Lin Yutang once wrote that Henry David Thoreau’s Walden could be translated into Chinese and passed off as having been written by a local, none the wiser. The concepts, verbiage, and background ideology so much in tune with the Eastern mindset, the bounds of culture can be transcended. I dare say precisely the same could be done of Hermann Hesse’s Wandering: Notes and Sketches.
A personal, heartfelt collection of essays, poems, and watercolors, Wandering is an experience as much as personal reflection. Hesse retreating into the mountains of northern Italy to regain direction in life after experiencing hardships, the prose pieces are imbued with nature, its power to soothe the soul, and a sense of anchoring one’s self back in the simple realities and universal spirituality of life.
Hesse’s eloquent style is on full display. The lyrical beauty with which he wrote his novels manifests itself in the essays and poems in this collection, as well. Likewise on display are many of his paintings. The originals unfortunately lost to time, each chapter heading nevertheless presents a black and white rendering of the watercolors Hesse painted in his time of convalescence in Italy. Perhaps not to be displayed in the Louvre, these paintings nevertheless compliment perfectly the bucolic, spiritual, and organic feel of the collection. Trees, roads, fields, and farmhouses the subjects, the collection is enhanced for them.
In the end, Wandering is a perfect collection of short essays on the grace and beauty of nature, of finding one’s self in solitude, and of the transcendent beauty of life. Readers of Thoreau, Emerson, Chinese poetry, Whitman, Daoism, and those who simply appreciate the thoughtful side of seclusion in nature will in general find something to appreciate about the collection. Klingsor’s Last Summer undoubtedly influenced by Hesse’s time alone, those who enjoy that novella may also enjoy this collection.