Wanting More from Life

The Odyssey -- Homer

It is my want to experience more from life that causes me great sorrow and disappointment in what is.  And I want the same for all of mankind.  The below passage from Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hess, expresses my thoughts so finely that there is no need to recreate the idea in my own words.

“You have a picture of life within you, a faith, a challenge, and you were ready for deeds and sufferings and sacrifices, and then you became aware by degrees that the world asked no deeds and no sacrifices of you whatever, and that life is no poem of heroism with heroic parts to play and so on, but a comfortable room where people are quite content with eating and drinking, coffee and knitting, cards and wireless.  And whoever wants more and has got it in him — the heroic and the beautiful, and the reverence for the great poets or for the saints — is a fool and a Don Quixote.  Good.  And it has been just the same for me, my friend.  I was a gifted girl.  I could have been the wife of a king, the beloved of a revolutionary, the sister of a genius, the mother of a martyr.  And life has allowed me just this, to be a courtesan of fairly good taste, and even that has been hard enough.  That is how things have gone with me.  For a while I was inconsolable and for a long time I put the blame on myself.  Life, thought I, must in the end be in the right, and if life scorned my beautiful dreams, so I argued, it was my dreams that were stupid and wrong-headed.  But that did not help me at all.  And as I had good eyes and ears and was a little inquisitive too, I took a good look at this so-called life and my neighbors and acquaintances, fifty or so of them and their destinies, and then I saw you.  And I knew that my dreams had been right a thousand times over, just as yours had been.  It was life and reality that were wrong.  It was as little right that a woman like me should have no other choice than to grow old in poverty and in a senseless way at a typewriter in the pay of a money-maker, or to marry such a man for his money’s sake, or to become some kind of drudge, as for a man like you to be forced in his loneliness and despair to have recourse to a razor.  Perhaps the trouble with me was more material and moral and with you more spiritual — but it was the same road.  Do you think I can’t understand your horror of the fox trot, your dislike of bars and dancing floors, your loathing of jazz and the rest of it?  I understand it only too well, and your dislike of politics as well, your despondence over the chatter and antics of the parties and the press, your despair over the war, the one that has been and the one that is to be, over all that people nowadays think, read and build, over the music they play, the celebrations they hold, the education they carry on.  You are right, Steppenwolf, right a thousand times over, and yet you must go to the wall. You are much too exacting and hungry for this simple, easygoing and easily contented world of today.  You have a dimension too many.  Whoever wants to live and enjoy his life today must not be like you and me.  Whoever wants music instead of noise, joy instead of pleasure, soul instead of gold, creative work instead of business, passion instead of foolery, finds no home in this trivial world of ours –“

11 thoughts on “Wanting More from Life

  1. My mouth hung open upon reading this. Much of what is said here quite aptly expresses my own thoughts and feelings. This passage could be used as an explanation as to why I’ve made such significant, up-rooting changes in my life recently. It sounds silly to say that I found such a passage to a book touching, but I did as it seems there are others out there who understand the way my heart is beating. It brought to mind several quotes, such as one I posted to my Facebook yesterday: All of us failed to match our dreams of perfection. So I rate us on the basis of our splendid failure to do the impossible – William Faulkner. This is where my mind has been the last year or so, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a person becomes plagued, diseased, or obsessive when there is too much distance between their reality and their dreams. My solution to this discrepancy was to start all over anew, for I could think of no short-cut. My life is beginning to resemble nothing of what it once was. Dreams are a much harder road to travel than reality, such as T.S Eliot describes in his Hollow Men: Between the idea and the reality, between the motion and the act, falls the shadow. I found it impossible to find happiness in an existence of so many damned shadows. There’s a dissatisfaction with the world and everything in it, and a person begins to think themselves crazy because simply – what have I to compare this world to? But there’s a knowing, a deep soul-knowing, that there’s a purpose not being fulfilled, a vision beyond what most other people can see, and of which they are not even aware. It’s like living on one plane, but seeing and thinking in another and others do not comprehend your actions. I apologize, I’m rambling. Maybe now I feel as if I can console myself with the notion that I am not the only with no home here.

    If I discover within myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. – C. S. Lewis

    • What a great comment. Yes, I have just finished two works by Hesse and ready to move on to another author. He hits the nail on the head frequently in both works (Steppenwolf and Narcissus and Goldmund). And as you illustrate above, many other great authors have similar thoughts. So you are certainly not alone. It is unfortunate, however, that one needs to dig into archives to find such thoughts.

      I often wonder though, if more people don’t have such thoughts. I don’t consider myself unique in the intellect, yet I have always had these types of thoughts even in my early youth. Perhaps if more people think like this they simply don’t express it or they suppress it. Because if you try to do something about it you really begin to isolate yourself from the grid which comes with all kinds of obstacles and challenges. I have a hunch people just say it is not worth it and join the momentum and although they aren’t fulfilled or experiencing a life they want, they say to themselves that there really isn’t another viable alternative.

      I might try to get my hands on TS Elliot (Hollow Men)…that sound like a good one. Did you read it or did you just pull out that quote?

  2. Gosh and all this time I thought I was channeling the Buddha on my blog. Oh well I guess I will just keep doing instead of trying. We get up, we fall down, we get up, we fall down…it’s fun! Geez I’m annoying.

  3. Yet I feel it is not sufficient to consider “Steppenwolf” without setting it alongside “Siddhartha”, and indeed “The Glass Bead Game” if we want to get a balanced view of the matter.

  4. This is a perfect quote from Steppenwolf. It summarises everything I love about Hesse perfectly.

    Does anyone else here think that such thoughts are not very far away from Nietzsche’s nihilism? Surely, Nietzsche is far more radical, a lot more pessimistic.
    Yet, to me nihilism has always been the negation of everything that is in the world and failing to see the sense in this “everything that is” while everyone else does not even seem doubt it. It’s the desire to look beyond the obvious, the illusion of ordinary life – and this is something that I see in Hesse as well as in Nietzsche, or Tolstoy, or many others.

    Now that I think about it, I have often read books only to travel to that thought once more; discovering what it looks like in a different light, in different words.

  5. I was rambling around the Internet looking for Hesse quotes to ransack (just read steppenwolf and had way too many passages to type out manually), and have been led down a most interesting garden path with all these comments and interesting links. : )

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