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Hyacinth and Rosebud: Treading a Path to a Parable by Novalis via Thalmann’s Literary Sign Language of German Romanticism

August 22, 2013
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Marianne Thalmann The Literary Sign Language of German Romanticism Figure 2 Novalis Hyazinth (1798).

This amazing little exposition of Marianne Thalmann’s Literary Sign Language of German Romanticism (1967) I found when trying to track down an image by Novalis which inspired Joyce’s diagram on page 293 of Finnegans Wake. It could be that I’m completely mistaken about the existence of such an image (‘something’ I vaguely remember reading about ‘somewhere’, years ago), but the pathway it’s revealed looks very promising. Novalis is very much neglected in Anglo-American intellectual culture, partly because he doesn’t accord with its pragmatic, utilitarian outlook. This is a bit of a journey into the unknown for me, the parable of Hyacinth and Rosebud (Hyazinth und Rosenblütchen) seems like a good place to start.

Long ago, there lived far to the west a very young man, good, but extremely odd. He tormented himself continually about this nothing and that nothing, always walked in silence and straight before him, sat down alone when the others were at their sports and merry-makings, and brooded over strange things. Caves and woods were his dearest haunts; and there he talked on and on with beasts and birds, with trees and rocks–of course not one rational word, but mere idiotic stuff, to make one laugh to death. He continued, however, always moody and serious, in spite of the utmost pains that the squirrel, the monkey, the parrot, and the bullfinch could take to divert him, and set him in the right way. The goose told stories, the brook jingled a ballad between, a great thick stone cut ridiculous capers, the rose stole lovingly about him from behind and crept through his locks, while the ivy stroked his troubled brow. But his melancholy and gravity were stubborn. His parents were much troubled, and did not know what to do. He was in good health, and ate well enough; they had never caused him any offence; and, until a few years ago, he had been the liveliest and merriest of them all, foremost in all their games, and a favourite with all the maidens. He was very handsome, looked like a picture, and danced like an angel. Amongst the maidens was one, a charming and beautiful creature, who looked like wax, had hair like golden silk, and cherry-red lips, was a doll for size, and had coal-black, yes, raven-black eyes. Whoever saw her was ready to swoon, she was so lovely. Now Rosebud, for that was her name, was heartily fond of the handsome Hyacinth, for that was his name, and he loved her fit to die. The other children knew nothing of it. A violet told them of it first. The little house-cats had been quite aware of it, for the houses of their parents lay near each other. So when Hyacinth stood at night by his window, and Rosebud at hers, and the cats ran past mouse-hunting, they saw the two standing there, and often laughed and tittered so loud that they heard it and were offended. The violet told it in confidence to the strawberry, and she told it to her friend, the raspberry, who never ceased rasping when Hyacinth came along; so that by and by the whole garden and wood were in the secret, and when Hyacinth went out, he heard on all sides the cry: “Little Rosy is my posy!” This vexed him; but the next moment he could not help laughing from the bottom of his heart, when the little lizard came slipping along, sat down on a warm stone, waggled his tail, and sang–

“Little Rosebud, good and wise,
All at once has lost her eyes:
Taking Hyacinth for her mother,
Round his neck her arms she flings;
Then perceiving ’tis another–
Starts with terror?–no, but clings–
Think of that!–fast as before,
Only kissing all the more!”

