Hesse: Cheerful Serenity

An excerpt from The Glass Bead Game (Magister Ludi):

I would like to say something more to you about cheerful serenity, the serenity of the stars and of the mind…

You are averse to serenity, presumably because you have had to walk the ways of sadness, and now all brightness and good cheer strikes you as shallow and childish, and cowardly to boot, a flight from the terrors and abysses of reality into a clear, well-ordered world of mere forms and formulas, mere abstractions and refinements.

But, my dear devotee of sadness, even though for some this may well be a flight, even if the majority among us were in fact of this sort–all this would not lessen the value and splendor of genuine serenity, the serenity of the sky and the mind. Granted there are those among us who are too easily satisfied, who enjoy a sham serenity; but in contrast to them we also have men and generations of men whose serenity is not playful shallowness, but earnest depth.

To achieve this cheerful serenity is to me, and to many others, the finest and highest of goals. Such cheerfulness is neither frivolity nor complacency; it is supreme insight and love, affirmation of all reality, alertness on the brink of all depths and abysses; it is a virtue of saints and of knights; it is indestructible and only increases with age and nearness to death. It is the secret of beauty and the real substance of all art. The poet who praises the splendors and terrors of life in the dance-measures of his verse, the musician who sounds them in a pure, eternal present–these are bringers of light, increasers of joy and brightness on earth, even if they lead us first through tears and stress.

Perhaps the poet whose verses gladden us was a sad solitary, and the musician was a melancholy dreamer; but even so their work shares in the cheerful serenity of the gods and the stars. What they give us is no longer their darkness, their suffering or fears, but a drop of pure light, eternal cheerfulness…

This kind of cheerful serenity is what I have been concerned with ever since I began dimly to sense its meaning during my student days, and I shall never again relinquish it, not even in unhappiness and suffering.

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