Was this from Steppenwolf (Hesse)?
July 27, 2023 11:18 PM   Subscribe

30 years ago or 40 I had this one friend who was not only incredibly well educated but was smart, too. My education totally catch as catch can (read The Sea Wolf by Jack London, the captain of that boat self-edumacated, well read but huge gaps in his knowledge, and that is me, also), I'd tell you that I'm smart but if you've read me here might be you'd disagree. Friend Frank gave me a book to check out, I'm almost positive it was Steppenwolf.

The book was to me heavy and gaseous, the one thing I took from it is the author describing life/lives as waves coming in so beautifully, hit the shore, roll back out. I dug that, and when I told him about it set him back some, he told me that is the best piece in the book, it is what he carried from it.

I used the metaphor in the goodbye thread to Sinéad.

But it's got me wondering, where did I read it. I know it was in a book from friend Frank, I'm wondering if any of you here *know* where that came from.

I'd like to read it again, just that one excerpt. I've got some gorgeous prints, both Renoir and Monet, both of them capturing the beauty of those crashing waves-- I was so surprised to see an entirely different side of those masters.

Any help appreciated
posted by dancestoblue to Writing & Language (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I found one passage in Steppenwolf which somewhat resembles your comment in the Sinéad O'Connor memorial thread
And these men, for whom life has no repose, live at times in their rare moments of happiness with such strength and inde- scribable beauty, the spray of their moment’s happi- ness is flung so high and dazzlingly over the wide sea of suffering, that the light of it, spreading its radi- ance, touches others too with its enchantment. Thus, like a precious, fleeting foam over the sea of suffering arise all those works of art, in which a single individ- ual lifts himself for an hour so high above his per- sonal destiny that his happiness shines like a star and appears to all who see it as something eternal and as a happiness of their own. All these men, whatever their deeds and works may be, have really no life; that is to say, their lives are not their own and have no form. They are not heroes, artists or thinkers in the same way that other men are judges, doctors, shoemakers, or schoolmasters. Their life consists of a perpetual tide, unhappy and torn with pain, terrible and meaningless, unless one is ready to see its mean- ing in just those rare experiences, acts, thoughts and ‘works that shine out above the chaos of such a life.
This is from page 51 of the Basil Creighton translation published by Bantam.

I found it at the Internet Archive and I’d link to it, but the last time I did that I somehow compromised my account.

The keyword ‘sparkle' yielded 3 results, none of them anything like your comment, and ‘sparkles' gave 0 results.
posted by jamjam at 12:14 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]

I meant to end that last sentence with 'so then I tried 'foam''.

FWIW, I think you are extremely smart, albeit in an unconventional way. I could go on in that vein, but I don’t want to embarrass you.
posted by jamjam at 12:22 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]

extremely smart
and articulate
posted by Thella at 2:56 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]

This is probably not it, but it sounds to me like the last lines of The Great Gatsby: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."
posted by virve at 5:56 AM on July 28

Another thought just occurred to me. Could this have been a Walt Whitman poem?


By that long scan of waves, myself call'd back, resumed upon
In every crest some undulating light or shade—some retrospect,
Joys, travels, studies, silent panoramas—scenes ephemeral,
The long past war, the battles, hospital sights, the wounded and
the dead,
Myself through every by-gone phase—my idle youth—old age at
My three-score years of life summ'd up, and more, and past,
By any grand ideal tried, intentionless, the whole a nothing,
And haply yet some drop within God's scheme's ensemble—some
wave, or part of wave,
Like one of yours, ye multitudinous ocean.
posted by virve at 6:03 AM on July 28 [1 favorite]

What you describe reminds me a little of the wave metaphor that Chidi uses in The Good Place. Michael Shur (the writer/creator) was inspired by the writings of Thich Nhat Nanh.

"When we look at the ocean, we see that each wave has a beginning and an end. A wave can be compared with other waves, and we can call it more or less beautiful, higher or lower, longer lasting or less long lasting. But if we look more deeply, we see that a wave is made of water. While living the life of a wave, the wave also lives the life of water. It would be sad if the wave did not know that it is water. It would think, 'Some day I will have to die. This period of time is my life span, and when I arrive at the shore, I will return to nonbeing.' These notions will cause the wave fear and anguish. A wave can be recognized by signs -- beginning or ending, high or low, beautiful or ugly. In the world of the wave, the world of relative truth, the wave feels happy as she swells, and she feels sad as she falls. She may think, 'I am high!' or 'I am low!' and develop superiority or inferiority complexes, but in the world of the water there are no signs, and when the wave touches her true nature -- which is water -- all of her complexes will cease, and she will transcend birth and death," - Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation. New York: Broadway Books, 1999, pp. 124-125."
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:00 AM on July 28 [6 favorites]

there’s also this Shakespeare quote, from Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat.
And we must take the current when it serves,
or lose our ventures.
posted by meijusa at 9:37 AM on July 28 [2 favorites]

maybe not super useful, but the guy whose copy of Steppenwolf I stole is the same guy whose copy of Siddhartha I stole. Also Hesse, also wildly popular in a Bantam paperback edition, also starts with "S"... so maybe? But the closest thing I could find in Siddhartha was:

...Siddhartha saw it hurrying, the river, which consisted of him and
his loved ones and of all people, he had ever seen, all of these waves and
waters were hurrying, suffering, towards goals, many goals, the waterfall,
the lake, the rapids, the sea, and all goals were reached, and every goal was
followed by a new one, and the water turned into vapour and rose to the
sky, turned into rain and poured down from the sky, turned into a source, a
stream, a river, headed forward once again, flowed on once again.

posted by adekllny at 11:07 AM on July 28 [3 favorites]

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