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The Perfect Mate
Iris and Anselm
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Editor's note: The following short-story Iris is part of The Fairy Tales of Hermann Hesse (1918).
During the spring of his childhood, Anselm used to run joyfully in the green garden. One of his mother’s flowers was called the blue flag, and he was especially fond of it. He used to press his cheek against its tall bright green leaves, touch and feel its sharp points with his fingers, and smell and inhale its wonderful blossoms. Long rows of yellow fingers rose from the pale blue center and stood erect. Between them a light path ran deep down into the calyx and into the distant blue mystery of the blossom.
He loved this flower very much and used to stare inside it for moments on end. At times he envisioned the delicate yellow members like a golden fence standing at a king’s garden, and at other times they looked like a double row of beautiful dream trees, and no wind could sway them. The mysterious path into the inner depths ran between them, interlaced with living veins that were as delicate as glass. The vault spread itself out enormously, and the path lost itself infinitely deep between the golden trees in the caverns. Above the path the violet vault bowed majestically and spread thin magic shadows over the silent miracle that was anticipated. Anselm knew that this was the mouth of the flower, that its heart and its thoughts lived behind the splendid yellow protrusions in the blue cavern, and that its breath and its dreams streamed in and out along this glorious bright path with its glassy veins.
Next to the large blooming flowers stood small blossoms that had not yet opened. They were on firm ripe stems in small chalices with brownish-green skin. The young blossoms forced themselves quietly and vigorously from these chalices, tightly wrapped in light green and lilac. Then the young deep violet managed to peer forth erect and tender, rolled into fine points. Veins and hundreds of lines could already be seen on these tightly rolled young petals.
In the morning, each time Anselm came out of the house, drawn from sleep and dreams and faraway places, the garden stood waiting for him. It was always there and always new. If yesterday there had been the hard blue point of a blossom tightly rolled and staring out of a green husk, there was now a young petal that hung thin and blue as the sky with a tongue and a lip, searching and feeling for its form and arch, about which it had been dreaming for a long time. And right at the bottom, where it was still engaged in a quiet struggle with its sheath, a delicate yellow plant with bright veins, one could sense, was preparing its path to a distant fragrant abyss of the soul. Perhaps it would open at noon, perhaps in the evening. A blue silk tent would arch over the golden dream forest, and its first dreams, thoughts, and songs would emanate silently out of the magical abyss.
Then a day would come when the grass was filled with nothing but bluebells. Then a day would come when suddenly a new tone and fragrance enveloped the garden. The first tea rose would hang, soft and golden-red, over the scarlet leaves soaked in sun. Then a day would come when there were no more blue flags. They would be gone. There would be no more path with a golden fence that led gently down into the fragrant mysteries. Stiff leaves would stand sharp and cool like strangers. But red berries would ripen in the bushes, and new, incredible butterflies would fly freely and playfully over the star-shaped flowers, red-brown butterflies with mother-of-pearl backs and hawk moths with wings like glass.
Anselm talked to the butterflies and the pebbles. The beetles and lizards were his friends. Birds told him bird stories. Ferns showed him secretly the brown seeds they had gathered and stored under the roof of the giant leaves. Pieces of green sparkling glass that caught the rays of the sun became for him palaces, gardens, and glistening treasure chambers. If the lilies were gone, then the nasturtiums bloomed. If the tea roses wilted, then the blackberries became brown. Everything fluctuated, was always there and always gone, disappeared and reappeared in its season. Even the scary strange days, when the cold wind clamored in the pine forest and the withered foliage clattered so pale and dead throughout the entire garden, even these days brought still another song, an experience, or a story with them until everything subsided again.
Snow fell outside the windows and forests of palms grew on the panes. Angels with silver bells flew through the evening, and the hall and floor smelled from dried fruit. Friendship and trust were never extinguished in that good world, and when once snowdrops unexpectedly shone next to the black ivy leaves and the first early birds flew high through new blue heights, it was as if everything had been there all the time. Until one day, once again, the first bluish point of the bud peered out from the stem of the blue flag, never expected and yet always exactly the way it had to be and always equally desired.
For Anselm, everything was beautiful. Everything was welcome, familiar, and friendly, but the most magical and blessed moment for the boy came each year when the first blue flag appeared. At one time in his earliest childhood dream, he had read the book of wonders for the first time in its chalice. Its fragrance and numerous undulating shades of blue had been for him the call and the key to the creation of the world. The blue flag accompanied him through all the years of his innocence. It had renewed itself with each new summer, had become richer in mystery and more moving. Other flowers had mouths, too. Other flowers also diffused fragrance and thoughts. Others also enticed bees and beetles into their small sweet chambers. But the boy adored the blue flag or iris more than any other flower, and it became most important for him. It was the symbol and example of everything worth contemplating and everything that was miraculous. When he looked into its chalice and, steeped in thought, followed that bright dreamlike path between the marvelous yellow shrubs toward the twilight deep inside the flower, then his soul looked through the gate where appearance becomes an enigma and seeing becomes a presentiment. Even at times during the night he would dream about the chalice of the flower and see it enormously opened in front of him like the gate of a heavenly palace, and he would enter riding on a horse or flying on swans, and the entire world would ride and fly and glide gently with him, drawn by magic down into the glorious abyss where every expectation had to be fulfilled and each presentiment had to become true.
Every phenomenon on earth is symbolic, and each symbol is an open gate through which the soul, if it is ready, can enter into the inner part of the world, where you and I and day and night are all one. Every person encounters the open door here and there in the course of life, and it occurs to everyone at one time or another that everything visible is symbolic and that spirit and eternal life are living behind the symbol. Of course, very few people go through the gate and abandon the beautiful phenomenon of the outside world for the interior reality that they intuit.
