Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse— For Madmen Only!

Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse, is a stirring account of the battle between the opposites that intersect human nature.

In this Novel the protagonist, a middle aged man named Harry, tries desperately to find contentment in himself and his own life.

As Harry’s journey into the interface begins, he is confronted with “signs” pointing him in the direction to the answers he so desires and to his potential freedom from his own discontent.

At one point he runs into a man holding a sign, “For Madmen Only”.  This man gives him a booklet; the “Treatise on the Steppenwolf” which Harry feels describes himself perfectly.  This booklet becomes a literary mirror for him.  It describes the dilemma between the needs of sophisticated man and the animalistic, lonesome nature of the wolf.  Harry believes that these two entities battle within him and are the cause of his great dissatisfaction and unhappiness in life.

Harry’s dilemma reaches culmination after a visit to a  former academic friend’s home with whom he often discussed mythology.  While there, Harry is disgusted by the nationalistic mentality of his friend and offends the man and his wife by criticizing the wife’s picture of Goethe; which Harry feels is poorly done, highly sentimental and an insulting photo of the genius.

After this debacle, Harry rambles through town trying to find the courage to go home (where he planned to rendezvous with a razor).  During this nighttime wandering, the hero finds a beautiful young woman in a dance hall (who is also dualistic in nature) that Harry calls Hermine.

Hermine instantly recognizes Harry’s desperation and both comforts and mocks him for it.  Through his relationship with Hermine, Harry is introduced to the indulgences of the “bourgeois” such as dancing and casual drug use; she finds him a lover and forces him to accept these as worthy aspects of life.  Through this meeting, the hero comes to understand that his existence is more than his self-battle between Man and the Wolf.

While Harry’s interaction with  Hermine opens him up to other parts of himself and in some ways helps him gain freedom from his battle between loneliness and acceptance; he also finds in her more questions, more dichotomies yet to be understood.

Although this novel is full of intense and moving scenes, one of the most poignant happened in the “The Magic Theatre”.  In this place, the lines between reality and fantasy become completely blurred.

Harry enters a room of the theatre that has a stage in front.  At first he sees a man with a whip and a wolf– skinny and beaten.  The man does all sorts of tricks with the wolf- gets him to sit, roll over, etc.  The man brings out a lamb and a bunny and sticks the wolf between them.  Even though the wolf is salivating, he obeys and does not touch the frightened animals.

Next Harry sees a wolf standing with a poor man on all fours at his command.  The wolf orders the man to do tricks- to sit, roll over etc.  The wolf then puts the man between the lamb and the bunny.  This time, the man is ordered to kill the frightened animals and he rips them apart- spouting blood everywhere.  The hero is shaken by this site and runs from the room.

The Man and the Wolf are part of the mirror reflection that is Harry’s person.  He sees their duality, their interplay and comes to understand that he is neither of them.  Rather, he is both and in being both- becomes something more- something eternal and immortal.  This allows Harry to finally be free from the constant circle that both engulfed him and trapped him.

While in the “Magic Theatre” Harry is confronted with a myriad of dichotomies (rooms) of himself.  He is guided by the immortals themselves through these rooms of duality until he is finally reunited with Hermine (and perhaps himself) where he stabs her in the heart, right under the breastbone.

It is notable that the very existence of Hermine in the novel is never confirmed.  In fact, when Harry asks Hermine what her name is, she turns the question around.  When he is challenged to guess her name, he tells her that she reminds him of a childhood friend named Hermann, and therefore he concludes her name must be Hermine.  Metaphorically, Harry creates Hermine as a fragment of his own soul.

Hermann Hesse published Steppenwolf (Der Steppenwolf) in Germany in 1927.  It was first translated into English in 1929.  Steppenwolf is a combination of autobiographical and psychoanalytical elements and was named after the lonesome wolf of the steppes.  This story largely reflects Hesse’s own spiritual crisis that he experienced in the 1920s.

Edgar Allan Poe– Death of Annabel Lee

“Annabel Lee” is the last complete poem composed by Edgar Allan Poe.  It was written in 1849, but was not published until shortly after his death that same year.

This poem follows Poe’s favorite theme: the death of a beautiful woman; which Poe called, “the most poetical topic in the world”.  His frequent use of this topic most likely stems from the repeated loss of women throughout his life, including his mother, Eliza Poe, his foster mother Frances Allan and his wife, Virginia (who died two years prior to the composition of this poem).

It is unclear who Annabel Lee is, however, local legend in Charleston, SC tells the story of a sailor who met a woman named Annabel Lee.  Her father disapproved of the pairing and the two met privately in a graveyard before the sailor’s time stationed in Charleston was up.  While away, he heard of Annabel’s death from yellow fever.  Because he did not know her exact burial location, he instead kept vigil in the cemetery where they had often secretly met.

 

Annabel Lee
by Edgar Allan Poe

 
It was many and many a year ago,
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the winged seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulcher
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half to happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of  those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darkling–  my life and my bride,
In her sepulcher there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Wordworth’s Lucy: Death of Idealized Love… or his Muse?


She dwelt among the untrodden ways“She dwelt among the untrodden ways” is a stirring meditation on both William Wordsworth’s feelings of loneliness and loss as well as his Romantic notion of unrequited, idealized love.  It’s a stirring ode to the beauty and dignity of an idealized woman; one who lived unnoticed by all except the poet himself and died young.

She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways, by William Wordsworth

She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:/
A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from the eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shining in the sky./

She lived unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and, oh,
The difference to me!

William Wordsworth’s “Lucy” series was written in 1798, when he was 28 years old.  They include five poems in total:

They were not conceived as a group, nor did he seek to publish them in sequence and only after his death in 1850 did publishers treat them as a fixed group.

Many speculate who or what inspired these poems.   Some guess that they are an attempt to voice his affection for his sister, Dorothy; his life-long companion.  Dorothy was never married and lived with her brother even after he was married.  Dorothy eventually fell seriously ill in 1829 and spent the remainder of her life in “a deepening haze of senility”.

Others believe that Lucy represents Peggy Hutchinson, who he loved deeply before her early death in 1796.  Wordsworth later married Peggy’s sister Mary in 1802.

Some conclude that Lucy is the personification of  Wordworth’s MUSE– feared dead.  Wordsworth was traveling in Germany when he wrote these poems and, as a series, they focus on his longing for the company of his friend-Coleridge, who had stayed in England.

Wordsworth himself never commented on the details of her origin or identity.