Книга: The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse
Назад: If the War Continues (1917)
Дальше: The Empire (1918)

The European


Finally, the Lord our God showed His consideration and brought about an end to the bloody world war on earth by sending the great flood. These tides of water mercifully cleansed the aging planet of everything that had desecrated it — the bloody fields of snow and the motionless mountains decked with cannons. They also cleared away the rotting corpses, along with those people who wept for them; the enraged and bloodthirsty individuals, along with the impoverished; the hungry, along with the mentally deranged.

The blue skies of the world now cast a friendly look at the brightly shining planet.

By the way, European technology had held its own splendidly until the very end. For weeks Europe had taken precautions and tenaciously resisted the gradually rising waters. First, it was through gigantic dams that millions of prisoners of war had built, then through artificial structures that were erected with astonishing rapidity. At the beginning they had looked like gigantic terraces, but they culminated more and more into towers. The human sense of the heroic emanated from these towers, and they stood the test with touching steadfastness until the end. While Europe and the rest of the world were swamped, the spotlights still glistened from the last of the projecting towers, dazzling and unperturbed through the damp dusk of the sinking earth, and shells soared out of the cannons, back and forth, forming elegant arches. Two days before the end, the leaders of the middle powers decided to make a peace offer to their enemies through signals of light. However, their enemies demanded the immediate evacuation of the fortified towers that were still standing, and not even the most resolute friends of peace could declare themselves ready to do that. Therefore both sides kept shooting heroically to the very last hour.

Then the entire world became submerged. The only surviving European drifted on a lifeboat in the flood and used all his energy to write down the events of the final days, so that a later humanity would know that it had been his fatherland that had outlasted its final enemies by hours and had thus secured the victory laurels for itself.

All of a sudden a ponderous vessel, black and gigantic, appeared on the gray horizon and gradually approached the exhausted man. Before he fainted, he had the satisfaction of recognizing the ancient patriarch, with his wavy silver beard, standing on board the houseboat. Then a tremendous black African fished the drifting man out of the water. He was still alive and regained consciousness. The patriarch gave him a friendly smile. His work had been successful: One type of each of the species living on earth had been saved.

While the ark sailed gently with the wind and waited for the muddy water to settle, life became merry and gay on board. Large fish followed the boat in dense schools. Birds and insects sprawled in lively, dreamlike flocks over the roof Every animal and every human rejoiced fervently at having been saved and chosen for a new life. The colorful peacock screeched its morning call shrilly and clearly over the water. The elephant laughed and sprayed a bath for himself and his wife, with his trunk raised high. The lizard sat glittering in the sunny joists. The Indian fetched sparkling fish out of the endless flood with a quick thrust of his spear. The African rubbed fire on the hearth out of dry wood and slapped his fat wife on her clapping thighs in rhythmic beats. The Hindu stood lean and stiff with folded arms and murmured ancient verses to himself from songs about the creation of the world. The Eskimo lay steaming in the sun and perspired, laughing out of small eyes, water and fat dripping from him, while a good-natured tapir sniffed him. And the small Chinaman had carved a thin stick that he carefully balanced first on his nose and then on his chin. The European used his writing materials to make an inventory of the present living creatures.

Groups and friendships were formed, and whenever a quarrel was about to erupt, the patriarch settled it with a wave of his hand. Everyone was gregarious and happy. The only one who kept to himself was the European, who occupied himself with his writing.

Soon the multicolored people and animals thought up a new kind of game or tournament in which they would compete and demonstrate their abilities and talents. Each one wanted to be first, and the patriarch had to arrange everything. He separated the large and small animals, and then he set apart the people, and they all had to register and name the feat that they thought they could best accomplish. Then each one took a turn.

This splendid tournament lasted many days since each group would frequently interrupt its game and run off to watch another group. And every marvelous performance was loudly applauded by the spectators. How many wonderful things there were to see! All of God’s creatures displayed their latent talents. The richness of life revealed itself. How they laughed, applauded, crowed, clapped, stamped, and neighed!