It thus appeared to the young boy Anselm that the chalice of his flower was the open, silent question toward which his soul was moving in growing anticipation of a blessed answer. Then the lovely multitude of things drew him away again, in conversations and games with grass and stones, roots, bushes, animals, and all the friendly aspects of the world. He often drifted off and sank into deep contemplation of himself. He would abandon himself to the marvelous features of his body, feel his swallowing with closed eyes, his singing, the strange sensations as he breathed, the feelings and imaginings in his mouth and throat. He also groped there for the path and the gate through which one soul can go to another. With amazement he observed the meaningful and colorful figures that often appeared to him out of the purple darkness when he closed his eyes, with spots and half circles of blue and deep red and bright glassy lines in between. Sometimes Anselm experienced a glad and shocking jolt as he felt the hundreds of intricate connections between eye and ear, smell and taste, felt for beautiful fleeting moments sounds, tones, letters of the alphabet that were related and similar to red and blue, to hard and soft, or he was amazed upon smelling a plant or peeled-off green bark at how strangely close smell and taste were and how often they fused and became one.
All children feel this way, although they do not feel it with the same intensity and sensitivity. And with many of them all of this is already gone, as if it had never existed, even before they begin to learn how to read the alphabet. For others, the mystery of childhood remains close to them for a long time, and they take a remnant and echo of it with them into the days of their white hair and weariness. All children, as long as they still live in the mystery, are continuously occupied in their souls with the only thing that is important, which is themselves and their enigmatic relationship to the world around them. Seekers and wise people return to these preoccupations as they mature. Most people, however, forget and leave forever this inner world of the truly significant very early in their lives. Like lost souls they wander about for their entire lives in the multicolored maze of worries, wishes, and goals, none of which dwells in their innermost being and none of which leads them to their innermost core and home.
The summers and autumns of Anselm’s childhood came softly and went without making a sound. Time and again the snowdrops, violets, lilies, periwinkles, and roses bloomed and withered, beautiful and sumptuous as ever. He experienced it all with them. Flowers and birds spoke to him. Trees and springs listened to him, and he took his first written letters and his first problems with friends in his customary old way to the garden, to his mother, to the bright multicolored stones alongside the flower beds.
But one time a spring arrived that did not sound or smell like all the earlier ones. The blackbird sang, and it was not the old song. The blue iris blossomed, but there were no dreams and no fairy-tale figures wandered in and out along the golden-fenced path of its chalice. The hidden strawberries laughed from their green shadows, and the butterflies glittered and tumbled over the high lilies, but nothing was as it used to be. The boy was concerned with other things, and he had many quarrels with his mother. He himself did not know what the matter was or why it continued to disturb him. He only saw that the world had changed and that the friendships of earlier times had dissolved and left him alone.
A year went by like this, and then another, and Anselm was no longer a child. The brightly colored stones around the flower beds bored him. The flowers were mute, and he stuck the beetles on pins in a box. His soul had taken the long hard detour, and the old joys were vanquished and withered.
The young man rushed impetuously into life, which now seemed to him to have really begun. The world of symbols was blown away and forgotten. New wishes and paths enticed him. An aura of childhood could still be seen in his blue eyes and soft hair. However, he did not appreciate being reminded of it, and he cut his hair short and assumed as bold and worldly a posture as he could. His moods kept changing as he stormed through the scary pubescent years, at times a good student and friend, at other times lonely and shy. During his first youthful drinking bouts, he tended to be wild and boisterous. He had been compelled to leave home and saw it only when he returned on short visits to his mother. He was changed, grown, well dressed. He brought friends with him, brought books with him, always something else, and when he walked through the old garden, it appeared to him to be small and silent as he glanced about distractedly. He no longer read stories in the colorful veins of the stones and leaves. He no longer saw God and eternity dwelling in the mysterious blossoms of the blue iris.
Anselm went away to high school and then college. He returned to his home city with a red cap and then with a yellow one, with fuzz on his upper lip and then with a young beard. He brought books in foreign languages with him, and one time a dog. Soon he carried secret poems in a leather case in his breast pocket, then copies of ancient proverbs, and finally pictures of pretty girls and their letters. He came back from trips to foreign countries and took voyages on large ships across the sea. He returned and was a young teacher, wearing a black hat and dark gloves, and the old neighbors tipped their hats to him as he passed and called him professor, even though he had not yet become one. Once again he returned wearing black clothes, slim and somber, and walked behind the slow hearse upon which his old mother lay in the coffin adorned with flowers. And then he rarely returned.
Now Anselm lived in a big city, where he taught students at the university and was regarded as a famous scholar. He went about, took walks, sat and stood exactly like other people of the world. He wore a fine hat and coat, was serious or friendly, with lively and sometimes tired eyes. He was a gentleman and a scholar, just as he had wanted to become. But now he felt the exact same way that he had felt when his childhood came to an end. All of a sudden he felt the impact of many years sliding by that left him standing strangely alone and discontent in the middle of the world that he had always strived to attain. He was not genuinely happy as a professor. He was not deeply gratified to be greeted by the people of the city and the students who showed him great respect. Everything seemed dull and lifeless. Happiness lay once again far away in the future, and the way toward it seemed hot and dusty and ordinary.
