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Hermann Hesse fantasies…

May 28, 2008

Pictor’s Metamorphoses by Hermann Hesse [1922]

( Taken from the book called Pictor’s metamorphoses and other fantasies)

Pictor has scarcely set foot in paradise when he found himself standing before a tree that had two crowns. In the leaves of one was the face of a man.; in the leaves of the other, the face of a woman. Pictor stood in awe of the tree and timidly asked, “Are you the Tree of Life?”

The tree kept silence. Suddenly, coiling itself around the single trunk that joined the tree’s two boughs, there appeared a Serpent. And because the serpent, and not the tree, was about to reply, Pictor turned around and continued on his way. His eyes widened in wonder and delight at all he beheld. Somehow he knew the source of life was near.

Soon enough, he came upon another tree, whose two crowns held the sun and the moon. And once again Pictor asked, “Are you the Tree of Life?”

The sun seemed to nod its assets; the smiled down at him. All around grew clusters of flowers, strange and wonderful, unlike any Pictor had ever seen. From within the circles of their many-hued petals, bright faces and eyes peered out at him. Some of the flowers nodded on their stems, smiling and laughing like the sun and the moon. Others were silent, drunken sunken within themselves, as if drowned in their own perfumes.

And their colors sang to him: this one a deep mauve lilac song, that one a dark lullaby. Oh, what a huge blue eyes this one had, and how much that one resembled his first love. The scent of another sang in his mother’s voice, made him recall how they’d walked in the gardens when Pictor was still a little boy. Yet another flower teased him, stuck out its tongue, long, arched and red. He bent down, put his own tongue to it. The taste was wild and strong, like honey mixed with rosin, and yes, like a woman’s kiss.

Pictor stood alone amid the flowers, Filled with longing and timid joy, he could feel his heart beating in his chest, now fast – in anticipation of something he could only surmise; now slow – in time with the rolling waves of the ocean of desire.

Just then, he saw a bird alight in the grass. The bird’s feathers were ablaze with color, each plume a different color of the rainbow. And he drew nearer to the bird and asked, “Most lovely Bird, tell me, where can one find happiness?”

“Happiness”, the bird replied, its golden beak brimming with laughter, “happiness, friend, is in each thing, valley and mountain, flower and gem.”

Even as it spoke these words, the bird began to dance, ruffling its feathers, flapping its wings, turning its head, beating its tail on the ground, winking, laughing, spinning around the whirl of color. When it came to a standstill, what had been a bird was now a many-colored flower: feathers to petal, claws to roots. The transformation was marvelous. But even as Pictor stood there blinking, it went on changing. Weary of being a flower, it pulled up its roots, set its anthers and filaments in motion. On petal-thin wings it slowly rose aloft and floated in mid-air, a weightless, shimmering butterfly. Pictor could scarcely believe his eyes.

And the new butterfly, the radiant bird-flower-butterfly, flew in circles around and around Pictor. More and more amazed, Pictor watched the sunlight glint off its wings. Soon it let itself glide down to the earth gently as a snow flake. There it rested on the ground trembled as it changed once again. It became a gemstone, out of whose facets a red light streamed.

But even as it lay there, radiant red in the dark green grass, the precious stone shrank smaller and smaller. As if its homeland, the center of the earth, called to it, the gem threatened to be swallowed up. Just as it was about to vanish, scarcely aware of what he was doing, Pictor reached for the stone, picked it up, and clasped it firmly in his hands. Gazing into it, transfixed by its magical light, Pictor could feel its red rays penetrate his heart, warming it with radiance that promised eternal bliss.

Just then, slithering down from the bough of a withered tree, the serpent hissed into Pictor’s ear, “This crystal can change you into anything you want to be. Quickly tell it your wish, before it’s too late. Swiftly, speak your command, before the stone vanishes.

Without stopping to think, afraid of losing this one chance for happiness, Pictor rashly uttered his secret word to the stone, and was as soon transformed into a tree. Pictor had always wished to become a tree, because trees seemed so serene, so strong and dignified.

He felt himself strike root in the earth, felt his arms branch up into the sky, felt new limbs growing from his trunk, and from the limbs he felt new leaves sprout. Pictor was content. His thirsty roots drank deep in the earth. His leafy crown, so near the clouds, rustled in the breeze. Birds nested in his branches, insects lived in his bark, hedgehogs and hares took shelter at his feet. For many years, he was happy. A long time passed before he felt something amiss; his happiness was incomplete. Slowly he learnt to see with the eyes of a tree. Finally he could see and he grew sad.

