"Love" in the novel Narcissus and Goldmund, by Herman Hesse
Defining the word love is almost impossible. No other word in the English
language has so many different connotations and uses. There can be no one true single
definition. However, for the purpose of this paper, I have come to the following
conclusion. Love is an intense emotion, characterized by unwavering admiration and
caring between two people who consider themselves to be perfect equals in the eyes of
God. To consider oneself a complete equal with another, a deep understanding and
respect of the other person must be developed. There should be no instances of immature
jealousy or pointless wishes. Each person must revere the other for who they are, and
expect nothing more of them. Only when this point has been reached, true love will be
present. As the story begins, Narcissus and Goldmund already have a very special
relationship is growing and changing as the novel goes on. However, I believe that
neither of them ever really experiences the bonds of unwavering love and equality until
the very end.
The relationship begins innocently enough. Goldmund is a young student, while
Narcissus is his older mentor at the Mariabronn cloister. Goldmund admires the learned
mind and discerning wit of Narcissus, while Narcissus respects the "strong, delicate
senses" that Goldmund possesses. However, when Narcissus confronts Goldmund with
his gifted observations of him, it is a valid indication of the type of relationship that has
so far grown between them.
"I am superior to you only in one point: I'm awake, whereas you are only half
awake, or completely asleep sometimes... Natures of your kind are almost always
superior to us creatures of the mind... You live fully; you were endowed with the
strength of love, the ability to feel."
Narcissus clearly feels that there exists a separation between himself and Goldmund. In
his eyes, they are not and can never be equal. He even seems to imply that he himself is
unable to feel love. Narcissus's words may have been honest, but they were stated
without forethought and they demonstrated a lack of caring for young Goldmund.
Narcissus has basically told an idealistic boy that looks up to him, that they will never be
upon the same level and can never be true friends. These are the first two major
violations of my definition of love that surface. Narcissus's perceptions, which he
considers to be "spoken better than usual", have caused Goldmund to flinch, as though
he'd been "pierced by an arrow." Had there existed true love between the pair, Narcissus
would have carefully weighed his injurious words, or perhaps not spoken them at all.
Narcissus's thoughts, though carelessly spoken, do have the desired effect on
Goldmund. Goldmund realizes that he does not belong in the cloister, and he ventures
out into the world. It goes without saying that many of the relationships that Goldmund
has with women from that point on, are devoid of any form of love entirely. He lusts for
these women, and usually only desires sex. Even when he stays with Lydia and Julie, he
is pervertedly attracted to both of them, and is not deathly heartbroken when he is forced
to move on. Later in the novel, he has matured a bit and has a somewhat extended
relationship with Lene. However, when she is dying of the plague, he does not stay at her
bedside because of his powerful enduring love for her. He remains there because he did
not want "to leave the child there alone and dying." He definitely cared for Lene, but he
lacked the faithful affection for her. In fact, it wasn't too long after her death that
Goldmund made sexual advances toward Rebecca, and finally toward Agnes.
When Goldmund finally returns to Mariabronn, he has greatly matured and
advanced in his self discovery and understanding. He knows now of his ability and
fondness for creating sculptures. He knows that he made the right decision in leaving the
life of the cloister. Narcissus notices this in Goldmund over time. Once returning,
Goldmund begins to sculpt figures for the cloister. His art is more powerful than ever, as
he captures the spirit of the departed Abbot Daniel and Father Martin in his sculpted
evangelists. An important landmark is made in the relationship between Narcissus and
Goldmund, is when Goldmund allows Narcissus to view his artwork and comment upon
it. At that moment, Narcissus gains a complete understanding and respect for Goldmund.
They are a step closer to the emotional depth of true love. In the final moments of the
scene, Narcissus confesses his feelings.
"Now I know who you are. Let us speak about this no longer; I cannot. Oh,
Goldmund, that this hour has been given to us!"
Not long after, Goldmund once again becomes uncomfortable with cloister life.
"He was no longer free, no longer young." He decided to leave the cloister again, to
wander one last time. Narcissus's love for him becomes apparent when the two say
"I must confess to you that I worried about you on several occasions during the
last months. I saw that you were restless and disturbed, and when you disappeared and
stayed away for more than a day, I sometimes thought with sorrow: perhaps he's never
coming back. And now you have carved this wonderful statue. I am happy for you and
proud of you."
When Goldmund does ride off, Narcissus does not take it lightly. He constantly
worries and prays for his dearest friend. He feels that his life has been enriched by
Goldmund, and wonders if he could have "shown his friend more clearly how much he
Goldmund eventually returns, and dies with Narcissus by his side. The
relationship has ended, and can now be studied in its entirety. At the start, the
relationship was a simple friendship. Both of them had much to learn about each other
and themselves before they could ever love one another. Narcissus originally felt that
Goldmund was superior, while the contrary was true for Goldmund. It was not until
Goldmund returned, that love was slowly grew between the two. As I wrote above, I
believe love to be an intense emotion, characterized by unwavering affection, admiration,
caring, and understanding between two people who consider themselves to be perfect
equals in the eyes of God. Narcissus cared enough for Goldmund to remember the fate of
Goldmund's boyhood horse, Bless, years later when he reunites with Goldmund.
Narcissus admires Goldmund's artistic ability, as Goldmund admires Narcissus's intellect
and dedication to cloister life. They both understand the lifestyle that the other has
chosen, and feel completely equal. All these points become completely clear as
Narcissus reflects upon their relationship.
"Just as [Narcissus] had once, many years ago, intervened roughly, almost
brutally, in Goldmund's youth and placed his life in a new sphere, so his friend had
preoccupied him since his return, had shaken him, had forced him to doubt his self-
examination. He was his equal; Narcissus had given back to him nothing that had not
been given back to him many times over."
These are the thoughts of someone deeply in love. Finally, all the points in my definition
of love had been covered, and as Goldmund passes on, he does so beside the one person
in his life that truly loves him.