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Weightlessness, Between Novalis and Paul Klee


Aesthetics and wisdom are combined to enchanting effect in an edition of The Novices of Sais, illustrated by Paul Klee.

Throughout the ecstatic parade that is the history of books there are editions destined never to be forgotten. These are often germinated at the intersection of circumstance and success where a particular brilliance is forged. When it happens, and when one of these works reaches the hands of a reader, in but a precious moment, it is consumed, something like when the perfectly cut stone finds its place in the setting for which it was destined.

Cover of book Novices of Sais by Novalis

Novalis’ Novices of Sais was written in 1802. It’s a kind of dance of poetic philosophy centered around nature – an omnipresent theme in the German literary work of the time. Even one hundred years later it continued to inspire the greatest creators of their own times, among them Rilke, Borges, and Herman Hesse. Swiss-German artist, Paul Klee was inspired by the seething allegories of Novalis to complete his own series of illustrations in 1949. These were merged with a new English translation by Ralph Manheim and published in 2005 by Archipelago Books.

Strokes just barely emerge from a secret white. The minimalism is empathic. Such has Klee himself translated the reflections of one of history’s fondest romantics. The childlike simplicity proves to be an ideal medium for visualizing an imaginary congregation of spiritual gardeners in Egypt, and from whom Novalis is responsible for extracting that invaluable filament.

Perhaps no one has so diluted the distance between the rational and the natural with the sensitivity of Novalis, in publishing The Novices of Sais. Illustrated with Klee’s drawings, the work takes on a message of hopeful grace that stays with you, between your hands.

Line drawing by Paul Klee.


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