The weasel ran wonderfully, and the lark sang enchantingly. The puffed-up turkey marched splendidly, while the squirrel was incredibly nimble in climbing. The mandrill imitated the Malayan, and the baboon, the mandrill. Runners and climbers, swimmers and pilots competed tirelessly, and they were all unbeatable in their way and were given due recognition. There were animals that employed magic to perform wonders, and animals that could make themselves invisible. Many distinguished themselves through their strength; many through cunning; many through attack; many through defense. Insects could protect themselves by looking like grass, wood, moss, or stone, and others among the weak drew applause and caused the laughing spectators to flee horrible odors. Nobody was left out. Nobody was without talent. Birds’ nests were woven, pasted, entwined, walled up. Predatory birds could detect the tiniest thing from scary heights.

And even the humans did their things in a superb way: The big African ran easily and effortlessly on a high beam. The Malayan made a rudder with three twists of a palm leaf and steered and turned on a tiny plank. That was worth watching. The Indian hit the smallest target with a light arrow, and his wife wove a mat out of two kinds of flax, which drew great admiration. Everyone was silent for a long time and stared as the Hindu appeared and did some magic tricks. Then the Chinaman demonstrated how one could triple the wheat harvest through hard work by pulling out the very young plants and then planting them in the same intermediate spaces.

The European, who was not very popular, had aroused the resentment of his kin many times because he found fault with them and judged them with harsh condescension. When the Indian shot down a bird from up high in the blue sky, the white man had shrugged and asserted that one could shoot three times as high with twenty grams of dynamite! And when the people challenged him to prove it, he had not been able to do it, but he responded, of course, that if he had this and that and some ten other things, he could certainly do it. He had also mocked the Chinaman and said the replanting of young wheat could certainly be accomplished through endless hard work, but such slavish work would definitely not make people happy. The Chinaman, however, had been roundly applauded when he maintained that people are happy when they have something to eat and pay their respects to God. Here, too, the European had simply laughed and sneered.

The merry tournament continued, and in the end all the humans and animals revealed their talents and artistic abilities. The impression they left was great and joyful. Even the patriarch laughed into his beard and said praisingly, “May the water subside and may a new life begin on this earth, for each colorful thread in God’s robe is still present, and nothing is lacking for the foundation of infinite happiness on earth,”

The only one who had not performed a feat was the European, and now all the others insisted strongly that he step up and do his own thing, so that they all could see whether he, too, had a valid claim to breathe God’s beautiful air and sail in the patriarch’s ark.

The man refused to do anything for a long time and searched for excuses. But then Noah himself placed his finger on his chest and warned him that he had better obey.

“I, too,” the white man began, “I, too, have developed a talent with great proficiency and have practiced it. My eyes are not as good as those of other creatures, nor my ears, nose, or hands. My talent is of a higher kind. My gift is the intellect.”

“Show us!” the African cried out, and everyone crowded around the European.

“There is nothing to show,” the white man said calmly. “You have not really understood me. My mind is what distinguishes me from others.”

The African laughed cheerfully and displayed snow-white teeth. The Hindu curled his lips with sarcasm. The Chinaman smiled cleverly and good-naturedly to himself.

“Your mind?” he said slowly. “Well then, please show us your mind. Up to now you haven’t shown a thing.”

“There is nothing to be seen,” the European retorted gruffly, in self-defense. “My gift and uniqueness consist in this: I store images of the external world in my head, and out of them I am able to produce new images and arrangements only for myself. I can conceive the entire world in my mind. That is, I can create it anew.”

Noah placed his hand over his eyes.

“Permit me,” he said slowly, “but what good is all this? To create the world again that God already created, and entirely for yourself alone inside your head — what use is this?”

Everyone applauded and erupted with questions.

“Wait!” shouted the European. “You really don’t understand me. You cannot show the work of the mind so easily as you can show any kind of manual dexterity.”

The Hindu smiled.

“Oh yes, you can, my white cousin. Yes, you can. Show us just once the work of your mind. For instance, let us try addition. Let us have a contest to see who can add better! For instance: A couple has three children, of which each one marries and has a family. Each of the young couples has a child every year. How many years must pass before they have one hundred children in all?”

Everyone listened with curiosity. They began to count frantically on their fingers. The European began to calculate. But one moment later the Chinaman announced that he had found the solution.

“Well done,” the white man admitted, “but those things involve mere adroitness. My mind is not to be used for such clever tricks but to solve great problems on which the happiness of humankind depends”

“Oh, that pleases me,” Noah encouraged him. “It is certainly better than all the other skills if you can use your mind to find happiness for humankind. You are right. Tell us quickly what you have to teach us about human happiness. We’ll all be grateful to you.”

