women, desire for independence, wandering. Then he saw the master’s madonna and discovered the artist within himself. He had taken a new road, had settled down again. Where did he stand now? Where was his road leading him? Where did the obstacles stem from?
At first he was unable to define it. He knew only this: that he greatly admired Master Niklaus, but in no way loved him as he had Narcissus, and that he took occasional delight in disappointing and annoying him. This, it seemed, was linked to the contrasts in the master’s nature. The figures by Niklaus’s hand, at least the best among them, were revered examples for Goldmund, but the master himself was not an example.
Beside the artist who had carved the madonna with the saddest, most beautiful mouth, beside the knowing seer whose hands knew magically how to transform deep experience and intuition into tangible forms, there was another Master Niklaus: a somewhat stern and fearful father and guildsman, a widower who led a quiet, slightly cowering life with his daughter and an ugly servant in his quiet house, who violently resisted Goldmund’s strongest impulses, who had settled into a calm, moderate, orderly, respectable life.
Although Goldmund venerated his master, although he would never have permitted himself to question others about him or to judge him in front of others, he knew after a year to the smallest detail all that was to be known about Niklaus. This master meant much to him. He loved him as much as he hated him; he could not stay away from him. Gradually, with love and with suspicion, with always vigilant curiosity, the pupil penetrated the hidden corners of the master’s nature and of his life. He saw that Niklaus allowed neither apprentice nor assistant to live in his house, although there would have been room enough. He saw that he rarely went out and equally rarely invited guests to his house. He observed that he loved his beautiful daughter with touching jealousy, and that he tried to hide her from everyone. He also knew that behind the strict, premature abstinence of the widower’s life, instincts were still at play, that the master could strangely transform and rejuvenate himself when an order occasionally called him to travel for a few days. And once, in a strange little town where they were setting up a carved pulpit, he had also observed that Niklaus had clandestinely visited a whore one evening and that he bad been restless and ill-humored for days afterwards.
As time went on, something other than this curiosity tied Goldmund to the master’s house and preoccupied his mind. The master’s beautiful daughter Lisbeth attracted him greatly. He rarely got to see her; she never came into the workshop and he could not determine whether her brittleness and reserve with men was imposed by her father or was part of her own nature. He could not overlook the fact that the master never again invited him for a meal, that he tried to make any meeting with her difficult. Lisbeth was a most precious, sheltered young girl; he could not hope to have a love affair with her, or a marriage. Besides, anyone who wanted to marry her would have to come from a good family, be a member of one of the higher guilds and probably have money and a house besides.
Lisbeth’s beauty, so different from that of the gypsies and peasant women, had attracted Goldmund’s eyes that first day. There was something about her that he could not decipher, something strange that violently attracted him but also made him suspicious, irritated him even. Her great calm and innocence, her well-mannered purity were not childlike. Behind all her courtesy and ease lay a hidden coldness, a condescension, and for that reason her innocence did not move him, or make him defenseless (he could never have seduced a child), but annoyed and provoked him. As soon as her figure became slightly familiar to him as an inner image, he felt the urge to create a statue of her, not the way she was now, but an awakened, sensuous, suffering face, a Magdalene, not a young virgin. He often dreamed of seeing her calm, beautiful, immobile face distorted in ecstasy or pain, of seeing it unfold and yield its secret.
There was another face alive in his soul, although it did not altogether belong to him, a face he longed to capture and re-create artistically, but again and again it drew back and shrouded itself: his mother’s face. It was no longer the face that had appeared to him one day, from the depths of lost memories, after his conversation with Narcissus. It had slowly changed during his days of wandering, his nights of love, during his spells of longing, while his life was in danger, when he was close to death: it had grown richer, deeper, subtler. This was no longer his own mother; her traits and colors had by and by given way to an impersonal mother image, of Eve, of the mother of men. The way some of Master Niklaus’s madonnas powerfully expressed the suffering mother of God with a perfection that seemed unsurpassable to Goldmund, he hoped that one day, when he was more mature and surer of his craft, he would be able to create the image of the worldly mother, the Eve-mother, as she lived in his heart, his oldest, most cherished image; an inner image that had once been the memory of his own mother, of his love of her, but was now in constant transformation and growth. The faces of Lise, the gypsy, of the knight’s daughter Lydia, of many other women had fused with that original image. Each new woman added to it, each new insight, each experience and event worked at it and fashioned its traits. The figure he hoped to be able to make visible some day was not to represent any specific woman, but the source of life itself, the original mother. Many times he thought he saw it; often it appeared in his dreams. But he could not have said anything about this Eve’s face, or about what it was to express, except that he wanted it to show the intimate relationship of ecstasy to pain and death.
