Journey to the East

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Journey to the East

By Herman Hesse

Chapter Two

EACH participant in this unforgettable journey had his own ideas as to what made our faithful Leo suddenly decide to leave us in the middle of the dangerous gorge of Morbio Inferiore. It was only very much later that I began in some measure to suspect and review the circumstances and deeper significance of this occurrence. It also seemed that this apparently incidental, but in reality, extremely important event, the disappearance of Leo, was in no way an accident, but a link in that chain of events through which the eternal enemy sought to bring disaster to our undertaking. On that cool autumn morning when it was discovered that our servant Leo was missing and that all search for him remained fruitless, I was certainly not the only one who, for the first time, had a feeling of impending disaster and menacing destiny.

However, for the moment, this was the position. After we had boldly crossed half Europe and a portion of the Middle Ages, we camped in a very narrow rocky valley, a wild mountain gorge on the Italian border, and looked for the inexplicably missing Leo. The longer we looked for him and the more our hopes of finding him again dwindled during the course of the day, the more were we oppressed by the thought that it was not only the question of a popular, pleasant man amongst our servants who had either met with an accident or run away or had been captured by an enemy, but that this was the beginning of trouble, the first indication of a storm which would break over us. We spent the whole of the day, far into the twilight, searching for Leo. The whole of the gorge was explored, and while these exertions made us weary, and a feeling of hopelessness and futility grew amongst us all, it was very strange and uncanny how from hour to hour the missing servant seemed to increase in importance and our loss created difficulties. It was not only that each pilgrim, and without doubt the whole of the staff, were worried about the handsome, pleasant and willing youth, but it seemed that the more certain his loss became, the more indispensable he seemed; without Leo, his handsome face, his good humor and his songs, without his enthusiasm for our great undertaking, the undertaking itself seemed in some mysterious way to lose meaning. At least, that is how it affected me.

Despite all the strain and many minor disillusionments during the previous months of the journey, I had never had a moment of inner weakness, of serious doubt; no successful general, no bird in the swallows' flight to Egypt, could be more sure of his goal, of his mission, of the rightness of his actions and aspirations than I was on this journey. But now, in this fateful place, while I continually heard the calls and signals of our sentinels during the whole of the blue and golden October day, and awaited again and again with growing excitement the arrival of a report, only to suffer disappointment and to gaze at perplexed faces, I had feelings of sadness and doubt for the first time. The stronger these feelings became, the clearer it seemed to me that it was not only that I had lost faith in finding Leo again, but everything now seemed to become unreliable and doubtful; the value and meaning of everything was threatened: our comradeship, our faith, our vow, our Journey to the East, our whole life.

Even if I was mistaken in presuming that we all had these feelings, indeed even if I was subsequently mistaken about my own feelings and inner experiences and many things which were in reality experienced much later and erroneously attributed to that day, there still remains, despite everything, the strange fact about Leo's luggage.

Quite apart from all personal moods, this was, in fact, rather strange, fantastic, and an increasing source of worry. Even during this day in the Morbio gorge, even during our eager search for the missing man, first one man, then another missed something important, something indispensable from the luggage which could not be found anywhere. It appeared that every missing article must have been in Leo's luggage, and although Leo, like all the rest of us, had only carried the usual linen haversack on his back, just one bag amongst about thirty others, it seemed that in this one lost bag there were all the really important things which we carried with us on our journey.

And, although it is a well-known human weakness that a thing at the time we miss it has an exaggerated value and seems less dispensable than the things we have, and although the loss of many of the articles which troubled us so much in the Morbio gorge did, in fact, turn up again later, or finally did not prove so indispensable — yet, despite all this, it is unfortunately true that we did at that time, with quite justifiable alarm, confirm the loss of a whole series of extremely important things.

The further extraordinary and singular thing was this: the objects that were missing, whether they appeared again later or not, assumed their importance by degrees, and gradually all the things believed lost, which we had wrongly missed so much and to which we had mistakenly attached so much importance, turned up again in our stores. In order to express here quite clearly what was true yet altogether inexplicable, it must be said that during the course of our further journey, tools, valuables, cards and documents which were all lost seemed, to our shame, to be indispensable.

Quite frankly, it seemed as if each one of us stretched his entire imagination to persuade himself of terrible, irreplaceable losses, as if each one endeavored to conceive as lost that which was most important to him and to mourn over it; with one it was the passports, with another the maps, with another it was the Letter of Credit to the Caliph; it was this thing with one, that thing with another. And although in the end it was clear that one article after the other which was believed lost was either not lost at all or was unimportant or dispensable, there did remain one single thing that was really valuable, an inestimably important, absolutely fundamental and indispensable document that was really indisputably lost.