Captivated and breathless, everyone waited for the white man to open his mouth. Now it came. He would be revered if he could demonstrate how human happiness could be attained. They would forget every nasty word they had said about him, for he would be such a wizard! Why should he need the art and skill of the eye, ear, and hand? Why should he need hard work and addition if he knew such other things!

The European, who until now had displayed an arrogant countenance, gradually became embarrassed when he was faced with all this reverential curiosity.

“Its not my fault,” he said hesitatingly, “but you still don’t understand me! I didn’t say that I know the secret of happiness. I only said that my mind works on problems whose solutions foster the happiness of humankind. It will take a long time before that can be accomplished, and neither you nor I will ever see the results. Many generations will brood about these difficult questions for years to come!”

The people stood wavering and distrustful. What was the man saying? Even Noah looked to the side and knit his brow.

The Hindu smiled at the Chinaman, and when all the rest were uncomfortably silent, the Chinaman said in a friendly manner, “My dear brothers, our white cousin is a buffoon. He wants to tell us that work happens in our heads, and that the results will perhaps only be seen at one time by the great-grandchildren of our greatgrandchildren. I propose that we acknowledge him as a buffoon. He tells us things that we really can’t understand, but we all sense that these things, if we were really to understand them, would provide us with the opportunity to laugh ad infinitum. Don’t you also feel that way? Good, then three cheers for our buffoon!”

Most of them agreed and were happy to see this irritating story brought to an end. However, some were angry and disturbed, and the European remained standing alone, without any consolation.

That evening, the African went with the Eskimo, the Indian, and the Malayan to the patriarch and spoke as follows: “Honored father, we have a question that we’d like to address to you. We don’t like this white fellow who made fun of us today. I ask you to think about it: All the human beings and animals, each and every bear and flea, pheasant and dung beetle and every sort of human, we have all had something to show with which we have honored God and protected, elevated, or adorned our lives. We have seen marvelous talents, and many were laughable. But each tiny animal at least demonstrated something gratifying and nice, while the pale man, who was the last to be fished from the water, had nothing to give but peculiar and haughty words, insinuations, and jokes that nobody understands. Nor did he provide any pleasure. Therefore we ask you, dear father, whether it is right in any way that such a creature should be allowed to help establish a new life on this dear earth. Couldn’t that lead to disaster? Just look at him. His eyes are turgid, his brow is full of furrows, his hands are pale and weak, his face looks sinister and sad. There is never a bright sound when he speaks. There is certainly something wrong with him. God only knows who sent this fellow to our ark!”

The wise patriarch lifted his clear eyes in a friendly way to the questioners.

“Children,” he said softly and full of kindness so that their demeanor immediately became brighter, “dear children! You are right, and yet you are also wrong! Indeed, God has already given His answer before you even asked your question. Of course, I must agree with you — the man from the land of war is not a very pleasant guest, and it is difficult to grasp why such odd people must be here. But God, who created this species at one time, certainly knows why He did it. You all have a great deal to forgive these white men. They are the ones who ruined our poor earth and made it into a criminal court once again. But look, God has given a sign of what He has in mind for the white man. You all, you Africans and you Eskimos and you Indians, you all have your dear wives with you for the new life on earth that we hope to begin soon. Only the man from Europe is alone. I was sad about this for a long time, but now I believe I surmise the meaning in this. This man has been preserved for us as a warning and motivation, perhaps as a ghost. However, he cannot propagate himself, unless he is to dip into the stream of multicolored humankind. He will not be allowed to ruin your lives on the new earth. Rest assured!”

Night fell, and the next morning the small and sharp peak of the holy mountain could be seen above the water in the east.

Назад: If the War Continues (1917)
Дальше: The Empire (1918)

In original, the line: "Every phenomenon on earth is symbolic, and each symbol is an open gate(...)" sounds: "Jede Erscheinung auf Erden ist ein Gleichnis und jedes Gleichnis ist ein offenes Tor geschwächt ist die Seele wenn sie bereit ist in das innere der Welt zu geben vermag Foto und ich und Tag und Nacht alles eines sind." which indicates that "parable" ("Gleichnis") is a better word that "symbol". So it should be: "Every phenomenon on earth is a parable and every parable is an open gate(...)"