‘Stages’ by Hermann Hesse is a two stanza poem that is separated into one set of twelve lines and another of ten. These sections have been broken down further in this analysis at the places where Hesse placed punctuation. These are the natural moments at which to pause while speaking. The first stanza is divided into three sets of four lines, or quatrains. Each quatrain is a separate thought that connects to the overarching themes of life and death. In the second stanza, the speaker focuses on what comes after death and how God has prepared everyone to face it.
Hesse has imbued this piece with a consistent pattern of rhyme. In the first stanza, it follows a pattern of abacbcdedefg. The pattern changes in the second stanza though. The end sounds start off the same with the lines picking up where the first stanza left off. In the first line he repeats the word “us” and then rhymes “spaces” with “places” from the first stanza. After this, the pattern is wholly different. In its entirety, it looks like abcdcdeffe.
Summary of Stages
The poem begins with the speaker stating that everyone and everything will eventually “fade.” Life is a process that takes one from birth through to the next life. This is not something to fear. Instead, one should prepare for it, accept it, and embrace death when it comes.
Analysis of Stages
As every flower fades and as all youth
Departs, so life at every stage,
So every virtue, so our grasp of truth,
Blooms in its day and may not last forever.
The first stanza begins with the speaker making a basic, yet impactful statement. He says that “every flower fades,” just as “all youth / Departs.” This is something that everyone is well aware of but the fact that it appears at the beginning of the point makes it more impactful. It has a bluntness that draws a reader in and makes one want to continue on.
In the next line, Hesse utilizes the word “stage” referencing the title of the poem. His speaker is discussing life and death as coming in stages. As one lives, each moment comes and then “Departs.” Just as this occurs, so too does one’s “grasp of truth,” come and go. This is a reference to a larger truth. He is concerned with the meaning of life and believes that one might get close to it at points but never be able to fully grasp it.
There is a metaphor in the last line of this section that further elucidates what the speaker is trying to say. Truth comes around once in a while, it “Blooms” and more likely than not, “may not last forever.”
Since life may summon us at every age
Be ready, heart, for parting, new endeavor,
Be ready bravely and without remorse
To find new light that old ties cannot give.
After this somewhat dark start to the poem in which one was abruptly reminded of their own mortality in the next stanza, the speaker describes how life is fickle. It will call one to death, “for parting,” whenever it decides. This is not something that he describes as being depressing though. He states that death is nothing but a “new endeavour.” One must face it “bravely” and “without remorse.”
There is no reason to fight death as it is inevitable. Therefore one might as well look forward to finding “new light” that cannot be found in life.
In all beginnings dwells a magic force
For guarding us and helping us to live.
Serenely let us move to distant places
And let no sentiments of home detain us.
In the next quatrain the speaker states that when one is born there is a force that “dwells” within the body. It is “magic” and helps one through the stages of life. It is a “guard” in the darkest of times and then when it is time to die, helps one to “move to distant places.” The speaker, perhaps casting his words to God, asks that he, and all others, be allowed to die “Serenely” with no “sentiments.” He sees this kind of death as being ideal.
The Cosmic Spirit seeks not to restrain us
But lifts us stage by stage to wider spaces.
If we accept a home of our own making,
Familiar habit makes for indolence.
In the first section of lines in the second stanza, a reader will notice that the end word “us” is repeated. This connects the first stanza to the second. If the first stanza represents life and one’s preparation for death, then the second is what happens after death. The connection between the two stanzas represents the bridge from life to death the speaker is describing.
Now the speaker is addressing his listener more directly. He states that the “Cosmic Spirit,” a reference to God or any other higher power responsible for creation, does not “seek… to restrain us.” Instead, it is God’s goal to move one from one stage of life to another. One of these stages is death and that has to be accepted.
We must prepare for parting and leave-taking
Or else remain the slave of permanence.
Even the hour of our death may send
Us speeding on to fresh and newer spaces,
And life may summon us to newer races.
So be it, heart: bid farewell without end.
In the final set of lines the speaker states once more, very clearly, that all those on earth must be ready to depart when the time comes. If one does not accept their fate, then they will be a “slave to permanence,” obsessed with trying to avoid death. The speaker describes death as something that can bring about great and positive change.
He believes that everyone should see it as “life” summoning one to “newer races.” In the last line, he refers to his own heart and asks that it “bid farewell without end.” He is ready to face his own death and hopes that his words have convinced others to see the beauty in moving through the stages of life.