Goldmund learned a great deal in the course of a year. He became an able draftsman; occasionally, beside wood carving, Niklaus also let him try his hand at modeling with clay. His first successful work was a clay figure, a good two spans high. It was the sweet, seductive figure of little Julie, Lydia’s sister. The master praised this work but did not fulfill Goldmund’s wish to have it cast in metal; he found the figure too unchaste and worldly to become its godfather. Then Goldmund started working on a statue of Narcissus, in wood, portraying the Apostle John. If successful, Niklaus wanted to include the figure in a crucifixion group he had been commissioned to execute and on which his two assistants had been working exclusively for quite some time, leaving the final touches to the master.
Goldmund worked with profound love at the statue of Narcissus. He rediscovered himself in this work, found his skill and his soul again every time he got off the track, which happened often enough. Love affairs, dances, drinking with working companions, dice playing, and many brawls would get him violently involved; he’d stay away from the workshop for a day or more, or stand distracted and grumpy over his bench. But at his St. John, whose cherished, pensive features came to meet him out of the wood with greater and greater purity, he worked only during hours of readiness, with devotion and humility. During these hours he was neither glad nor sad, knew neither carnal longings nor the flight of time. Again he felt the reverent, light, crystal feeling in his heart with which he had once abandoned himself to his friend, happy to be guided by him. It was not he who was standing there, creating an image of his own will. It was the other man rather; it was Narcissus who was making use of the artist’s hands in order to step out of the fleeting transitions of life, to express the pure image of his being.
This, Goldmund sometimes felt with a shudder, was the way true art came about. This was how the master’s unforgettable madonna had been made, which he had visited in the cloister again and again on many a Sunday. The few good pieces among the old statues which were standing upstairs in the master’s foyer had come into being in this secret, sacred manner. And one day that other, the unique image, the one that was even more hidden and venerable to him, the mother of men, would come about in the same manner. Ah, if only the hand of man could create such works of art, such holy, essential images, untainted by will or vanity. But it was not that way. Other images were created: pretty, delightful things, made with great mastery, the joy of art lovers, the ornament of churches and town halls—beautiful things certainly, but not sacred, not true images of the soul. He knew many such works, not only by Niklaus and other masters—works that, in spite of their delicacy and craftsmanship, were nothing but playthings. To his shame and sorrow he had already felt that in his own heart, had felt in his hands how an artist can put such pretty things in the world, out of delight in his own skill, out of ambition and dissipation.
When he realized this for the first time, he grew deathly sad. Ah, it was not worth being an artist in order to make little angel figures and similar frivolities, no matter how beautiful. Perhaps the others, the artisans, the burghers, those calm, satisfied souls might find it worthwhile, but not he. To him, art and craftsmanship were worthless unless they burned like the sun and had the power of storms. He had no use for anything that brought only comfort, pleasantness, only small joys. He was searching for other things. A dainty crown for a madonna, fashioned like lacework and beautifully goldleafed, was no task for him, no matter how well paid. Why did Master Niklaus accept all these orders? Why did he have two assistants? Why did he listen for hours to those senators and prelates who ordered a pulpit or a portal from him with their measuring sticks in their hands? He had two reasons, two shabby reasons: he wanted to be a famous artist flooded with commissions, and he wanted to pile up money, not for any great achievement or pleasure but for his daughter, who had long since become a rich girl, money for her dowry, for lace collars and brocade gowns and a walnut conjugal bed with precious covers and linens. As though the beautiful girl could not come to know love just as well in a hayloft.
His mother’s blood stirred deeply in Goldmund in the course of such reflections; he felt the pride and disdain of the homeless for the settled, the proprietors. At times craft and master were so repulsive to him that he often came close to running away. More than once the master angrily regretted having taken on this difficult, unreliable fellow who often tried his patience to the utmost. The things he learned about Goldmund’s life, about his indifference to money and ownership, his desire to squander, his many love affairs, his frequent brawls, did not make him more sympathetic; he had taken a gypsy into his house, a stranger. Nor had it escaped him with what eyes this vagrant looked at his daughter Lisbeth. If he, nevertheless, forced himself to be patient, it was not out of a sense of duty or out of fear, but because of the St. John’s statue, which he watched come into being.
