I’ve been doing close readings of Herman Hesse’s poems and Sonya Hartnett’s The Ghost’s Child.
I love Herman Hesse’s work and admire him as an artist and human being. I identify with his search for knowledge and transcendence, his personal struggles, his independent spirit, and his aesthetic philosophy:
“For Hesse, art — the ultimate self-fulfillment — meant connecting with a profound, essential feeling associated with “home.” But this home was not the home of his parents. Home was something intangible that was linked to aesthetic intuition and nurturing maternalism but was unique to each individual. It was both a return and a moving forward at the same time, and it could be attained only through art, through the artful formation of the self.” –Jack Zipes from “Herman Hesse’s Fairy Tales and the Pursuit of Home”
The collection of poems I’ve been studying deal with the theme of homesickness (the longing for that personal, intangible, beautiful place [often associated with childhood] where we can feel we are truly ourselves). I love the simplicity of Hesse’s poems — they match the way I’d like my work to be: simple, beautiful, and profound.
Here’s one of his poems:
My farthest valley, you are,
Bewitched and vanished.
Many times, in my grief and agony,
You have beckoned upward to me from your country of shadows
And opened your legendary eyes
Till I, lost in a quick illusion,
Lost myself to you wholly.
O dark gate,
O dark hour of death,
So I can recover from this life’s emptiness
And go home to my own dreams.
Sonya Hartnett’s writing is often dark and heartbreaking, but also exultantly poetic. The premise of The Ghost’s Child is simple: An old woman entertains an unexpected young visitor, narrates her life story, and dies. The narrative, however, is lush and poignant, at times fantastical and surreal, and hauntingly symbolic and profound. And Hartnett’s use of literary devices (especially imagery and figurative language) is mesmerizing.
Notice the use of imagery and the characterization (what the characters think, do, and say) in the following excerpt:
It happened on a day like most others. She hadn’t known Feather for very long, although it seemed a long time, and she wished it was. Maddy had stepped onto the beach unseen, as she had done many times before. Feather was sitting on the sand and considering the clouds, as she’d seen him do so often. Apart from his hair jinking on the breeze, he sat as still as stone. The ocean itself, with its succession of waves, seemed more likely to stand up and walk than did he. Maddy paused in the shadows, not wanting to disturb him — longing, at the same time, to run to him, fall against him, hold his wrists very tightly, bite her fingernails into him. A fleck appeared in the blue distance, catching her eye; as it drew near, the fleck became a petrel. Maddy watched the bird come closer and closer until finally it swooped steeply to the ground and skipped across the sand to Feather. In its beak it held a wan sardine. Feather thanked the bird, took the fish between his fingers, and swallowed the sardine in a gulp.
Maddy gasped. She knew then that she would certainly die without him. Hearing her, Feather looked around. He was not always a gentleman, so he didn’t stand. His gray eyes squinted, he shaded them with a hand, and when he saw her he smiled. “Hello,” he said. “I was hoping you would come.”
She crossed the sand and knelt beside him. “Have you missed me?”
“Yes,” he admitted, “but not much.”
And here are a few examples of her creative use of figurative language:
“She was like a piece of glass that has been tossed in water for a long time: mysterious but simple, without sharp edges, and not as fragile as it looks.”
“Maddy saw that people were pleased to receive Papa’s attention — pleased, and also alarmed, like children noticed by a nun.”
“Mama seemed to teeter forever on the crumbly threshold of fury.”
But what I like most about Hartnett’s writing are the same things I like most about Hesse’s and my other mentors’ work: its simplicity, beauty, and profoundness. I’m making those my three guiding lights.
I end today’s post with the ending of The Ghost’s Child:
Matilda turned to the boy, who stood by the door. “Is it peaceful, where we are going?”
She held her breath waiting for his answer.
The boy said, “Only if you want it to be.”
Beyond the door, very oddly, was an emerald ocean and a blue sky. A wooden boat bobbed on the water, and Matilda and the boy stepped into it. Matilda looked back to the little dog who lingered behind, uncertain if he had been invited. “Come on, Peake,” she said, and he ran to her, springing into the boat. The boy hauled up the anchor and Matilda hoisted the sails; the slim boat caught the billowing breeze, jumped the ripples of frothy green waves, and was away.