Das Haus auf dem Fels – Casa Sasso

Ernst Frick: Cá del Sass

Poet on the Rocks and in the Mill

März 1910. Der englische Dichter Harold Monro zieht von einem Landhaus in Locarno erst auf den Monte Verità, später in die Mühle von Ronco.

Harold must have visited Monte Verita soon after arriving at his Locarno chalet. Most of what he saw would have been familiar to him from Waidberg, but here was a more extreme colony in the woods beyond the compound. Some of Oedenkoven’s original companions had deplored his commercialism and withdrawn to live as children of nature, obeying only one law, to be true to oneself and the earth. Nowhere else in Europe, perhaps, was there so much of that simplification of life

Harold was one of the first British writers to be influenced by the new ideas. He was already on the right wavelength, with his hostility to orthodox religion and marriage. He had written in his 1906 diary that he hoped for a return of paganism, and the imagery of a poem such as ‘Two Visions’ suggests that he was attracted to current German attempts to revive ancient sun-worship, a cult that was certainly practised at Ascona. Two of the poems he wrote at the chalet in November 1909 are clearly a response to Asconan sexual doctrine, possibly even to conversations with Gross. (72f.)

Perhaps because he had agreed to be responsible for [his son] Nigel for part of each year, he returned briefly to Locarno, where he moved his books and servant to a less inaccessible chalet on the Monte Verità estate. (74)

Having only just taken new quarters, Harold now moved yet again, to one of Oeden-koven’s larger houses nearby. Casa Sasso, ‘the white house on the rock’, opposite the entrance to Monte Verità, had enough space for Nigel, Mary and the manservant, while the flat-roofed extension made a delightful study ‘just made for me’, a six-angled room with a vast window and balcony towards the whole expanse of the lake. Many of Oedenkoven’s buildings had flat roofs, not only for sunbathing but also because he wanted people to live with as little between themselves and the sky as possible; similarly, his doors and windows and even the elaborate gates across the road from Casa Sasso had rounded corners, because right-angles were unnatural. On the Mountain of Truth even the architecture was Utopian.

How far Harold mingled with the colonists is not recorded, but by moving into one of their houses he entered their semi-monastic world, ready to emulate their freedom and dedication. On a clear day the view was magnificent.

The mountains and lake look immense and so calm that one can only just believe them real. Little catches of all kind of music from mandolins to grasshoppers and ripples are floating up in wisps, and bells are ringing every now and then from villages. I can see 14 villages and towns with church steeples along the lake and in the mountains, from my window.

He was determined to control his restlessness and the ‘sexual difficulty’ to which he now felt he was a martyr (‘there is always the fear that alone will drive me mad’). If psychoanalysis had helped him to recognize his homosexuality, it had not enabled him to be at ease with it. At least Tolstoyan repression could be left behind: when the manservant gave notice, Harold took the chance to summon a rather less respectable replacement, a youth he had probably met in Florence. Oreste seems to have been poor, uneducated and known to the police, but Harold described him to Maurice as a ‘faithful and excellent servant’, paid him a regular wage, took him out at least once for a ‘treat’ and made him generous loans. After the boy’s arrival the 1910 diary makes no further mention of the ‘sexual difficulty’. (76)

Harold decided to leave Florence for good. He went to Ascona, ended his tenancy of Casa Sasso, and bought a tiny house in the forest, an ideal home for himself and his young friend. … The new house in the solemn woodland was an abandoned mill house hidden among the trees, just below the road - then a little path - which runs from Monte Verita to the hill village of Ronco. It had two simple rooms one above the other, connected by a ladder and trapdoor. A small, swift stream rushed almost to the eaves, then dropped sheer to the disused mill wheel, flowed across a little garden and fell in a cascade among the rocks on its way to the lake below. (88f.)

Aus Dominic Hibberd: Harold Monro. Poet of the New Age. New York 2001

     The holy boy
     Went from his mother out in the cool of the day
     Over the sun-parched fields
     And in among the olives shining green and shining grey.

     There was no sound,
     No smallest voice of any shivering stream.
     Poor sinless little boy,
     He desired to play and to sing; he could only sigh and dream.

     Suddenly came
     Running along to him naked, with curly hair,
     That rogue of the lovely world,
     That other beautiful child whom the virgin Venus bare.

     The holy boy
     Gazed with those sad blue eyes that all men know.
     Impudent Cupid stood
     Panting, holding an arrow and pointing his bow.

     (Will you not play?
     Jesus, run to him, run to him, swift for our joy.
     Is he not holy, like you?
     Are you afraid of his arrows, O beautiful dreaming boy?)

     And now they stand
     Watching one another with timid gaze;
     Youth has met youth in the wood,
     But holiness will not change its melancholy ways.

     Cupid at last
     Draws his bow and softly lets fly a dart.
     Smile for a moment, sad world! —
     It has grazed the white skin and drawn blood from the sorrowful heart.

     Now, for delight,
     Cupid tosses his locks and goes wantonly near;
     But the child that was born to the cross
     Has let fall on his cheek, for the sadness of life, a compassionate tear.

     Marvellous dream!
     Cupid has offered his arrows for Jesus to try
     He has offered his bow for the game.
     But Jesus went weeping away, and left him there wondering why.

Harold Monro

 Cà del Sass   Foto: Annelies Strba