It was during this time that Anselm made frequent visits to the house of a friend whose sister attracted him. He no longer felt at ease running after pretty faces. Here, too, he had changed, and he felt that happiness had to come for him in some special way and did not lie waiting for him behind each and every window. He liked the sister of his friend very much, and he often suspected that he was truly in love with her. But she was an unusual girl. Every one of her moves and words was unique and marked in a certain way, so that it was not always easy to keep pace with her and find the same rhythm. Sometimes in the evening, when Anselm walked back and forth in his lonely apartment and listened attentively to his own footsteps echoing through the empty rooms, he would argue with himself about this woman. She was older than the wife he had desired. She was very peculiar, and it would be difficult to live with her and to pursue his scholarly goals, for she did not like to hear anything about academics. Also, she was not strong and healthy and could not put up with parties and company very well. She preferred most of all to live with flowers and music and to have a book, in quiet solitude. She waited for someone to come to her, and she let the world take its course. Sometimes she was so fragile and sensitive that when anything strange happened to her, she easily burst into tears. Then there were times when she would glow quietly and softly in happy solitude, and anyone who saw this felt how difficult it would be to give something to this strange beautiful woman and to mean something to her. Sometimes Anselm believed that she loved him, and at other times it seemed to him that she did not love anyone. It appeared that she was just tender and friendly with everyone and wanted nothing from the world but to be left in peace. However, he wanted something more from life, and if he were to marry, then there had to be life and excitement and hospitality in his home.
“Iris,” he said to her, “dear Iris, if only the world had been differently arranged! If there were nothing at all but a beautiful, gentle world with flowers, thoughts, and music, then I would wish for nothing but to be with you my entire life, to listen to your stories, and to share in your thoughts. Just your name makes me feel good. Iris is a wonderful name. But I have no idea what it reminds me of.”
“You certainly know,” she responded, “that the blue flag flower is called iris.”
“Yes,” he responded with a feeling of discomfort. “Of course, I know it, and just that in itself is very beautiful. But whenever I say your name, it seems to remind me of something else. I don’t know what it is, but it’s as if it were connected to some very deep, distant, and important memories, and yet I don’t know what they could be and haven’t found the slightest clue.”
Iris smiled at him as he stood there helplessly, rubbing his forehead with his hand.
“That’s how I feel,” she said to Anselm in her voice that was as light as a bird, “whenever I smell a flower. Then my heart tells me each time that a memory of something extremely beautiful and precious is connected to the fragrance, something that had been mine long ago and became lost. It’s also the same with music, and sometimes with poems — all of a sudden something flashes, just for a moment, as if all at once I saw my lost home below in a valley, and then it immediately disappears and is forgotten. Dear Anselm, I believe that we are on earth for this purpose, for contemplating and searching and listening for lost remote sounds, and our true home lies behind them.”
“How beautifully you put all this!” Anselm complimented her, and he felt something stir in his own breast almost painfully, as if a hidden compass there were pointing persistently to its distant goal.
But that goal was completely different from the goal he sought, and this hurt. Was it worthy of him to gamble away his life in dreams by chasing after pretty fairy tales?
One day after Anselm had returned from a lonely journey, he found the stuffy atmosphere in his barren study to be so cold and oppressive that he rushed over to his friend’s house and asked the beautiful Iris for her hand.
“Iris,” he said to her, “I don’t want to continue living like this. You’ve always been my good friend. I must tell you everything. I must have a wife, otherwise I feel my life will be empty and without meaning. And whom else should I wish for my wife but you, my dear flower? Will you accept, Iris? You’ll have flowers, as many as I can find. You’ll have the most beautiful garden. Will you come and live with me?”
Iris looked at him for a long time, calmly and straight into his eyes. She did not smile or blush as she answered him with a firm voice.
“Anselm, I’m not astonished by your proposal. I love you, although I had never thought of becoming your wife. But look, my friend, I’d make great demands on the man I marry. I’d make greater demands than most women make. You’ve offered me flowers, and you mean well. But I can live without flowers and also without music. I could do without all of this and much more if I had to. However, there’s one thing I can’t and won’t do without: I can never live, not even just for a day, if the music in my heart is not at the core of everything I do. If I am to live with a man, then it must be one whose inner music harmonizes perfectly in a delicate balance with mine, and his desire must be to make his own music pure so that it will blend nicely with mine.
Can you do that, my friend? If you do, you’ll probably not achieve fame and reap any more honors. Your house will be quiet, and the wrinkles that I’ve seen on your forehead for many years will have to be erased. Oh, Anselm, it won’t work. Look, you’re one of those who must study so that more and more wrinkles appear on your forehead, and you must constantly create more and new worries for yourself. And whatever I may mean and am, well, you may certainly love and find it pretty, but it is merely a pretty toy for you, as it is for most people. Oh, listen to me carefully: Everything that you now consider a toy is for me life itself and would have to be the same for you, and everything about which you worry and for which you strive, I consider a toy and not worth living for. I’m not going to change, Anselm, for I live according to a law that is inside me. Will you be able to change? And you would have to become completely different, if I were to become your wife.”
Anselm stood and could not utter a word, for he was startled by her willpower, which he had thought was weak and whimsical. He was silent, and without realizing it, he crushed a flower he had picked up from the table with his shaking hand.
When Iris gently took the flower out of his hand, it felt in his heart like a severe reproach, but then she suddenly smiled brightly and lovingly as though she had unexpectedly found a way out of the darkness.
“I have an idea,” she said softly, and blushed as she spoke. “You’ll find it strange. It will seem like a whim to you. But it’s not a whim. Do you want to hear it? And will you agree to follow it and allow it to decide everything between you and me?”
Without understanding her, Anselm glanced at Iris with a worried look in his pale features. Her smile compelled him to trust her, and he said yes.
“I’d like to set a task for you,” Iris said, and she became serious again very quickly.
“Very well, do it. It’s your right,” her friend conceded.
“I’m serious about this,” she said. “And it is my final word. Will you accept it as it comes straight from my heart and not haggle and bargain about it, even if you don’t understand it right away?”
Anselm promised. Then she stood up and offered him her hand as she said, “You’ve said to me many times that whenever you speak my name, it reminds you of something that you’ve forgotten, something that was once very important and holy to you. That’s a sign, Anselm, and that’s what has drawn you to me all these years. I also believe that you’ve lost and forgotten something important and holy in your soul that must be wakened again before you can find your happiness and attain your destiny. Farewell, Anselm! I’m giving you my hand and asking you to go and find whatever it is in your memory that is linked to my name. On the day that you rediscover it, I’ll become your wife and go with you wherever you want, and your desires will be my very own.”
