‘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 HesseDon'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.
Explore On A Journey
‘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.
‘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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
- ‘After a Journey’ by Thomas Hardy – this poem explores themes of death and the haunting presence of the past.
- ‘Journey’ by Gillian Clarke – this poem uses a road trip as a means of contemplating life’s voyages.
- ‘The Need to Recall the Journey’ by Sujata Bhatt – this poem looks back on the speaker’s life and yearns for a return to when their child was only just born.