Thursday, February 03, 2011

Trees - The Most Effective Preachers

Trees have always been the most effective preachers for me.  I revere them when they live in nations and families, in forests and groves.  And I revere them even more when they stand singly.  They are like solitaries.  Not like hermits who have stolen away out of some weakness, but like great, isolated men, like Beethoven and Nietzsche.  The world murmurs in their tops, their roots rest in the infinite; however, they do not lose themselves in it but, with all the energy of their lives, aspire to only one thing:  to fulfill their own innate law, to enlarge their own form, to represent themselves.

Nothing is more sacred, nothing is more exemplary than a beautiful, strong tree.  When a tree has been sawed off and shows its naked mortal wound to the sun, one can read its whole history on the bright disc of its stump and tombstone:  in its annual rings and cicatrizations are faithfully recorded all struggle, all suffering, all sickness, all fortune and prosperity, meager years and luxuriant years, attacks withstood, storms survived.  And every farm boy knows that the hardest and noblest wood has the narrowest rings, that, high in the mountains and in ever-present danger, the most indestructible, most powerful, most exemplary tree trunks grow.


Trees are sanctuaries.  He who knows how to speak to them, to listen to them, learns the truth.  They do not preach doctrines and recipes, they preach the basic law of life, heedless of details.

A tree speaks:  In me is hidden a core, a spark, a thought, I am life of eternal life.  The experiment and throw [of the dice] that the eternal mother ventured on me is unique, unique is my shape and the system of veins in my skin, unique are the slightest play of foliage at my top and the smallest scar in my bark.  It is my office to shape and show the Eternal in the distinctively unique.  


A tree speaks:  My strength is trust.  I know nothing of my fathers, I know nothing of the thousand children which come out of me every year.  I live the mystery of my seed to the end, nothing else is my concern.  I trust that God is within me.  I trust that my task is sacred.  In this trust I live.

When we are sad and can no longer endure life well, a tree can speak to us:  Be calm!  Be calm! Look at me! Life is not easy, life is hard.  These are childish thoughts.  Let God talk within you and they will grow silent.  You are anxious because your road leads you away from your mother and your home.  But every step and day lead you anew to your mother.  Home is neither here nor there.  Home is inside you or nowhere.


A yearning to wander tears at my heart when I hear trees rustling in the wind in the evening.  If one listens quietly and long, the wanderlust too shows its core and meaning.  It is not a wish to run away from suffering, as it seemed.  It is a yearning for home, for the memory of one's mother, for new symbols of life.  It leadshomeward.  Every road leads homeward, every step is birth, every step is death, every grave is the mother. 


Thus the tree rustles in the evening when we are afraid of our own childish thoughts.  Trees have long thoughts, long in breath and calm, as they have a longer life than we.  They are wiser than we, as long as we do not listen to them.  But when we have learned to listen to trees, the very brevity and swiftness and childish haste of our thoughts acquire an incomparable joy.  He who has learned to listen to trees no longer desires to be a tree.  He does not desire to be anything but that which he is.  That is home.  That is happiness.

by Hermann Hesse from Wanderings:  Notes and Sketches

Translation from First German Reader:  A Beginner's Dual-Language Book, edited by Harry Steinhauer, page 12-17.  Bantam Language Edition published 1964, 6th printing.  Library of Congress Catalog Card Number:  64-7673.

2 comments:

Steve said...

The summer of 1971 I spent in Augsburg, Germany as a missionary intern. One day I wandered into a book store there and purchased this book for beginning readers of German. I kept it with me all these years. Even took with me to Berlin back in 2006. This snippet from Hesse's Wanderings is something I have come back to a number of times in my life.

Derek and Catherine said...

That is just so beautiful.

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