Anselm was dismayed and confused and wanted to interrupt her and reproach her for making such a whimsical demand. But with one clear look, she admonished him and reminded him of his promise, and he kept quiet. He took her hand with lowered eyes, pressed it to his lips, and departed.
Anselm had undertaken and completed many tasks in his life, but none had been as strange and important and thus as discouraging as this one. Day after day he ran around and thought about it until he became tired, and time and again he would arrive at a point when he cursed the entire quest and angrily and desperately tried to dismiss it from his mind as the whim of a female. But then something deep within him would oppose this, a very slight mysterious pain, a very soft, barely audible warning. This faint voice in his own heart conceded that Iris was right, and it made the same demand that she did.
But this task was much too difficult for the learned man. He was supposed to remember something that he had long since forgotten. He was supposed to rediscover a single golden thread from the cobweb of buried years. He was supposed to grasp something with his hands and bring it to his beloved, something that was nothing but a drifting bird call, something like a pleasant or sad feeling that one has while listening to music, something thinner, more fleeting and more ethereal than an idea, something more transitory than a nocturnal dream, more shapeless than a morning mist.
Sometimes when he despairingly tossed his search to the winds and gave up in a terrible mood, he would unexpectedly be stirred by something like a breath of air from distant gardens. He would whisper the name Iris to himself, ten times and more, softly and playfully, like one testing a note on a taut string. “Iris,” he whispered, “Iris,” and he felt something move within him with a slight pain, as in an old abandoned house when a door opens and a shutter slams without cause. He examined memories that he thought he had ordered neatly within himself, and he made strange and disturbing discoveries in the process. His treasure of memories was infinitely smaller than he had imagined. Entire years were missing and stood empty, and when he tried to recall them, they were like blank pages. He found that he had great difficulty conceiving a clear picture of his mother once again. He had completely forgotten the name of a girl whom he had ardently pursued for one year during his youth. He recalled a dog that he had once bought on an impulse during his student years and that he had kept for some time. It took him some days before he could remember the name of the dog.
With growing sorrow and fear, the poor man painfully saw how wasted and empty the life that lay behind him had become. It no longer belonged to him but was strange and disconnected, like something once memorized that could be recalled only with difficulty in the form of barren fragments. He began to write. He wanted to write down, year by year, his most important experiences in order to get a firm hold on them again. But what were his most important experiences? Becoming a professor? Receiving his doctorate? His high school or university days? Forming short attachments and liking different girls in forgotten times? Terrified, he looked up. Was that life? Was that all? He slapped his forehead and could not stop himself from laughing compulsively.
Meanwhile time flew. It had never flown by so quickly and relentlessly! A year was gone, and it seemed to him that he was in exactly the same position that he had been when he left Iris. However, he had changed a great deal during this time, something that everyone saw and knew except him. He had become both older and younger. He had become practically a stranger to his acquaintances, who regarded him now as absent-minded, moody, and odd. He gained the reputation of a strange eccentric, and people said it was a shame about him, but he had remained a bachelor too long. Sometimes he forgot his responsibilities at the university, and his students waited for him in vain. Sometimes, steeped in thought, he would meander down a street and walk by houses, brushing the dust from the ledges with his tattered coat as he passed. Many thought he had taken to drink. Other times he would stop right in the middle of a lecture in front of his students and try to remember something. Then his face would break into a childlike smile that was very soft and unusual for him, and he would continue his lecture in a warm and moving tone that stirred the hearts of many of his students.
After years of searching hopelessly for the fragrances and scattered traces of his remote past, Anselm had developed a new sensitivity that he himself could not recognize. It seemed to him more and more frequently that behind what he had previously called memories were even more memories, like an old painted wall where sometimes even older pictures lie concealed behind the old ones that have been painted over. He wanted to recall something like the name of a city where he had once spent some days as a traveler, or the birthday of a friend, or anything at all, and as he now dug up and rummaged through a small piece of the past as though it were debris, something entirely different occurred to him in a flash. A breeze surprised him like an April morning wind or like a misty day in September. He smelled a fragrance. He tasted a flavor. He felt dark tender sensations here and there on his skin, in his eyes, in his heart, and gradually it became clear to him: There must have been a day one time, blue and warm, or cool and gray, or some kind of day, and the essence of this day must have been caught within him and clung there as a dark memory. He could not determine exactly the spring or winter day that he distinctly smelled and felt in the real past. He could not name or date it. Perhaps it had been during his student days. Perhaps he had still been in the cradle, but the fragrance was there, and he felt something within him that he did not recognize and could not name or determine. Sometimes it seemed to him as though these memories reached back beyond life into a previous existence, although he smiled at the thought.
Anselm found many things during his helpless wanderings through the caverns of his memory. He found many things that moved and gripped him, and many things that scared him and made him anxious, but he did not find the one thing that signified the name Iris for him.
One time, in the midst of his torment over not being able to find his goal, he went back to visit his old home city, saw the woods and streets, the paths and fences again, stood in the old garden of his childhood, and felt the waves surge over his heart. The past enveloped him like a dream. Sad and silent, he returned to the city and told everyone that he was sick and had all visitors sent away.
However, one visitor insisted on seeing him. It was his friend, whom he had not seen since the day he had asked Iris to become his wife. This man came and saw Anselm sitting in a neglected condition in his dismal apartment.
“Get up,” he said to him, “and come with me. Iris wants to see you.”
Anselm jumped up.
“Iris! What’s wrong with her? Oh, I know, I know!”
“Yes,” said his friend. “Come with me. She’s going to die. She’s been sick a long time.”