With a feeling of love and kinship of the soul that he did not quite admit to himself, the master watched this gypsy, who had run to him out of the forest, shape his wooden disciple after the moving, beautiful, yet clumsy drawing that had made him keep Goldmund at the time. He saw how slowly and capriciously, but tenaciously, unerringly, Goldmund fashioned the wooden statue of the disciple. The master did not doubt that it would be finished some day, in spite of all Goldmund’s moods and interruptions, that it would be a work the like of which not one of his assistants was able to make, a work that even great masters did not often accomplish. In spite of the many things the master disliked in his pupil, of the many scoldings he gave him, of his frequent fits of rage—he never said a word about the St. John.
During these years Goldmund had gradually lost the rest of the adolescent grace and boyishness that had pleased so many. He had become a beautiful, strong man, much desired by women, little popular with men. His mind, his inner face, had greatly changed as well since the days Narcissus awakened him from the happy sleep of his cloister years. World and wandering had molded him. From the pretty, gentle, pious, willing cloister student whom everybody liked, another being had emerged. Narcissus had awakened him, women had made him aware, the wandering had brushed the down from him. He had no friends; his heart belonged to women. They could win him easily: one longing look was enough. He found it hard to resist a woman and responded to the slightest hint. In spite of his strong sense of beauty, of his preference for the very young in the bloom of spring, he’d let himself be moved and seduced by women of little beauty who were no longer young. On the dance floor he’d sometimes end up with a discouraged elderly girl whom no one wanted, who’d win him by the pity he felt for her, and not pity alone, but also a constantly vigilant curiosity. As soon as he gave himself to a woman—whether it lasted weeks or just hours—she became beautiful to him, and he gave himself completely. Experience taught him that every woman was beautiful and able to bring joy, that a mousy creature whom men ignored was capable of extraordinary fire and devotion, that the wilted had a more maternal, mourningly sweet tenderness, that each woman had her secrets and her charms, and to unlock these made him happy. In that respect, all women were alike. Lack of youth or beauty was always balanced by some special gesture. But not every woman could hold him equally long. He was just as loving and grateful toward the ugly as toward the youngest and prettiest; he never loved halfway. But some women tied him to them more strongly after three or ten nights of love; others were exhausted after the first time and forgotten.
Love and ecstasy were to him the only truly warming things that gave life its value. Ambition was unknown to him; he did not distinguish between bishop and beggar. Acquisition and ownership had no hold over him; he felt contempt for them. Never would he have made the smallest sacrifice for them; he was earning ample money and thought nothing of it. Women, the game of the sexes, came first on his list, and his frequent accesses of melancholy and disgust grew out of the knowledge that desire was a transitory, fleeting experience. The rapid, soaring, blissful burning of desire, its brief, longing flame, its rapid extinction—this seemed to him to contain the kernel of all experience, became to him the image of all the joys and sufferings of life. He could give in to this melancholy and shudder at all things transitory with the same abandonment with which he gave in to love. This melancholy was also a form of love, of desire. As ecstasy, at the peak of blissful tension, is certain that it must vanish and die with the next breath, his innermost loneliness and abandonment to melancholy was certain that it would suddenly be swallowed by desire, by new abandonment to the light side of life. Death and ecstasy were one. The mother of life could be called love or desire; she could also be called death, grave, or decay. Eve was the mother. She was the source of bliss as well as of death; eternally she gave birth and eternally she killed; her love was fused with cruelty. The longer he carried her image within him, the more it became a parable and a sacred symbol to him.