Rooted to the spot, Pictor saw the other creatures in paradise continually transform themselves, Flowers would turn into precious stones or fly away as dazzling hummingbirds. Trees that stood beside him suddenly were gone: one turned into a running brook, another became a crocodile; still a third turned into a fish – full of life, it swam away joyfully. Elephants became massive rocks; giraffes became long-stemmed flowers. While all creating flowed into one magical stream of endless metamorphosis, Pictor could only look on.

He alone could not change. Once he new this, all his happiness vanished. He began to grow old, taking on that tired, haggard look one can observe in many old trees. Not only in trees but in horses, in birds, in human beings, in all life forms who no longer possess the gift of transformation. As time passes, they deteriorate and decline, their beauty is gone. To the end of their days, they know nothing but sorrow.

Time passed as before, until one day a young girl lost her way in Paradise. She had blond hair; she wore a blue dress. She sang happy songs; dancing, she wended her way among the trees. Carefree, the girl had never thought of wishing for the gift of transformation. Many of the creatures in Paradise took a keen on her. Animals smiled at her; many of the trees tossed their branches out to touch her; many of the trees tossed fruits, nuts, or flowers her way. But she paid them no mind.

The moment Pictor caught sight of her, he felt and intense longing, a firm resolve to recover his happiness. It was as if an inner voice, the voice of his own red blood commanded him to take hold of himself, to concentrate, to remember all the years of his life. And he obeyed the voice and became lost in thought, and his mind’s eye summoned up images from his past, even from his distant past when his was a man on his way to Paradise. But most clearly he remembered the moment when he held the magical stone in his hands, when every metamorphosis was open to him, when life had glowed in him more intensely than ever before. Then he remembered the laughing bird and the tree that was both the sun and the moon. And he began to understand all he had lost. The serpent’s advice had been treacherous.

Hearing a loud rusting in Pictor’s leaves, the girl turned her gaze on the tree. She looked up at its crown, and felt strange new feeling, desires, and dreams welling up in her heart. What was this unknown force that made her sit down in the shade of the tree? To her, the tree seemed lonely and sad, and yet beautiful, touching, and noble in its mute sorrow. The song of its gentle swaying crown held her captive. Leaning against its rough trunk, she could feel the tree shudder inside itself, and she felt the same passionate tremor in her own heart. Clouds flew across the sky of her soul, heavy tears fell from her eyes. Her heart hurt her so, beat so hard; she felt it would burst out of her bosom. Why did it want to cleave to him, melt into him, the beautiful loner?

Pictor, too, longed to become one with the girl. And so he gathered in all his life forces, focused them, directed them toward her, Even his roots trembled with the effort.And now he realized how blind he had been, hoe foolish, how little he had understood life’s secret. That deceitful, that treacherous Serpent had had but one wish: to lock Pictor up inside a tree forever. And it was in an entirely different light-albeit tinged with sorrow- that he now saw the image of the tree that was Man and Wife together.

Just then, in arc, a bird came flying, a bird red and green; lovely, daring, nearer it came. The girl saw it fly, saw something fall from its beak, something that shone blood-red, red as embers; and it fell in the green green grass, so promising; its deep red radiance called to her, courted her, sang out loud. The girl stooped down picked up the bright red stone. Ruby-garnet-crystal gem, wherever it is, no darkness can come.

The moment the girl held the magical stone in her white hands, the single wish that filled her heart was answered. In a moment of rapture she became one with the tree, transformed as a strong, new bough that grew out of its trunk, higher and higher into the heavens.

Now everything was splendid, the world was in order. In that single moment Paradise had been found. The tired old tree named Pictor was no more. Now he sang out his name: Pictoria, he sang out loud and clear: Pictoria, Victoria.

Out of a half he had become a whole. Fulfilled, complete, he had attained the true, eternal transformation. The stream of continuing creation flowed through his blood, and he could go on changing forever and ever.

He became deer, he became fish, he became human, and Serpent, cloud and bird. In each new shape he was whole was a pair, held moon and sun, man and wife inside him. He flowed as a twin river through the lands, shone as a double star in the firmament.

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