Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha and Mary Oliver’s “The Summer Day” share many similarities in their advancement of our understanding of the question “What is the Good Life?”. However, these two literary works help us to answer this question in their own unique ways as well. Both works advance our understanding of the Good Life through the realization that individuals must experience the world for themselves; while Siddhartha focuses on the journey within oneself, “The Summer Day” focuses on the appreciation of nature.
Siddhartha and “The Summer Day” both seem to put religion second to experiencing life. Siddhartha and the speaker in Oliver’s poem both wonder similar spiritual questions such as “Who made/created the world?” (Oliver Line 1, Hesse 5), which drive them out into the world. Though the “wise Brahmins had already imparted on [Siddhartha] the bulk of their knowledge” (5), Siddhartha still felt the need to leave his home and religion to learn more. Just as Siddhartha put his religion behind him, so too does the speaker in the poem choose nature over prayer. Appreciation for the natural world is a major theme in both works as Siddhartha’s connection with the river is very similar to the speaker’s connection with the Earth. The poem’s concluding question, “what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” (Lines 18-19) along with the rejection of religious indoctrination speak to the idea that we forge our own paths to the Good Life, suggesting that there is no predetermined route.
While both pieces involve experiencing the world, Siddhartha is truly learning from himself and his experiences while the speaker in the poem is content with observing and exploring nature. Siddhartha says “I will learn from me, from myself, I will be my own pupil” (36), emphasizing his belief that the Good Life/Enlightenment truly comes from within. The poem’s speaker, on the other hand, finds bliss in the many intricate beauties of nature that are often overlooked, without actually gaining any knowledge that advances her inner understanding.
In conclusion, both works enhance our understanding of the answer to “What is the Good Life?” by proving that the path varies between each individual. The speaker in Oliver’s poem is completely content with her life as a nature lover, while Siddhartha eventually reaches Enlightenment as he becomes one with all the voices of the world through his understanding of the river. Both agree that there is no “right” way to achieve the Good Life. The readings suggest that while there is no predestined path, the Good Life is achieved through the appreciation of nature and the relationships made between living beings.
Hesse, Hermann. Siddhartha. Translated by Joachim Neugroschel. New York: Penguin Book, 1999.
Oliver, Mary.NewandSelectedPoems.Boston: Beacon Press, 1992.