Not with words and consciousness, but with a deeper knowledge of his blood, he knew that his road led to his mother, to desire and to death. The father side of life—mind and will—were not his home. Narcissus was at home there, and only now Goldmund felt penetrated by his friend’s words and understood them fully, saw in him his counterpart, and this he also expressed in the statue of St. John and made it visible. He could long for Narcissus to the point of tears; he could dream of him wonderfully—but he could not reach him, he could not become like him. Secretly Goldmund also sensed what being an artist meant to him, how his intense love of art could also occasionally turn to hatred. He could, not with thoughts but with emotions, make many different distinctions: art was a union of the father and mother worlds, of mind and blood. It might start in utter sensuality and lead to total abstraction; then again it might originate in pure concept and end in bleeding flesh. Any work of art that was truly sublime, not just a good juggler’s trick; that was filled with the eternal secret, like the master’s madonna; every obviously genuine work of art had this dangerous, smiling double face, was male-female, a merging of instinct and pure spirituality. One day his Eve-mother would bear this double face more than any other statue, if he succeeded in making her.
In art, in being an artist, Goldmund saw the possibility of reconciling his deepest contradictions, or at least of expressing newly and magnificently the split in his nature. But art was not just a gift. It could not be had for nothing; it cost a great deal; it demanded sacrifices. For over three years Goldmund sacrificed his most essential need, the thing he needed most next to desire and love: his freedom. Being free, drifting in a limitless world, the hazards of wandering, being alone and independent—all that he had renounced. Others might judge him fickle, insubordinate, and overly independent when he neglected workshop and work during an occasional furious fling. To him, this life was slavery; often it embittered him and seemed unbearable. Neither the master nor his future nor need demanded his obedience—it was art itself.
Art, such a spiritual goddess in appearance, required so many petty things! One needed a roof over one’s head, and tools, woods, clay, colors, gold, effort and patience. He had sacrificed the wild freedom of the woods to this goddess, the intoxication of the wide world, the harsh joys of danger, the pride of misery, and this sacrifice had to be made again and again, chokingly, with clenched teeth.
Part of this sacrifice was recoverable. A few of his love adventures, his fights with rivals constituted a small revenge against the slavelike sedentary order of his present life. All his emprisoned wildness, all the caged-in strength of his nature steamed out of this escape valve; he became a known and feared rowdy. A sudden attack in a dark side street, on his way to see a girl or on the way home from a dance; a couple of blows from a stick, throwing himself around with lightning swiftness to pass from defense to attack, to press the panting enemy to him, to land a fist under the enemy’s chin, or drag him by the hair, or throttle him mightily—all these things tasted good to Goldmund and cured his dark moods for a while. And the women liked it, too. All this gave him plenty to do, and it all made sense as long as he was working on his St. John. It took a long time. The last delicate shapings of face and hands were done in solemn, patient concentration. He finished the statue in a small wooden shed behind the assistants’ workshop. Then the hour of morning came when the work was finished. Goldmund fetched a broom, swept the shed meticulously clean, gently brushed the last sawdust from his Saint’s hair, and stood in front of his statue for a long time, an hour or longer, filled with the solemn feeling of a rare and great experience which he might perhaps know one more time in the course of his life or which might remain unique. A man on the day of his wedding or on the day he is knighted, a woman after the birth of her first child might feel such emotions in the heart: a deep reverence, a great earnestness, and at the same time a secret fear of the moment when this high, unique experience would be over, classified, swallowed by the routine of the days.
He saw his friend Narcissus, the guide of his adolescent years, clad in the robe and role of the beautiful, favorite disciple, stand listening with lifted face and an expression of stillness, devotion, and reverence that was like the budding of a smile. Suffering and death were not unknown to this beautiful, pious, spiritualized face, to this slender figure that seemed to be floating, to these graceful, piously raised long hands, although they were filled with youth and inner music; but despair was unknown to them, and disorder, and rebellion. The soul of those noble traits might be gay or sad, but its pitch was pure, it suffered no discordant note.
Goldmund stood and contemplated his work. His contemplation began as a meditation in front of the monument to his youth and friendship, but it ended in a tempest of sorrow and heavy thoughts. There his work was, the beautiful disciple would remain, his delicate flowering would never end. But he, the maker, would have to part with his work; tomorrow it would no longer be his, would no longer be waiting for his hands, would grow and unfold under them no longer, was no longer a refuge to him, a consolation, a purpose in his life. He remained behind, empty. And therefore it seemed to him that it would be best to say farewell today not only to his St. John but also to the master, to the city, to art. There was nothing here for him to do any more; no images filled his soul that he might have carved. The longed-for image of images, the figure of the mother of men, was not yet accessible to him, would not be accessible for a long time. Should he go back to polishing little angel figures now and carving ornaments?