They went to see Iris, who lay on a sofa, light and slender like a child, and she smiled cheerfully with magnified eyes. She gave Anselm her soft white child’s hand, which lay like a flower in his, and her face was as though transfigured.
“Anselm,” she said, “are you angry with me? I set a hard task for you, and I see you’ve kept your pledge. Keep searching and keep going until you reach your goal! You thought you were doing it for my sake, but you’ve really been doing it for your own. Do you know that?”
“I suspected it,” Anselm replied, “and now I know. It is a long way, Iris, and I would have turned back some time ago, but I can no longer find my way back. I don’t know what will become of me.”
She peered into his sad eyes and gave him a slight and consoling smile. He bent over her thin hand and wept for a long time, so that her hand became wet from his tears.
“What will become of you?” she said with a voice that was only like a glimmer of memory. “You must not ask what will become of you. You have searched a great deal in your life. You have sought honor and happiness and knowledge, and you’ve sought me, your little Iris. All these things were only pretty images, and they abandoned you as I must leave you, I, too, have experienced this. I always searched, and I kept finding lovely and beautiful pictures, and they kept fading and vanishing. Now I have no more pictures. I’m no longer searching. I’ve returned home and have only one more step to take, and then I’ll be home. You, too, will arrive there, Anselm, and you won’t have any more wrinkles on your forehead.”
She was so pale that Anselm cried out in desperation. “Oh, wait, Iris! Don’t go yet! Give me a sign that I won’t lose you entirely!”
She nodded and reached into a glass next to her bed and gave him a fresh blue iris in full bloom.
“Here, Take my flower, the iris, and don’t forget me. Search for me, search for the iris. Then you’ll come to me.”
Weeping, Anselm held the flower in his hands. And weeping, he took his leave. When his friend sent news of Iris’s death, he came again and helped adorn her coffin with flowers and lower it into the earth.
Then his life fell to pieces around him. It seemed impossible for him to continue spinning his thread. He gave everything up. He left his position at the university and the city and vanished. He was seen here and there. One time he appeared in his home city and leaned over the fence of the old garden, but when the people asked after him and wanted to look after him, he disappeared into thin air.
He continued to be fond of the blue flag. Whenever he saw these flowers growing, he bent over one, and when he stared into its chalice for a long time, it seemed as though the fragrance and presentiment of all the past and future fluttered toward him out of its blue depths. But he would sadly continue on his way because fulfillment did not come. It was as though he were listening at a half-opened door and heard the most lovely secret breathing behind it, and just when he thought that everything would now be given to him and fulfilled, the door slammed shut, and the wind of the world swept coolly over his loneliness.
His mother spoke to him in his dreams, and now for the first time in years, he felt her body and face very clearly and nearby. And Iris spoke to him, and when he awoke, something continued to ring in his ears, and he would try to recall it the entire day. He did not have a permanent home. He traveled as a stranger through the land, slept in houses and woods, ate bread or berries, drank wine or the dew from the leaves of the bushes.
He was oblivious to everything. Many people considered him a fool. Many thought he was a sorcerer. Many feared him. Many laughed at him. Many loved him. He learned to do things he had never been able to do before — to be with children and take part in their strange games, to talk to a broken twig and a little stone. Winters and summers flew by him. He looked into the chalices of flowers and into brooks and lakes.
“Pictures,” he sometimes said to himself. “They’re all just pictures.”
But he felt something essential inside him that was not a picture, and he followed it. And at times this essence within him would speak, and its voice was that of Iris and that of his mother, and it was consolation and hope. He encountered miracles, and they did not surprise him. And one winter he walked in the snow through a field, and ice had formed on his head. And in the snow he saw an iris stalk standing stiff and slender. It was bearing a beautiful solitary blossom, and he bent over it and smiled, for now he realized what the iris had always reminded him of — he recognized the childhood dream again and saw the light blue path that was brightly veined through the golden pickets leading into the secret heart of the flower, and he knew that everything he had been seeking was there, that this was the essence and no longer a picture.
And once again he was struck by memories. Dreams guided him, and he came upon a hut, where he found some children who gave him milk, and as he played with them, they told him stories. They told him that a miracle had occurred in the forest where the charcoal burners worked. These men had seen the gate of spirits standing open, the gate that opened only once every thousand years. He listened and nodded while envisioning the lovely picture and continued on his way. Ahead of him was a bird singing in the alder bush. It had a strange, sweet voice like the voice of the dead Iris. He followed the bird as it flew and hopped farther and farther over a brook and deep into the forest.
When the bird stopped singing and could no longer be heard or seen, Anselm stopped and looked around him. He was standing in a deep valley in the forest. Water ran softly under wide green leaves. Otherwise everything was quiet and full of expectation. But the bird kept singing inside him with the beloved voice and urged him on until he stood in front of a stone wall covered with moss. A small, narrow gap in the middle of the wall led into the interior of the mountain, and an old man was sitting in front of it. As soon as the man saw Anselm approaching, he stood up and yelled, “Go back! Go back! This is the gate of the spirits. No one has ever returned after entering it.”
Anselm looked up into the rocky entrance. He noticed a blue path that lost itself deep inside the mountain, and golden pillars that stood close together on both sides. The path sank downward as though into the chalice of an enormous flower.
The bird was singing brightly within his breast, and Anselm walked by the guard into the gap between the golden pillars, into the blue mystery of the interior. He was penetrating into Iris’s heart, and it was the blue flag in his mother’s garden into whose blue chalice he floated, and as he quickly approached the golden twilight, all memory and knowledge came to him at once. He felt his hand, and it was small and soft. Voices of love sounded nearby and familiar in his ears, and the glistening golden pillars sparkled as they had in the remote past, during the spring of his childhood.
