Joseph Knecht’s Posthumous Lament

Herman Hesse. Author

No permanence is ours; we are a wave

That flows to fit whatever form it finds:

Through day or night, cathedral or the cave

We pass forever, craving form that binds.


Mould after mould we fill and never rest.

We find no home where joy or grief runs deep.

We move, we are the everlasting guest.

No field nor plough is ours, we do not reap.


What God would make of us remains unknown.

He plays; we are the clay to his desire.

Plastic and mute, we neither laugh nor groan,

He kneeds, but never gives us to the fire.


To stiffen into stone, to persevere!

We long forever for the right to stay.

But all that ever stays with us is fear,

And we shall never rest upon our way.

By Hermann Hesse, from Magister Ludi




I read this a long time ago, in a desert far away. I was about Ben’s age in Not Your Heart Away.  A girl sat on an abandoned tractor one night with the wind blowing her hair while I read the poem aloud from the book she carried. Those sentences tell you probably all you need to know about who we were, then. The feeling’s stayed with me ever since, inside me head. Not that one, the one that took us out to the abandoned tractor to talk, as people used to say (‘let’s go somewhere we can talk…’) but the book thing, the stage-prop, the lever, the excuse, the poem, that’s stayed with me.

Walking with blue

Rudolf Hess. Nutter.
Rudolf Hess. Nutter. Do not confuse the two.


I’ve spent the day going through old notebooks, trying to write songs, remembering old dreams. And then I found this. It should not have become my song, the song of my life or if it had to not then, when I was nineteen. There might be a time for this in people’s lives, maybe particularly if they’re German. If you’ve lost a world war or two. If you’ve got one too many duelling scars from Heidelberg. If you’re a short dark painter who can’t paint very well and live in a bedsit with people like Christopher Isherwood flitting about. But not when you’re a teenage British kid into Magazine and Kate Bush, wearing black cords and red Kickers, just off to university. What was wrong with me? What, you know, was it?

I, like, didn’t know who I was. Well, big news. I still don’t. A bit more, a bit more than then perhaps. But as the other bladerunner said at the end of the film, the one who wasn’t Harrison Ford, the one who hadn’t fallen in love with a mechanical blow-up doll, the one who’d found out they were programmed to fall to bits in a couple of years because it was all too much for them, then again, who does?

I’ve never felt I had a home, more than for about an hour or two. People have tried to make me feel that, truly tried, but it didn’t stick. Or maybe I didn’t stick. It’s not a big noble born under a wandering star thing, just this no permanence is mine thing. I’d like it to be. I don’t think it’s going to happen now.

Years ago there was a film. Bob Hoskins, the Singing Detective, the uber-geezer in The Long Good Friday, the friendly bloke from the BT ads who told us it was good to talk fell into a cartoon as a 1940s gum-shoe, a private eye trying to find-out Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Prime suspect was Jessica Rabbit, a smouldering torch singer with a figure to die for and Bob thought Roger probably had. She was trouble. You could see that a mile away. A voice that would smoke tarmac when she said: “I’m not really bad. I’m just … drawn that way.” That was me.

"I'm not bad. I'm just....drawn that way."
“I’m not bad. I’m just….drawn that way.”

Not Jessica Rabbit, you understand. I’ve never poured myself into a ball gown. Poured people out of them, but that’s a different thing altogether. (“That’s a different thing.” Thank-you.)

But that thing, the longing forever for the right to stay. I know that feeling. It has nothing to do with mortgages or arrears or where you live or passports or visas. People like us now, we do so many different things. You can call it a portfolio career if it helps. I’ve cooked crepes, shot things, explained things, found things, made things, written things and yes, I crave a form that binds, a certainty, a constancy. And at the same time I avoid it as if it was contagion incarnate, as if it burned my eyes.

I should never have found this poem. I should never have found this poem again. But it didn’t change my life. It just articulated some of it.


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