Total Surrender

The Sublime Surrender of Herman Hesse

3. Total Surrender

The concluding sequence of Klein and Wagner is a climactic spiritual experience of Supernal degree. One of its features is a high indifference to all the positive and negative opposites of existence. As he slowly sinks drowning, Klein realizes that it wasn’t necessary after all to kill himself ~ but it no longer matters, it makes no difference whether he chooses to live or die. This was surely an illumination attained by the author himself ~ he simply made the opposite choice from that of his protagonist, and thus lived to tell us the tale. His rendering is so artful and enlightening that the best we can do is quote the relevant passages verbatim, and save the analysis for a following chapter:

He let himself drop from the side of the boat with his whole volition, with complete renunciation of all volition, with total surrender, dropping into the maternal womb, into the arms of God. It was all so simple, all so wonderfully easy, after all; there were no longer any abysses, any difficulties. The whole trick was to let yourself go. Once you did that, once you had given up, yielded, surrendered, renounced all props and all firm ground underfoot, then everything was good, there was no longer any dread, no longer any danger.

This was achieved, this great thing, this only thing: he had let himself fall. That he was letting himself fall into water and into death would not have been necessary; he could just as well have let himself fall into life. But that did not matter much, was not important. He would live, he would come again. But then he would no longer need suicide or any of these strange detours, any of these toilsome and painful follies, for then he would have overcome the dread.

A life without dread! That was bliss, that was redemption. How he had suffered from dread all his life, and now, when death already had him by the throat, he no longer felt it, no dread, no horror, only smiles, release, consent. He suddenly knew what dread was, and that it could be overcome only by one who recognized it. You dreaded a thousand things, pain, judgment, your own heart. You felt dread of sleep, dread of awakening, of being alone, of cold, of madness, of death ~ especially of that, of death. But all these were only masks and disguises. In reality there was only one thing you dreaded: letting yourself fall, taking the step into uncertainty, the little step beyond all securities that existed. And whoever had once surrendered himself, one single time, whoever had practiced the great act of confidence and entrusted himself to fate, was liberated. He no longer obeyed the laws of earth; he had fallen into space and swung along in the dance of the constellations. That was it. It was so simple. Every child could understand that, could know that.

He saw the creation of the world and saw the downfall of the world, like two armies moving in opposite directions, never stopping, eternally on the march. All life was a breath exhaled by God. All dying was a breath inhaled by God. One who had learned not to resist, to let himself go, died easily, was born easily. One who resisted, who suffered dread, died hard, was born reluctantly.

Cosmic Streams

The drowning man saw the drama of the world: suns and stars rolled up, rolled down; choirs of men and animals, spirits and angels, stood facing one another, sang, fell silent, shouted; processions of living beings marched toward one another, each misunderstanding himself, hating himself, and hating and persecuting himself in every other being. All of them yearned for death, for peace; their goal was God, was the return to God and remaining in God. This goal created dread, for it was an error. There was no remaining in God, there was no peace. There was only the eternal, glorious, holy being exhaled and inhaled, assuming form and being dissolved, birth and death, exodus and return, without pause, without end. And therefore there was only one art, only one teaching, only one secret: to let yourself fall, not to resist God’s will, to cling to nothing, neither to good nor to evil. Then you were redeemed, then you were free of suffering, free of dread ~ only then….

There was not a thing in the world that was not just as beautiful, just as desirable, just as joyous, as its opposite. It was blissful to live, it was blissful to die, as soon as you hung suspended alone in space….

Now that he was dying the death he had feared, it was so easy, so simple, was joy and triumph. Nothing in the world need be feared, nothing was terrible ~ only in our delusions do we create all this fear, all this suffering for ourselves, only in our own frightened souls do good and evil, worth and worthlessness, craving and fear arise….

The universal stream of forms flowed on, the forms inhaled by God and the other, the contrary forms that he breathed out. Klein saw those who opposed the current, who reared up in fearful convulsions and created horrible tortures for themselves: heroes, criminals, madmen, thinkers, lovers, religious. He saw others like himself being carried along swiftly and easily, in the deep voluptuousness of yielding, of consent. Blessed like himself. Out of the song of the blessed and out of the endless cries of torment from the unblessed there rose over both universal streams a transparent sphere or dome of sound, a cathedral of music. In its midst sat God, a bright star, invisible from sheer brightness, the quintessence of light, with the music of the universal choirs roaring around in eternal surges.

Heroes and thinkers emerged from the universal stream, prophets. “Behold, this is God the Lord and his way leads to peace,” one of them cried, and many followed him. Another proclaimed that God’s path led to struggle and war. One called him light, one night, one father, one mother. One praised him as tranquility, one as movement, as fire, as fuel, as judge, as comforter, as creator, as destroyer, as forgiver, as avenger. God himself did not call himself anything. He wanted to be called, wanted to be loved, wanted to be praised, cursed, hated, worshipped, for the music of the universal choirs was his temple and was his life ~ but he did not care what names were used to hail him, whether he was loved or hated, whether men sought rest or sleep or dance and furor in him. Everyone could seek, everyone could find.

In the last passage of the story, Klein finds his own voice and sings God’s praise ~ he sings resoundingly, and thus becomes a prophet and proclaimer. He must already be passing into the afterworld, since his lungs are full of water ~ or passing into identity with his creator, Hermann Hesse.

Next: What Does It All Mean?

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4 thoughts on “Total Surrender

  1. Pingback: The Sublime Surrender of Hermann Hesse | The Kin of Aries

  2. Die ganze Kunst war: sich fallen lassen […] Hatte man das einmal getan, hatte man einmal sich dahingegeben, sich anheimgestellt, sich ergeben, hatte man einmal auf alle Stützen und jeden festen Boden unter sich verzichtet, hörte man ganz und gar nur noch auf den Führer im eigenen Herzen, dann war alles gewonnen, dann war alles gut, keine Angst mehr, keine Gefahr mehr.

    • Greetings. This is evidently the German original for the lines translated above as:
      “The whole trick was to let yourself go. Once you did that, once you had given up, yielded, surrendered, renounced all props and all firm ground underfoot, then everything was good, there was no longer any dread, no longer any danger.”

      I’m not sure what your point is in quoting this. Evidently it’s a passage you especially like, but perhaps you’d care to comment on it and tell us your own view.

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