And the dream that he had dreamed as a small boy was also there again, his dream about entering into the chalice, and behind him the entire world of pictures came and glided with him and sank into the mystery that lies behind all images.
Anselm began to sing softly, and his path sloped gently down into home.
the scent from its nature, causing me to swoon...
Safe In My Garden
safe in my garden
an ancient flower blooms
and the scent from its nature
slowly squares my room
and its perfume being such
that it's causing me to swoon…
when you go out in the street
so many hassles with the heat
no one there to fill your desire…
Editor’s note: I’d wondered about the other part of this song: “cops out with their megaphones, telling people stay inside their homes, can’t they see the world’s on fire? … with a bottle in each hand, no more time to understand, we don’t look where it lands, we just throw it.”
Why would the songwriter juxtapose the fiery strife and conflict in the world with “safe in my garden, an ancient flower blooms”? It’s all so anomalous. But then I understood that the mystical serenity of the safely sequestered ancient flower becomes all the more precious when set against the jarring chaos just outside the garden’s gate.
These lyrics appear to be singing the praises of true love’s sacred intimacy and exclusivity -- resulting in supreme happiness and joy. Why is this the underlying focus? A major clue is offered:
when you go out in the street
so many hassles with the heat
no one there to fill your desire…
This song is about people going out into the world attempting to “fill” their “desire.” But, like the dismayed Adam after naming the animals, no one is found who might offer a satisfying love. The crowd cannot still and pacify the “crying of the heart.” We are lonely in a crowd. We seek for a particular one
It is only within the protected boundaries of true love’s secret garden that an ancient empyreal flower blooms. It is this delicate flower alone, and none other, and no other source, that might fill one’s desire… with the scent of its nature causing each lover to swoon.
Elenchus. Tell me what you think of this story.
Kairissi. It’s the story of a man – actually, a boy, who eventually takes the form of a man – who becomes lost, but then regains himself. Anselm is a symbol of Everyman and his journey toward enlightenment -- with a little help from his Twin Soul.
E. Hesse’s short-story is a great example of “drawing life and giving it back again.” But - it was rather frustrating. Anselm did all that soul-searching and “coming to himself,” but then Iris died. He couldn’t have her … they couldn’t be together.
K. Dear, he needed to do it for himself first. And, in any case, it’s very difficult for true lovers to be together in this world. A sacred “union of spirits” is not easy to achieve. I’m reminded of Rilke’s hope and warning: “It is part of the nature of every definitive love that … it can reach the beloved only in infinity.”
E. That’s not what we want to hear.
K. Unfortunately, there rarely seems to be another way. Iris saw the problem immediately. Look at what Anselm had done to himself. He not only repressed memories of a more innocent and teachable time, but, the worst part, he’d repressed himself – those aspects of person, “important and holy” in his “soul that must be wakened.”
E. Iris was his “perfect mate.” She was the only one who could help him “make his music pure”; or make him want to.
K. Iris’s words about “making your music pure,” I think, are some of the most profound wisdom for lovers in all of literature.
E. Notice, too, her warning for him not to “haggle and bargain.”
K. We keep finding references to this egoic process. This is what John and Mary do. They don’t focus on the work of inner soul-perfection, of “making music pure,” but just want to “negotiate” for more pleasures. This is the “buying and selling, giving and receiving” decried in The Wedding Song.
E. What you just said about people not wanting to concentrate on inner soul-perfection reminds me of a story the author tells about an incident in his life. He was phoned by an acquaintance who jokingly, calling him “Obi-Wan,” said he wanted advice to help an old man who was angry at the government for some perceived injustice. The friend thought the old man might do something rash. The author told me that he didn’t know what to advise. However, instead of just offering some bland platitude -- as the friend waited on the line for him to say something -- he recalled an item from the New Testament where Jesus says, “it will be given to you to know what to say when you’re asked.” He said he decided to center himself, go within, to still the competing “voices” in his head. And when he did, he was “given” something.
K. This sounds interesting. What did the author say?
E. He said, “Maybe the old man will respect the example of Jesus. In those days, Israel was an occupied country. There were Roman soldiers on the streets. The Jews were not free. Jesus’ men wanted him to lead a revolutionary uprising to throw the Romans out of the country. But there is no record of Jesus ever attacking a Roman soldier. And yet, we need not doubt that he desired freedom for his people. But how might freedom come? Not by the sword. Instead, the essence of Jesus’ teaching becomes, The way to gain your freedom and to change the world is by changing yourself, by becoming a better person.”
K. And this was also the message of Iris to Anselm.
E. Will Durant, in his small volume, “The Lessons Of History,” came to see that the sword has never brought lasting change or good things for the world. There are too many bad side-effects. He said that the real revolutionaries of history are “philosophers and saints.”
K. That is so very wise. And the author “tapped into” the same spirit and was given the same message.
E. Later, as he thought of what he'd been given concerning “gaining freedom and changing the world by becoming a better person,” the author admitted, “I wish I had said that.” He said that the friend on the phone was taken aback by the wisdom of his words, laughed, and called him “Obi-Wan” again, but now more forcibly. But the author knew that it wasn’t from him.
K. Thank you for sharing this, Ellus. The principle of “make your inner music pure” is part of some very ancient wisdom-teaching. And true lovers will not escape this requirement of self-development before they can come together on a proper basis.
E. Baby Doll, you know what really bothers me about this little story of Iris and Anselm? – at the end, it became clear that they truly did love each other, and yet… he didn’t even get to touch her… just her hand, that’s all.
K. There’s a lot of that going round in this world, My Love. We learn from Rilke that this is why God invented infinity.
E. Dearest… is there some practical word of advice we might give our readers? The question will be asked, “I know that I must make my music pure, but what does this mean for lovers in their day-to-day world? – and how will I know if I’ve made my music pure?”
