Martin’s Dream

For a time, during the First World War, Hermann Hesse was involved in a project with the Waldorf Astoria Cigarette Factory in Germany. This project was to provide classic German literature and poetry in mini-format in every cigarette box that went out to soldiers at the Front. The factory also had an in-house journal, and in 1919 this story appeared:

On the second day of his illness, three days before his death, the student Martin had the following dream, while his fever was already rising —

Martin’s father laid a heavy hand on Martin’s shoulder and said,”I understand quite well that you can not learn much more from us. You must become a great, and a good man and win special good fortune for yourself; this cannot be found in the nest. Now you must climb the mountain of knowledge, and then you must perform deeds, and find love and become happy.”

While the father spoke these words his beard seemed to grow longer and his eyes large. For a moment, he looked like a handsome ancient king. Then, he gave his son a kiss on the forehead and told him to go.

The son went down a broad festive staircase, and as he was about to leave the city, he met his mother who called, “Martin, are you leaving without even bidding me adieu?” He looked at her and was embarrassed to admit that she was long since dead; but now he saw her, alive, right in front of him, more beautiful and younger than he remembered. Indeed, she seemed like a young girl so that he blushed and had a curious sensation as she kissed him. He did not dare kiss her back. She looked into his eyes with a bright blue gaze, which remained like a light within him. Then she nodded to him as he quickly left in confusion.

On the outskirts of the city he found ocean and harbor instead of the country road. The brownish sails of a large old-fashioned ship with dragon bow, were raised high into the golden sky. It was like his favorite picture by Claude Lorrain. He soon took passage on the ship for the mountain of knowledge.

Yet soon ship and golden sky disappeared from view. All things appeared thinner and finer, consisting of a more spiritual material, and after a while Martin found himself far from home, walking along a country road toward a mountain that glowed from afar in the red sunset. He seemed not to move however long he walked. Luckily Professor Seidler was beside him. He said in a fatherly way, “Here no other advice will do except ablativus absolutus, only by using this will you suddenly come into medias res!: He obeyed. Immediately an ablativus absolutus came to him which somehow combined his whole own past with that of the world, so thoroughly that all became light, full of the present and the future. And with this suddenly he stood on top of the mountain, Professor Seidler stood there too. He addressed Martin in familiar terms, telling him that he was really his father, and he became more and more like his father, so that the love for the father became one with the love of the teacher and of knowledge. This love became stronger and more radiant and while he sat and reflected, full of astonishment at the growing awareness, his spiritual father beside him said, “Now look around you.” Round about, there was an unspeakable clarity. All was in best order and clear as the sun. He understood completely why his mother had died and yet still lived. He understood in innermost detail why people are so different in looks, usage and language, and yet are one, and the closest of brothers and sisters. He understood so well need, suffering, and ugliness as necessities and the will of God. These things become beautiful and full of light, and speak loudly of the order and joy in the world. And before he was quite clear about it, that he had now been to the mountain of knowledge and had become wise, he felt himself called to do a deed. And although for two years he had pondered about different careers and never decided upon one, he now knew precisely and surely that he was a builder. It was sublime to know that without even the smallest doubt.

White and gray stones, beams and machines lay about. Many people stood, not knowing what to do; Martin directed them with his hands. They needed no further explanation. He held plans in his hand and simply had to point and gesture. They were happy to work at a task that made sense; they carried stones and pushed barrows, raised beams and carved, and in every hand and every eye Martin’s will was active.

The house was built and became a palace with courtyards and arched windows, bespeaking a self-evident, simple, joyful beauty. It was obvious that only a few such buildings as this palace would have to be built for the suffering and need, the dissatisfaction and upset to vanish from the earth. When the structure was complete, tiredness overcame Martin and he no longer paid exact attention to everything. He heard a kind of music and festivity around him and earnestly, with strange satisfaction, gave himself over to a deep, lovely fatigue. His awareness only came back when his mother again stood before him. She took him by the hand. Then he knew that she now wished to go into the so-called land of love with him, and he became quiet and expectant, forgetting everything he had already experienced and done on this journey.

Only the mountain of knowledge and his palace shone brightly into the depths of his purified conscience.
The mother smiled and held him by the hand; she led him down the mountain and into an evening landscape. Her dress was blue and while walking she disappeared from of his sight. What had been her blue dress was now the blue of the far valley. He realized this, and no longer knew whether his mother had really been there or not. He became sad. Sitting down in the meadow he began to weep, not with pain but earnestly absorbed, just as he had been full of creative urge while building and been full of tiredness while resting. In his tears he felt that now the greatest sweetness a person could experience would approach him, and when he tried to think about it he knew well that it was love, but couldn’t quite imagine it. He ended with the feeling that love was like death, a fulfillment, and an evening upon which nothing else must follow.

Before thinking this through everything changed again. In the valley an exquisite music played and Theresa, a girl from his city, came walking across the meadow. He suddenly knew that he had always loved her. She had the same face as always, but wore a simple, noble, dignified dress like a Greek. No sooner had she come then it became night and nothing more was to be seen except for large, bright stars.

The girl stopped in front of Martin and smiled. “So, are you here,” she asked in a friendly tone as though she had been expecting him. “Yes,” he said, “My mother showed me the way. I am now done with everything including the big house which I had to build. You must live in it.” She merely smiled and looked almost motherly, knowledgeable with a touch of sadness, like the adults. “What shall I do now?” asked Martin and he laid his hands on the shoulders of the girl. She bent towards him, looking so closely into his eyes that he became somewhat frightened. Now he saw nothing but her large, quiet eyes and many stars, high above in a golden mist. His heart beat wildly and pained him.

The beautiful girl laid her mouth on Martin’s mouth, and as his being melted and his will parted from him, the stars in the blue darkness above began to resound. Martin felt that now he was tasting love and death and the sweetest thing a person could experience. He heard the world around him sound with dance music and it flowed. Without taking his lips from those of the girl and without longer desiring anything from the world, he felt together they, with everything else were taken along with the star dance. He closed his eyes and in a gentle faint, flew down a resounding, forever preordained road, in which no further knowledge, no further deed and nothing earthly could remain.

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Written by Hermann Hesse

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