Alas, how soon was the grand time over! There came a man out of strange lands, who had travelled wondrous far and wide, had a long beard, deep eyes, frightful eyebrows, and a strange garment with many folds, and inwoven with curious figures. He seated himself before the house of Hyacinth’s parents. Hyacinth at once became very inquisitive, and sat down beside him, and brought him bread and wine. Then parted he his white beard, and told stories deep into the night; and Hyacinth never stirred or tired of listening. This much they learned afterward, that he talked a great deal about strange lands, unknown countries, and amazingly wonderful things; stopped there three days, and crept with Hyacinth down into deep shafts. Little Rosebud execrated the old sorcerer pretty thoroughly, for Hyacinth was altogether absorbed in his conversation, and paid no heed to anything else, hardly even to the swallowing of a mouthful of food. At length the man took his departure, but left with Hyacinth a little book which no man could read. Hyacinth gave him fruit, and bread, and wine to take with him, and accompanied him a long way. Then he came back sunk in thought, and thereafter took up a quite new mode of life. Rosebud was in a very sad way about him, for from that time forward he made little of her, and kept himself always to himself. But it came to pass that one day he came home, and was like one born again. He fell on his parents’ neck and wept. “I must away to a foreign land!” he said: “the strange old woman in the wood has told me what I must do to get well; she has thrown the book into the fire, and has made me come to you to ask your blessing. Perhaps I shall be back soon, perhaps never more. Say good-bye to Rosebud for me. I should have been glad to have a talk with her; I do not know what has come to me: I must go! When I would think to recall old times, immediately come thoughts more potent in between; my rest is gone, and my heart and love with it; and I must go find them! I would gladly tell you whither, but do not myself know; it is where dwells the mother of things, the virgin with the veil; for her my spirit is on fire. Farewell!” He tore himself from them, and went out. His parents lamented and shed tears. Rosebud kept her chamber, and wept bitterly.

Hyacinth now ran, as fast as he could, through valleys and wildernesses, over mountains and streams, toward the land of mystery. Everywhere he inquired–of men and beasts, of rocks and trees,–after the sacred goddess Isis. Many laughed, many held their peace; nowhere did he get an answer. At first he passed through a rugged wild country; mists and clouds threw themselves in his way, but he rushed on impetuously. Then he came to boundless deserts of sand–mere glowing dust; and as he went his mood changed also; the time became tedious to him, and his inward unrest abated; he grew gentler, and the stormy impulse in him passed by degrees into a mild yet powerful attraction, wherein his whole spirit was dissolved. It seemed as if many years lay behind him.

And now the country became again richer and more varied, the air soft and blue, the way smoother. Green bushes enticed him with their pleasant shadows, but he did not understand their speech; they seemed indeed not to speak, and yet they filled his heart with their green hues, and their cool, still presence. Ever higher in him waxed that same sweet longing, and ever broader and juicier grew the leaves, ever louder and more jocund the birds and beasts, balmier the fruits, darker the heavenly blue, warmer the air, and more ardent his love. The time went ever faster, as if it knew itself near the goal.

One day he met a crystal rivulet, and a multitude of flowers, coming down into a valley between dark, columnar cliffs. They greeted him friendlily, with familiar words. “Dear country-folk,” said he, “where shall I find the sacred dwelling of Isis? Hereabouts it must be, and here, I guess, you are more at home than I.” “We also are but passing through,” replied the flowers; “a spirit-family is on its travels, and we are preparing for them their road and quarters. A little way back, however, we passed through a country where we heard her name mentioned. Only go up, where we came down, and thou wilt soon learn more.” The flowers and the brook smiled as they said it, offered him a cool draught, and went on their way. Hyacinth followed their counsel, kept asking, and came at last to that dwelling he had sought so long, which lay hid among palms and other rare plants. His heart beat with an infinite longing, and the sweetest apprehension thrilled him in this abode of the eternal seasons. Amid heavenly odours he fell asleep, for Dream alone could lead him into the holy of holies. In marvellous mode Dream conducted him through endless rooms full of strange things, by means of witching sounds and changeful harmonies. All seemed to him so familiar, and yet strange with an unknown splendour; then vanished the last film of the perishable as if melted into air, and he stood before the celestial virgin. Then he lifted the thin glistening veil, and–Rosebud sank into his arms. A far-off music surrounded the mysteries of love’s reunion and the outpouring of their longings, and shut out from the scene of their rapture everything alien to it.

Hyacinth lived a long time after with Rosebud and his happy parents and old playmates; and numberless grandchildren thanked the wonderful old wise woman for her counsel and her uprousing; for in those days people had as many children as they pleased. (Translated by George MacDonald. Found here).

Priestess Tarot Crowley

The veiled figure of Isis depicted by Lady Frieda Harris in Aleister Crowley’s Thoth Tarot (1944)

As Robert Lee Wolff points out in The Golden Key (1961 New Haven: University of Yale Press, p.86), Hyacinth lifts the veil of Isis (Wisdom) and discovers Rosebud (Erotic love).

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