On A Journey

Hermann Hesse

‘On A Journey’ by Hermann Hesse is a poem that seeks to provide both comfort and solace to those who find themselves demoralized by life’s journeys.


Hermann Hesse

Nationality: German

Hermann Hesse is the famed author of Siddartha. He also wrote Demian and The Glass Bead Game.

His work often explored the search for knowledge and truth.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: A turbulent journey is far more endurable with a loyal companion

Speaker: A person on a journey

Emotions Evoked: Hope, Relief, Resilience

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

Hermann Hesse's poem offers the reader a soul-assuaging experience through the consolatory words of its speaker.

‘On A Journey’ is a short poem by Hermann Hesse that offers solace to those who find themselves wearied — perhaps physically and emotionally — while traveling. Although much of the poem’s context is ambiguous the tone of its speaker and general mood are not: both its diction and imagery manifest a scenery that’s meant to buoy “downcast” spirits. Comforting them through their voyage with promises of rest and an unceasing fellowship.

Whether you interpret it as a metaphor for life’s journey or as a literal retelling of a particularly grueling trek, the poem remains a soothing reminder that all things pass. Just as the day turns to night, affording rest to the wayfarer, the road, too, eventually ends. But Hesse also imparts an understanding that the greatest balm to such fatigue is the presence of another with whom to brave such wanderings.

On A Journey
Hermann Hesse

Don't be downcast, soon the night will come,When we can see the cool moon laughing in secretOver the faint countryside,And we rest, hand in hand.

Don't be downcast, the time will soon comeWhen we can have rest. Our small crosses will standOn the bright edge of the road together,And rain fall, and snow fall,And the winds come and go.


‘On A Journey’ by Hermann Hesse volunteers tender words of comfort to those who find themselves dispirited over the toil of their travels.

‘On A Journey’ begins with the speaker telling someone to not be “downcast,” explaining that soon night will fall and they’ll be greeted by moonlight. Here the moon is personified as “laughing in secret” as it sits high above the countryside. The first stanza ends with further reassurances as the speaker promises they’ll soon be resting together “hand in hand.”

The second stanza begins by repeating the speaker telling this unknown listener and companion to refrain from despair. They also reiterate that their opportunity to rest is almost upon them. An image of the two of them as “small crosses” is described by the speaker, standing on the “bright edge of the road together,” persisting through all kinds of tempestuous weather.

Structure and Form

‘On A Journey’ is structured into two stanzas, with the first containing four lines and the second having five. The poem is written entirely in free verse and, therefore, lacks either a formal rhyme scheme or meter. Despite this, the poem possesses a cadence created by a few scattered rhymes, moments of repetition, and alliteration.

Literary Devices

‘On A Journey’ contains examples of the following literary devices:

  • Personification: the speaker imbues the image of the moon with human emotion and characteristics when they refer to “the cool moon laughing in secret” (2).
  • Metaphor: Hesse juxtaposes the poem’s two companions with the crosses to create an implied comparison between the two. The symbolism of the “small crosses”(6) mentioned by the speaker can fuel several interpretations, from death at the end of a journey to signifying an unwieldy personal burden.
  • Kinesthetic Imagery: the poem envisions the movement of various types of weather, as in the mention of “rain fall, and snow fall, / And the winds come and go” (8-9).
  • Tactile Imagery: imagery that focuses on touch, such as when the speaker describes being “hand in hand” (4).
  • Visual Imagery: this type of imagery illustrates a mental picture for the reader. Hesse utilizes it to create two distinct scenes: the first is of the coming night “when we can see the cool moon… / Over the faint countryside” (2-3), and the second is of the “small crosses [that] stand / On the bright edge of the road together” (6-7).

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

Don’t be downcast, soon the night will come,
When we can see the cool moon laughing in secret
Over the faint countryside,
And we rest, hand in hand.

‘On A Journey’ unfolds as an interaction between two people: one is the speaker, while the second is an unknown individual who appears to be traveling with them. Beginning with this first stanza there are two ways a reader can approach the poem.

One is to interpret its highly symbolic imagery as being loosely allegorical — the journey and road signifying life’s passage. The other hones in on a much more literal understanding of the circumstances described by the speaker.

No matter how you decide to read Hesse’s poem, the emotions and themes found within remain relatively unchanged. The speaker’s urge not to be “downcast” (1) and their promise of resting “hand in hand” (4) reveals the calming compassion they appease their troubled companion with.

The visual imagery and personification of the “cool moon laughing in secret / Over the faint countryside” (2-3) aids in developing the poem’s hopeful mood. Creating a lighthearted scene in which the moon shares its laughter — perhaps a symbol of its luminosity — with the weary travelers.

Stanza Two

Don’t be downcast, the time will soon come
When we can have rest. Our small crosses will stand
On the bright edge of the road together,
And rain fall, and snow fall,
And the winds come and go.

Stanza two of ‘On A Journey’ opens with an example of anaphora as Hesse repeats part of the poem’s opening line. Again, the speaker tells their companion to not be so downhearted and even reaffirms that rest is not far off. Then the speaker compares the two of them to a pair of “small crosses” (6) standing at the “bright edge of the road together” (7).

This vision signals a shift in the poem’s already ambiguous narrative, implying a much more symbolic understanding of the journey these two people are on. If the road is interpreted as a metaphor for their lives the appearance of two crosses at its “bright edge” implies their arrival at mortality’s limit. In other words, the “crosses” are their graves.

But the crosses could also represent the particular burdens shouldered by both the speaker and their companion. Becoming this triumphant symbol of their shared perseverance that has successfully withstood the perils of the road.