K. This is a very important question. On first take, I don’t know what to say.
E. Why don’t you also “center yourself, go within,” and see what you get?
K. Dear… you will remember, a very long time ago, in “Prometheus,” when we were talking with the MLP board, we were told that the dysfunctional ego is like a crouching leopard.
E. I do remember.
K. The metaphor of the “crouching leopard” brings into focus that which poisons all John-and-Mary relationships.
E. Make this clear, My Love, so that everyone will understand.
K. Alright… The “false self,” the pathological ego, is like a crouching leopard, always on-the-ready to attack and defend itself. It seeks to strengthen itself in a perception of “me against all others.” This sense of separation is heightened periodically as “the leopard” goes hunting for food. It’s looking to feed on negative energy, searching for conflict, whereby it enhances the ego’s sense of separation, which then fortifies a sense of false-self. It feels good, more powerful, when it’s angry. The anger temporarily offers a sense of security by defining “who I am.” But these good feelings of apparent self-knowledge come at a high price, don’t last long, and then the ego feels less secure, less in control, and more fearful.
E. The "leopard" might lie dormant for some time -- sleeping, sated. During this period of quiescence, people can be fairly civil and get along. But then the "leopard" will rouse itself and create a crazy person. When John and Mary fight, at least one of them, as “hungry leopard,” has gone searching for food. Don't get in the way of a hungry big cat.
K. It is like that. Sometimes, some mates become abusive during these periods of insanity. Sometimes the abuse can manifest as severe criticism, rage, utter unreasonableness, and even violence. Later, the offending party might say, “I don’t know what came over me. I don’t feel that way anymore. I promise never to do that again.” The statement may be sincere; the promise is made with the best of intentions. However, the person making the promise is not the same person who indulged in the violence, and is not the same person who, after a while, will once again become the “leopard” hunting for food. We've now entered the condition which Jesus characterized as "they know not what they do."
E. This cycle of “leopard on the hunt” shows itself to various degrees – all the way from physical violence to more benign and socially-acceptable forms of relationship-destroying unpleasantness -- touchiness, moodiness, prickliness, the "ice princess," passive-aggression, and the "silent treatment." Some people say, "Well, that's just the way women are," or "that's just the way he is." But this is wrong. We are not naturally this way. The "true self" is not like that, but we get taken over by the "false self."
K. With any of these manifestations of dark-ego, a sense of lovers’ intimacy is damaged. They can’t trust each other now, they won’t make themselves vulnerable to each other for deeper relationship while living under threat of the next cycle of ego-outburst. So they hunker down. A siege-mentality develops. It’s no longer fun to be together. One or both has become high-maintenance. The "crouching leopard" doesn't allow a honeymoon to last very long, maybe not even one night.
E. A major part of “making your music pure” is becoming aware of “the crouching leopard” and how it periodically hunts for negative energy. Most people named John and Mary are shocked when they meet "the crouching leopard" - not only in a mate, but in themselves. Living in close-quarters can bring out the worst in people. Newly-marrieds often exclaim, "I didn't know it would be this way!" "I never saw him like this before, though we dated for two years. I didn't know what I was signing-on for."
K. People "play roles" to get what they want, and they typically do so during the mating "negotiating" ritual; but the masks -- "held up with two hands," as Elizabeth said -- will soon come down; it takes too much energy to maintain the facade. Tolle’s books offer good instruction on how to become aware of the “false self,” the “crouching leopard.” And so, the practical advice to lovers is this: you will know that you’ve “made your music pure” when “the leopard” no longer runs your life. It doesn’t mean that “the leopard” won’t try to take you over in its regular cycles, but you’ll be aware of the process now, your eyes will open, and you won’t give in to it, and so you won’t be making your mate miserable with bouts of insanity.
E. To actually achieve this level of awareness is a major advance in personal evolution.
K. I will say this to everyone: the brief glimpse into self-development I’ve just described is no optional side-trip, but part of the main journey for everyone. People always say, “Why can’t I be with my Twin Soul right now?” But until we “make our inner music pure” we’d just destroy each other and make each other miserable. This is what John and Mary do, to various degrees, and we all know it. And the Guides will not let destined lovers come together, in a permanent way, until Iris’s dictum is honored.
E. Darling, before we leave this, please answer another question that people will have: "What do I have to do exactly to get rid of the leopard in my life? Will this take a super-hero's resolve?"
K. No super-human effort is required. All we have to do is become aware of the problem. We need but to shine a mental spotlight on "the leopard" when it starts to growl. This will cause the big cat to shrink and evaporate; it's robbed of energy "in the light" and can't operate in growing awareness.
E. Consciousness itself will heal us.
K. Oh, Darling Ellus... speaking of all this makes me sad... I have failed with these things in my own life... (sighing)... "touchiness, moodiness, prickliness..."
E. We’ve said much about this issue of “making one’s inner music pure,” and yet I’m wondering if we’ve nailed it yet. With your womanly sensibilities, can you say something more about this to make it even more clear?
K. I will try, Dear, but it’s difficult. What does it mean to “make one’s inner music pure”? I’m not sure I’m the right one to ask as I myself have a way to go in this, but… I think it has something to do with the universal feeling of “I am not enough.”
E. We always come back to the prime culprit, the dysfunctional ego.
K. I remember those days, sitting in the MLP sessions with Lateece and Day Star, and they trying to get through to me, but without enough success. They warned me about the inadequacy of loving a mate just as any Mary does.
E. And what does this mean?
K. Mary is a good person, but she’s just like anyone else in the world – just trying to feel good about herself, trying to find happiness and wholeness. On a deeper level, she’s saying to herself, “If I could just find a good man to select me, if his acceptance could make me feel that I’m worth something, then I could be happy and find peace for myself. If I good just find that good man – he doesn’t have to be a movie star, or even my number one choice – but if I could ‘add’ him to my myself, enhance myself, make myself 'more' as we become a couple, if I could feel myself to be 'upgraded’ when he chooses me, then I could know my own significance in his approval, and I wouldn’t feel so bad, so plagued by a sense of ‘I am not enough.’”
