Defining the word love is almost impossible. No other word in the English language has so many different connotations and uses. There can be no one true single definition. However, for the purpose of this paper, I have come to the following conclusion. Love is an intense emotion, characterized by unwavering admiration and caring between two people who consider themselves to be perfect equals in the eyes of God.
To consider oneself a complete equal with another, a deep understanding and respect of the other person must be developed. There should be no instances of immature jealousy or pointless wishes. Each person must revere the other for who they are, and expect nothing more of them. Only when this point has been reached, true love will be present. As the story begins, Narcissus and Goldmund already have a very special relationship is growing and changing as the novel goes on. However, I believe that neither of them ever really experiences the bonds of unwavering love and equality until the very end. The relationship begins innocently enough.
Goldmund is a young student, while Narcissus is his older mentor at the Mariabronn cloister. Goldmund admires the learned mind and discerning wit of Narcissus, while Narcissus respects the “strong, delicate senses” that Goldmund possesses. However, when Narcissus confronts Goldmund with his gifted observations of him, it is a valid indication of the type of relationship that has so far grown between them. “I am superior to you only in one point: I’m awake, whereas you are only half awake, or completely asleep sometimes… Natures of your kind are almost always superior to us creatures of the mind… You live fully; you were endowed with the strength of love, the ability to feel.” Narcissus clearly feels that there exists a separation between himself and Goldmund. In his eyes, they are not and can never be equal. He even seems to imply that he himself is unable to feel love. Narcissus’s words may have been honest, but they were stated without forethought and they demonstrated a lack of caring for young Goldmund. Narcissus has basically told an idealistic boy that looks up to him, that they will never be upon the same level and can never be true friends.
These are the first two major violations of my definition of love that surface. Narcissus’s perceptions, which he considers to be “spoken better than usual”, have caused Goldmund to flinch, as though he’d been “pierced by an arrow.” Had there existed true love between the pair, Narcissus would have carefully weighed his injurious words, or perhaps not spoken them at all. Narcissus’s thoughts, though carelessly spoken, do have the desired effect on Goldmund. Goldmund realizes that he does not belong in the cloister, and he ventures out into the world. It goes without saying that many of the relationships that Goldmund has with women from that point on, are devoid of any form of love entirely. He lusts for these women, and usually only desires sex. Even when he stays with Lydia and Julie, he is pervertedly attracted to both of them, and is not deathly heartbroken when he is forced to move on. Later in the novel, he has matured a bit and has a somewhat extended relationship with Lene. However, when she is dying of the plague, he does not stay at her bedside because of his powerful enduring love for her. He remains there because he did not want “to leave the child there alone and dying.” He definitely cared for Lene, but he lacked the faithful affection for her.
In fact, it wasn’t too long after her death that Goldmund made sexual advances toward Rebecca, and finally toward Agnes. When Goldmund finally returns to Mariabronn, he has greatly matured and advanced in his self discovery and understanding. He knows now of his ability and fondness for creating sculptures. He knows that he made the right decision in leaving the life of the cloister. Narcissus notices this in Goldmund over time. Once returning, Goldmund begins to sculpt figures for the cloister. His art is more powerful than ever, as he captures the spirit of the departed Abbot Daniel and Father Martin in his sculpted evangelists. An important landmark is made in the relationship between Narcissus and Goldmund, is when Goldmund allows Narcissus to view his artwork and comment upon it. At that moment, Narcissus gains a complete understanding and respect for Goldmund. They are a step closer to the emotional depth of true love. In the final moments of the scene, Narcissus confesses his feelings. “Now I know who you are. Let us speak about this no longer; I cannot. Oh, Goldmund, that this hour has been given to us!”
Not long after, Goldmund once again becomes uncomfortable with cloister life. “He was no longer free, no longer young.” He decided to leave the cloister again, to wander one last time. Narcissus’s love for him becomes apparent when the two say goodbye. “I must confess to you that I worried about you on several occasions during the last months. I saw that you were restless and disturbed, and when you disappeared and stayed away for more than a day, I sometimes thought with sorrow: perhaps he’s never coming back. And now you have carved this wonderful statue. I am happy for you and proud of you.” When Goldmund does ride off, Narcissus does not take it lightly. He constantly worries and prays for his dearest friend. He feels that his life has been enriched by Goldmund, and wonders if he could have “shown his friend more clearly how much he loved him.” Goldmund eventually returns, and dies with Narcissus by his side.
The relationship has ended, and can now be studied in its entirety. At the start, the relationship was a simple friendship. Both of them had much to learn about each other and themselves before they could ever love one another. Narcissus originally felt that Goldmund was superior, while the contrary was true for Goldmund. It was not until Goldmund returned, that love was slowly grew between the two. As I wrote above, I believe love to be an intense emotion, characterized by unwavering affection, admiration, caring, and understanding between two people who consider themselves to be perfect equals in the eyes of God. Narcissus cared enough for Goldmund to remember the fate of Goldmund’s boyhood horse, Bless, years later when he reunites with Goldmund. Narcissus admires Goldmund’s artistic ability, as Goldmund admires Narcissus’s intellect and dedication to cloister life.
They both understand the lifestyle that the other has chosen, and feel completely equal. All these points become completely clear as Narcissus reflects upon their relationship. “Just as [Narcissus] had once, many years ago, intervened roughly, almost brutally, in Goldmund’s youth and placed his life in a new sphere, so his friend had preoccupied him since his return, had shaken him, had forced him to doubt his self- examination. He was his equal; Narcissus had given back to him nothing that had not been given back to him many times over.” These are the thoughts of someone deeply in love. Finally, all the points in my definition of love had been covered, and as Goldmund passes on, he does so beside the one person in his life that truly loves him.