From either interpretation, you can distill Hesse’s steadfast belief in the fortitude that lies in such an uplifting fraternity. The poet drives home this realization by invoking a series of tempests — “rain fall, and snow fall” (8) — but like the raging wind, they “come and go” (9). Insinuating that what remains eternally is the memorialized memory of the fellowship forged on their journey.


What is the theme of ‘On A Journey?’

The poem explores themes of perseverance through adversity and camaraderie as a source of support. One that uses the metaphor of a long and arduous journey as a means of conveying the altruistic emotions that buoy people through hard times.

Why did Hermann Hesse write ‘On A Journey?’

Given the direct and personal nature of the poem, it might be safe to assume that Hesse wrote it with a similar goal in mind as its speaker. Which essentially is an attempt to both soothe and invigorate someone into completing a journey they’re already greatly invested in. As a result, it’s quite a poignantly motivational piece of verse.

What is the relationship between the speaker and their companion?

One of the many ambiguities of the poem is the identity of both the speaker and the person they address. All that’s made clear is just how much they rely on one another, signifying a relationship bound by an unshakable love (whether romantic or platonic).

Why does the speaker refer to the edge of the road as “bright” in the poem?

The visual imagery of the road as described by the speaker, lends it a curious incandescence. If your interpretation of the poem leads you to understand this “edge” as life’s end, then the brightness of the path might insinuate a certain heavenly ascension. At the very least, it imbues the road with a certain etherealness.

Similar Poems

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On A Journey

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.

Hermann Hesse

This short poem by Hermann Hesse is one of his more optimistic. Exploring themes of perseverance in the face of life's withering effect on the spirit, as well as the necessity of confronting them with the help of a friend. As with so many of his poems, this one offers a lucid and poignant depiction of life's capacity for sorrow and hope.
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20th Century

Many of Hermann Hesse's poems were published after his death in 1962 in various collections, many of which were translated into English. This poem comes from one of the first to undergo such a translation and features twenty-one poems written between 1899 and 1921. All of these poems are deeply personal and wrestle with themes such as homesickness and solitude.
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Hermann Hesse was a famous German poet known for both his novels and poetry. He published a number of now-famous works in his lifetime, one of his most revered being 'Steppenwolf.' When it comes to his poetry, many of the collections that contain his work were published posthumously and enjoyed renewed appreciation in translation into English.
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One of the themes broached in Hermann Hesse's poem involves death. The last stanza, especially, with its mention of "small crosses," could be interpreted as an image of a grave and thus symbolizing mortality. Yet, the speaker's attitude toward death is far more positive than it is bleak. Viewing it as more of an opportunity for rest than an end to be feared.
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Another theme in Hermann Hesse's poem is embodied in the journey the speaker and their companion are on. This journey can be a general symbol of life, but ultimately, the purpose of the image is to inspire a prevailing perseverance. One that promises relief in the form of ceaseless companionship.
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One of the central themes of this poem by Hermann Hesse hones in on the importance of one's relationships. As depicted in the speaker's words of encouragement to their guide, the poem reveals the necessity of having someone there to buoy your spirits when the road becomes too wearying. Sometimes, that's the only thing that pulls you through.
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Not many of Hermann Hesse's poems afford such an empowering vision or expression of hope. Yet, this poem does just that, offering a direct consolation from the speaker in the midst of a withering journey. The result is a poem that reassures the reader while also emphasizing the significance of empathetic companionship.
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An emotion that the poem inspires is a sense of relief. The presence of that emotion stems from the speaker's many reassurances that they will soon have an opportunity to rest "hand in hand." This feeling is also made all the more consoling because of the speaker's empathy and devotion to their companion.
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Hermann Hesse's poem also imparts a certain resilience, which is uncommonly expressed in rather optimistic terms. The speaker is forthright in their hope and faith in imminent relief. Their conviction and comfort soothe both the listener and the reader, endowing them both with the fortitude to make it to the end of the journey.
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The relationship between the two characters in Hermann Hesse's poem — the speaker and their companion — is ambiguous. There's no evidence about it leaning toward the romantic or the platonic. Yet this withholding only makes the poem more affecting in its assertions regarding the importance of such a friendship.
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Giving Up

One of the topics in this poem by Hermann Hesse is the idea of giving up. This is exactly what the speaker appears to be cautioning their companion against throughout the poem, attempting to raise their spirits so they can complete their journey. As a result, the poem is deeply moving and uplifting, a rarity amongst the poet's work.
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Many of the poems by Hermann Hesse that appear in the same collection as this one reckon with themes of isolation and alienation from others. This is, without a doubt, one of the more optimistic and attempts to offer consolation in the form of empathy and hope. It's a poem that urges one to see through whatever journey they've embarked on, be it one of ambitious dreams or simply life's everyday toils.
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Ultimately, this poem by Hermann Hesse encourages the cultivation of emotional and spiritual endurance against life's existential labors. Whether you view the journey the speaker is on as a metaphor for life or simply a literal voyage; the meaning is the same. Life's struggles are made all the more bearable when suffering with a friend.
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Free Verse

Many of Hermann Hesse's poems showcase his distinct style, which alternates between stanzas with formal rhyme schemes and meters and ones that more closely resemble free verse. This poem is a great example of the latter, although the poet finds ways to create his own cadence and structure. The result is a poem that utilizes repetition and internal rhymes to subtly influence the poem's mood.
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Steven Ward Poetry Expert
Steven Ward is a passionate writer, having studied for a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature and being a poetry editor for the 'West Wind' publication. He brings this experience to his poetry analysis on Poem Analysis.

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