E. As you speak just now, I think of "long-distance runner" examples of this pathology with some of the older couples we know. They’ve been together for 30 or 40 or 50 years but are firmly within the ranks of Ann Lander's "miserably married." They boast of their marital “attendance record” as a little child beams with pride having been awarded a gold star from teacher for showing up at school. In this endurance test, this charade of relationship, they add darkness to each other's spirit, make mockery of real love with their “sinful marriage,” and mindlessly exult in their “yellow ribbon of participation.”
K. It is tragic. So many of these long-lived marriages are merely personifications of will, of running the clock out, of restless ghosts haunting joyless personhood -- a refusal to face the reality of a bankrupt union. As The Guess Who sang, "she hasn't got the faith or the guts to leave him, and they're standing in each other's way" -- as they remain together, not as an expression of love but of fear, to mute the inner raging declarations of “I am not enough without another's approval; and at least this other person hasn't left me for 45 years, and so surely this must mean that I'm worth something.”
E. They are actually setting themselves back in this mutual dishonesty, the fallout from which will not become evident until they reach the other side and realize what their disingenuity has done to their spirits.
K. Ellus, as you’ve asked me to expatiate on this subject of “making one’s music pure,” allow me to add an example from a movie. I won’t mention the featured lady’s famous name as I do not want to suggest that she is a bad person; she was a fine person, afflicted with ordinary passions and ordinary neuroses of “I am not enough.”
E. How did it manifest in her life?
K. She accomplished much, did courageous things. And she spoke of loving freedom and prided herself in being a free spirit. But, as I look at her life portrayed in film, especially in her failings, I just see an ordinary deluded Mary who went to great lengths to silence the inner raging of “I am not enough.” The evidence from her life suggests, to me, that her exploits were not so much borne of pure fortitude and adventurism but of a running away from herself, a hiding from herself, on a grand scale.
E. We’ve spoken of a certain self-revealing but unglamorous trait -- call it "the canary in a coal mine" of the inner malaise -- which prevents one from becoming a truly spiritual person; it's being unable to sit quietly in a small room.
K. Almost no one is able to do that. It's frightening to be all alone with one's inner dialogue, the incessant, unhappy chatter-in-the-head. To save ourselves, we have to go charging off to be famous, to “make a difference,” to sedate and distract ourselves, and, like John, to make one’s "mark on the world.” Granted, there is a time to act boldly on the world stage, but when fate and destiny call one to perform on this elevated level, it must be done without ego, or it will all come to nothing.
E. This reminds me of what Durant said about Alexander the Great, shocked at the immorality of Babylon, but, nevertheless, in his own neurotic intemperance and self-indulgence, was "not above drinking himself to death," and this at a young 33.
K. He conquered the world but could not sit quietly with his own thoughts in a small room; his inner neediness required him to charge off in larger-than-life exploits, plundering nations and peoples, to make his little egoic "mark on the world." God save us from these pitifully weak spirits who cannot bear their own inner disquietude as they try to "make a difference"!
E. The great thinkers say that evil is a form of weakness, and your example explains why. And so, My Love, please sum up for us this sacred mission to “make one’s inner music pure.”
K. It is the existential quest to find one's own purpose, worth, and meaning. But, fundamentally, this cannot be gained from any external source - not even from a Twin. The beloved will augment the process, offering much cherishing and treasuring, but a sense of self-worth, in the main, must originate within oneself; as Jesus used the phrase in The Book of Thomas, the enlightened person is nourished by his or her "own root."
E. And Dear, I'm thinking of The Wedding Song's "drawing life and giving it back again." While, as you say, one's self-worth must be realized for and by oneself, would you say that Twins "jump-start the battery" on this?
K. I think what you say is true, Ellus. All I need do is bring to mind what happened to us at that "first sight," that first moment we realized who we are to each other.
E. It wasn't like "falling in love" in a conventional sense. My middle name is "John" and so I know all about that process, too. It's very difficult to explain to others who've not yet had this mystical experience. It's like opening a newly-discovered treasure-chest of sublime and magical energies within one's deepest person. The effect is so wondrous and astounding that, as I sometimes say to you, "I remember little else."
K. Darling Dear, please explain how this "jump-starts the battery."
E. It's like... one moment you're dead, but then you're alive, and you don't know what to make of this because you've never been alive before. It's what Gibran said about "first sight" - it's like the spirit of God hovering over the waters on creation day; it's like Adam suddenly infused with the breath of life.
K. And yet, when lovers experience this we also know that their souls, having been made perfect and complete "in the image," already possessed all of that "sublime and magical energy."
E. The treasure-chest full of riches was always there -- but he couldn't open it until he met his sacred beloved. Is this not what happened to Anselm when he met Iris?
K. In this sense, it is like "jump-starting a battery." Iris helped Anselm, as we did for each other, to realize the riches within.
E. But then, having discovered the once-hidden riches of the inner person, after the "jump-starting," each lover must learn to "go within" and access, for oneself, the treasures of the soul.
K. It's a kind of purification of one's own spirit. It's living by the "true self" and not the "false." This is critically important because, as per The Wedding Song, the eternal romance is a “union of spirits,” a union of true selves. And this accessing of epicenter of being, this expunging of dross of the "false self," is what Iris called “making one’s inner music pure.”
E. And why are you smiling?
K. I was just thinking about a song from Dido, All You Want…
Oh, if you'd come home, I'll let you know that all you want is right here in this room, all you want and all you need, is sitting here with you, all you want…
K. It’s just that, if you have to learn how to be alone in a small room, it’s always nicer to be alone with someone you love.