Demian – five quotes

Hermann Hesse’s book Demian (thanks Patricia) is a story about growing, about transformation, about becoming. The main character, Emil Sinclair, makes a friend, Demian, who for several years mentors him, exposes him to a new and mystical world, and helps him understand his inner psyche, his anxieties, and his desires. Rather than talking about the book I thought I’d share a few of my favourite quotes.


Opening line (later repeated by Sinclair):

I wanted only to try to live in accord with the promptings which came from my true self. Why was that so very difficult?


Pistorius, Sinclair’s older friend, talks to him about accepting dreams and ideas.

«you too have mysteries of your own. I know you must have dreams that you do not tell me. I don’t want to know them. But I can tell you: live those dreams, play with them, build altars to them. It is not yet ideal, but it points in the right direction. I don’t mean that you should simply do everything that pops into your head. No. But you shouldn’t harm and drive away those ideas that make good sense by exorcising them or moralizing about them»


Sinclair on his own growth and discovering himself:

I had often speculated with images of the future, dreamed of roles that I might be assigned, perhaps as poet or prophet or painter or something similar.
All of that was futile. I did not exist to write poems, to preach or to paint, neither I nor anyone else. All of that was incidental. Each man had only one genuine vocation – to find the way to himself. He might end up as a poet or madman, as a prophet or criminal – that was not his affair, ultimately it was of no concern. His task was to discover his own destiny – not an arbitrary one – and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one’s own inwardness.
I was an experiment on the part of Nature a gamble within the unknown, perhaps for a new purpose, perhaps for nothing, and my only task was to allow this game on the part of primeval depths to take its course, to feel its will within me and make it wholly mine. That or nothing!


_panther books


Sinclair, recounting a story Eva (Demian’s mother) had told him about her lover:

Another time she told me of a different story, concerning a lover whose love was unrequited. He withdrew completely within himself, believing his love would consume him. The world became lost to him, he no longer noticed blue sky and green woods, he no longer heard the brook murmur; his ears had turned  deaf to the notes of the harp: nothing mattered any more; he had become poor and wretched. Yet his love increased and he would rather have died or been ruined than renounce possessing this beautiful woman. Then he felt that his passion had consumed everything else within him and become so strong, so magnetic that the beautiful woman must follow. She came to him and he stood with outstretched arms ready to draw her to him. As she stood before him she was completely transformed and with awe he felt and saw that he had won back all he had previously lost. She stood before him and surrendered herself to him and sky, forest and brook all came toward him in new and resplendent colors, belonged to him and spoke to him in his own language. And instead of merely winning a woman he embraced the entire world and every star in heaven glowed within him and sparkled with joy in his soul. He had loved and had found himself. But most people love to lose themselves.


War is about to break. Sinclair and Demian are drafted to fight. Sinclair comments on people’s motivations and willingness to sacrifice for others:

Now I saw that many, no, all men were capable of dying for [an ideal]. Yet it could not be a personal, a freely chosen ideal; it had to be one mutually accepted.



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