But now opinions were ineffectually exchanged as to whether this document, which had disappeared with the servant Leo, had really been in our luggage. There was complete agreement about the great value of this document and that its loss was irreplaceable, and yet how few of us (amongst them myself) could declare with certainty that this document had been taken with us on the journey. One man asserted that a similar document had certainly been carried in Leo's linen bag; this was not the original document at all, but naturally only a copy; others declared that it had never been intended to take either the document itself or a copy on the journey, as this would have made a mockery of the whole meaning of our journey. This led to heated arguments and further demonstrated that there were various completely conflicting opinions about the whereabouts of the original (it was immaterial whether we only had the copy and whether we had lost it or not). The document, it was declared, was deposited with the government in Kyffha¨user. No, said another, it lies buried in the urn which contains the ashes of our deceased master. Nonsense, said still another, the League document was drawn up by the master in the original characters known only to himself and it was burned with the master's corpse at his behest. Inquiries regarding the original document were meaningless, because after the master's death it was not possible for anyone to read it.

But it was certainly necessary to ascertain where the four (some said six) translations of the original document were, which were made during the master's lifetime under his supervision. It was said that Chinese, Greek, Hebrew and Latin translations existed, and they were deposited in the four old capitals. Many other opinions and views were expressed; many clung obstinately to them, others were convinced first by one then by another opposing argument, and then soon changed their minds again. In brief, from that time, certainty and unity no longer existed in our community, although the great idea still kept us together.

How well I remember those first disputes! They were something so new and unheard-of in our hitherto perfectly united League. They were conducted with respect and politeness — at least at the beginning. At first, they led neither to fierce conflicts nor personal reproaches or insults — at first, we were still an inseparable, united brotherhood throughout the world. I still hear their voices, I still see our camping ground where the first of these debates was conducted. I see the golden autumn leaves falling here and there amongst the unusually serious faces. I can see one on a knee, another lying on a hat. I listened, feeling more and more distressed and fearful, but amidst all the exchange of opinions I was inwardly quite sure of my belief, sadly sure; namely, that the original, genuine document had been in Leo's bag, and that it had disappeared and was lost with him. However gloomy this belief might be, still it was a belief. It was a firm one and gave me a feeling of certainty. At that time I truly thought that I would willingly exchange this belief for a more hopeful one. Only later, when I had lost this sad belief and was susceptible to all and sundry opinions, did I realize what I had possessed in my belief.

I see that the tale cannot be told in this way. But how can it be told, this tale of a unique journey, of a unique communion of minds, of such a wonderfully exalted and spiritual life? I should like so very much, as one of the last survivors of our community, to save some records of our great cause. I feel like the old surviving servant of perhaps one of the Paladins of Charles the Great, who recalls a stirring series of deeds and wonders, the images and memories of which will disappear with him if he is not successful in passing some of them on to posterity by means of word or picture, tale or song.

But through what expedient is it possible to tell the story of the Journey to the East? I do not know. Already this first endeavor, this attempt begun with the best intentions, leads me into the boundless and incomprehensible. I simply wanted to try to depict what has remained in my memory of the course of events and individual details of our Journey to the East. Nothing seemed more simple. And now, when I have hardly related anything, I am brought to a halt by a single small episode which I had not originally thought of at all, the episode of Leo's disappearance. Instead of a fabric, I hold in my hands a bundle of a thousand knotted threads which would occupy hundreds of hands for years to disentangle and straighten out, even if every thread did not become terribly brittle and break between the fingers as soon as it is handled and gently drawn.

I imagine that every historian is similarly affected when he begins to record the events of some period and wishes to portray them sincerely. Where is the center of events, the common standpoint around which they revolve, and which gives them cohesion? In order that something like cohesion, something like causality, that some kind of meaning might ensue and that it can in some way be narrated, the historian must invent units, a hero, a nation, an idea, and he must allow to happen to this invented unit what has in reality happened to the nameless.

If it is so difficult to relate connectedly a number of events which have really taken place and have been attested, it is in my case much more difficult, for everything becomes questionable as soon as I consider it closely, everything slips away and dissolves, just as our community, the strongest in the world, has been able to dissolve. There is no unit, no center, no point around which the wheel resolves.

Our Journey to the East and our League, the basis of our community, has been the most important thing, indeed the only important thing in my life, compared with which my own individual life has appeared completely unimportant. And now that I want to hold fast to and describe this most important thing, or at least something of it, everything is only a mass of separate fragmentary pictures which has been reflected in something, and this something is myself, and this self, this mirror, whenever I have gazed into it, has proved to be nothing but the uppermost surface of a glass plane. I put my pen away with the sincere intention and hope of continuing tomorrow or some other time, or rather to begin anew, but at the back of my intention and hope, at the back of my really tremendous urge to relate our story, there remains a dreadful doubt. It is the doubt that arose during the search for Leo in the valley of Morbio. This doubt does not only ask the question, "Is your story capable of being told?" It also asks the question, "Was it possible to experience it?" We recall examples of participants in the World War who, although by no means short of facts and attested stories, must at times have entertained the same doubts.

 

 

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