Axis of Logic
Finding Clarity in the 21st Century Mediaplex

Venerable Verse
"The Man of the Forests"
By Hermann Hesse. Pictor's Metamorphoses and other fantasies.
Pictor's Metamorphoses and other Fantasies
Sunday, Jul 11, 2010

One of the wonderful short stories written by Hermann Hesse entitled, The Man of the Forests tells of a people who lived all their lives in darkness, under the canopy of the forest. "The forest was their homeland, refuge, cradle, nest and grave and life outside its boundries was unthinkable." It took place "in the beginning of the Age of Man, even before the human race had spread over the face of the earth." The forest dwellers had a blind priest, a holy man, mata dalam*, who told the people that decades before when fleeing wild beasts, he had been forced beyond the edge of the forest and was blind ever since. "In fear and trembling," he told them of "the white Void beyond, where one could see the fearful Nothingness glistening in the deadly burning rays of the sun". Even approaching the borders of the forest was forbidden. They followed mata dalam and never questioned his words until young Kubu began to doubt. There are many fascinating details in Hesse's story and it should be read in its entirety for full understanding. The following excerpt only describes the result of Kubu's journey. - Les Blough, Editor

There was but one way into the future: to go through the forest until he reached its end – if it really had an end – and there to leave it, and to put his faith in the glowing Void, the evil Outside. He had to go in search of that monster the sun and endure it. Because – who could say? – in the end maybe even the ancient taboo on the sun was nothing but another lie! ...

Courageously, Kubu set out on his journey to the distant Outside, and from morning to night he walked in one direction, and at night he slept in the tree branches and continued on his way in the early morning, all day long for several days, crossing over streams and black swamps, and over rising land and mossy banks of stone, the likes of which he had never seen, and finally upward more steeply, stopped by ravines, farther on into the mountains, and always through the eternal forests, so that in the end he became doubtful and sad, pondering the possibility that perhaps some god really did forbid the creatures of the forest to leave their homeland.

Then one evening, after he had long been climbing and climbing in ever-higher, drier, and thinner air, he came, unexpectedly, to the end. But with the end of the forest came the end of the earth as well; here the forest plummeted down into the emptiness of air, as if here the world had been broken in two. There was nothing to see but a distant, feeble redness, and above, a few stars, for night had already begun to fall.

Kubu sat down at the edge of the world and bound himself fast with vines so as not to fall off. He spent the night crouching in horror and wild agitation, his eyes wide open, and in the first gray of morning he impatiently jumped to his feet and waited, bend over the Void, for the day to come.

Lovely yellow strips of light glimmered in the distance, and the sky seemed to tremble in expectation, just as Kubu trembled, never before having seen the coming of day in the broad expanse of the atmosphere. Yellow bundles of light flared up, and on the other side of the monstrous abyss, the sun sprang, huge and red, into the sky. It leapt up out of an endless, gray nothingness, which soon became blue-black: the sea.

Before the trembling man of the forests, the Outside lay unveiled. At his feet, the mountain plunged down into unknowable, smoking depths; opposite him, a craggy mountain chain sprang up, glittering like rosy jewels. To his side, the dark sea lay distant and immense; its coast was white and frothy, and the tiny trees that lined it nodded toward him. And over all this, over these thousand, strange, new, powerful forms, the sun rose and poured a glowing stream of light on the world, which took fire in laughing colors.

Kubu was not able to look the sun in the face. But he saw its light streaming in colorful torrents around the mountains and cliffs and coasts and distant blue isles. And he sank to his knees, bent his face to the earth bowing down to the gods of this radiant world. Who was he, Kubu?! Only a small, dirty animal who had spent his whole musty life in a darkening bog hole deep in the forest, timid and gloomy, paying homage to obscure gods. But here was the world, and its supreme god was the sun.

The long, ignominious dream of his forest life was behind him; now it began-like the slow image of the dead priest – to be extinguished in his soul. On hands and feet, Kubu clambered down the steep abyss, toward the light and the sea. And his soul trembled in a fleeting transport of joy with the dreamlike surmise of a bright earth—an earth ruled by the sun, where bright, free beings lived in light, subject to no one but the sun.

The Man of the Forests, reproduced from the book,
Pictor’s Metamorphoses and other fantasies
(pp 83-92) by Hermann Hesse, Noonday press, 1981

*mata dalam - "he whose eye is turned upward"