He tore himself away and walked over to the master’s workshop. Softly he entered and stood at the door, until Niklaus noticed him and called out to him.
“What is it, Goldmund?”
“My statue is finished. Perhaps you’ll come and take a look at it before you go up to eat.”
“Gladly. I’ll come right now.”
Together they walked over, leaving the door open for more light. Niklaus had not seen the figure for a while; he had left Goldmund undisturbed at his work. Now he examined it with silent attention. His closed face grew beautiful and light; Goldmund saw his stern eyes grow happy. “It is good,” the master said. “It is very good. It is your assistant’s piece, Goldmund. Now you have finished learning. I’ll show your figure to the men at the guild and demand that they make you a master for it; you deserve it.”
Goldmund did not value the guild very highly, but he knew how much appreciation the master’s words meant, and he was glad.
While Niklaus walked slowly around the figure of St. John, he said with a sigh: “This figure is full of piety and light. It is grave, but filled with joy and peace. One might think that the man who made this had nothing but light and joy in his heart.”
“You know that I did not portray myself in this figure, but my dearest friend. It is he who brought light and peace to the picture, not I. It was not really I who made the statue; he gave it into my soul.”
“That may be so,” said Niklaus. “It is a secret how such a work comes into being. I am not particularly humble, but I must say: I have made many works that fall far behind yours, not in craft and care, but in truth. No, you probably know yourself that such a work cannot be repeated. It is a secret.”
“Yes,” Goldmund said. “When the figure was finished and I looked at it, I thought: you can’t make that again. And therefore I think, Master, that I’ll soon go back to wandering.” Astonished and annoyed, Niklaus looked at him. His eyes had grown stern again. “We’ll speak about that. For you, work should really begin now. This is not the moment to run away. But take this day off, and at noon you’ll be my guest.”
At noon Goldmund appeared washed and combed, in his Sunday clothes. This time he knew how much it meant and what a rare honor it was to be invited to the master’s table. As he climbed the stairs to the foyer that was crowded with statues, his heart was far from being filled with the reverence and anxious joy of the other time, that first time when he had stepped into these beautiful quiet rooms with pounding heart.
Lisbeth, too, was dressed up and wore a chain of stones around her neck, and besides carp and wine there was another surprise for dinner: the master gave Goldmund a leather purse containing two gold pieces, his salary for the finished statue.
This time he did not sit in silence while father and daughter talked. Both spoke to him, they drank toasts. Goldmund’s eyes were busy. He used this opportunity to study carefully the beautiful girl with the distinguished, slightly contemptuous face, and his eyes did not conceal how much she pleased him. She treated him courteously, but he felt disappointed that she did not blush or grow animated. Again he wished fervently to make this beautiful immobile face speak, to force it to surrender its secret.
After the meal he thanked them, lingering a while before the statues in the foyer. During the afternoon he strolled through the city, an aimless idler. He had been greatly honored by the master, beyond all expectation. Why did it not make him happy? Why did all this honor have such an unfestive taste?
Heeding a whim, he rented a horse and rode out to the cloister where he had first seen work by the master and heard his name. That had been a few years ago; it seemed unthinkably longer. He visited the madonna in the cloister church and again the statue delighted and conquered him. It was more beautiful than his St. John. It was similar in depth and mystery, and superior in craft, in free, gravity-less floating. Now he saw details in the work that only an artist sees, soft delicate movements in the gown, audacities in the formation of the long hands and fingers, sensitive utilization of the grain of the wood. All these beauties were nothing compared to the whole, to the simplicity and depth of the vision, but they were there nevertheless, beauties of which only the blessed were capable, those who knew their craft completely. In order to be able to create a work like this, one had not only to carry images in one’s soul; one also had to have inexpressibly trained, practiced eyes and hands. Perhaps it was after all worthwhile to place one’s entire life at the service of art, at the expense of freedom and broad experience, if only in order to be able once to make something this beautiful, something that had not only been experienced and envisioned and received in love, but also executed to the last detail with absolute mastery? It was an important question. Late at night Goldmund returned to the city on a tired horse. A tavern still stood open. There he took bread and wine. Then he climbed up to his room at the fish market, not at peace with himself, full of questions, full of doubts.