• Hesse’s grandfather Hermann Gundert (1814-1893) had been a Protestant missionary in India, where he also became an accomplished linguist in Dravidian languages. With a sceptical, questing attitude to the faith he was promoting and a scholarly passion for foreign cultures, Gundert became a role model for his grandson. In his 1923 autobiographical essay “The Childhood of the Magician”, Hesse wrote: This man, my mother’s father, was hidden in a forest of mysteries, just as his face was hidden in the white forest of his beard; from his eyes there flowed sorrow for the world and blithe wisdom, depending on the circumstances, and likewise lonely wisdom and divine roguishness; people from many lands knew him, visited him and revered him.

Why do they say “lonely wisdom” instead of just saying “wisdom” ? What more definition the word “lonely” add to it? I looked up the the expression “lonely wisdom” in different dictionaries but except for google translate that translated it to my language as something like “common sense” I could not find any other meaning for that anywhere. I am not sure if this is the meaning of that.

1 Answer 1


This reads to me as very poetic language.

"lonely wisdom" is not a idiom or common phrase at all. I might interpret the phrase in a few different ways, but I'm not sure if any of them are definitive:

  • wisdom that you can only acquire by spending a lot of time alone or by being lonely
  • "lonely" might be a poetic way of saying "rare". An unusual tree, standing by itself, might be said to be lonely, having no similar tree nearby. So "lonely wisdom" might be rare wisdom, or might indicate that any kind of wisdom is rare, in the author's opinion, depending on how you read the context.

In the passage, it also seems to be in parallel to "blithe wisdom", but I'm not sure what conclusion, if any, could be drawn from that.

  • +1 A nice answer. Or a wisdom which brings loneliness.
    – TimR
    Jan 7, 2019 at 15:47

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