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Hans Christian Andersen: ‘Beautiful’
Alfred the sculptor – yes, you know him, don’t you? We all know him; he was awarded the gold medal, traveled to Italy, and came home again. He was young then; in fact, he is still young, though he is ten years older than he was at that time.
After he returned home, he visited one of the little provincial towns on the island of Zealand. The whole village knew who the stranger was, and in his honor one of the richest families gave a party. Everyone of any importance or owning any property was invited. It was quite an event, and all the village knew about it without its being announced by the town crier. Apprentice boys and the children of poor people, and even some of their parents, stood outside the house, looking at the lighted windows with their drawn curtains; and the watchman could imagine that he was giving the party, there were so many people in his street. There was an air of festivity everywhere, and inside the house, too, for Mr. Alfred the sculptor was there.
He talked and told stories, and everybody listened to him with pleasure and enthusiasm, but none more so than the elderly widow of a state official. As far as Mr. Alfred was concerned, she was like a blank sheet of gray blotting paper, absorbing everything that was said and demanding more. She was highly susceptible and unbelievably ignorant-a sort of female Kaspar Hauser.
“I should love to see Rome!” she said. “It must be a wonderful city, with all the many strangers continually arriving there. Now, do tell us what Rome is like. How does the city look when you come in by the gate?”
“It is not easy to describe it,” said the young sculptor. “There’s a great open place, and in the middle of it there is an obelisk that is four thousand years old.”
“An organist!” cried the lady, who had never heard the word “obelisk.”
Some of the guests could hardly keep from laughing, among them the sculptor, but the smile that rose to his lips quickly faded away, for he saw, close by the lady, a pair of dark-blue eyes; they belonged to the daughter of the lady who had been talking, and anyone with such a daughter could not really be silly! The mother was like a fountain of questions, and the daughter, who listened silently, might pass for the naiad of the fountain. How beautiful she was! She was something for a sculptor to look at, but not to speak with, for indeed she talked but very little.
“Has the Pope a large family?” asked the lady.
And the young man answered considerately, as if the question had been put differently, “No, he doesn’t come of a very great family.”
“That’s not what I mean,” said the lady. “I mean, does he have a wife and children?”
“The Pope isn’t allowed to marry,” he replied.
“I don’t approve of that,” said the lady.
She might well have talked and questioned him more intelligently, but if she hadn’t said and asked what she did, would her daughter have leaned so gracefully on her shoulder, looking straight before her with an almost melancholy smile on her lips?
And Mr. Alfred told them of the glorious colors of Italy, the purple of the mountains, the blue of the Mediterranean, the blue of the southern skies, a beauty that could only be surpassed in the North by the deep-blue eyes of a maiden. This he said with peculiar meaning, but she who should have understood it looked quite unconscious, and that, too, was charming!
“Ah, Italy!” sighed some of the guests.
“Traveling!” sighed others.
“Well,” said the widow, “if I win fifty thousand dollars in the lottery, we’ll travel! My daughter and I. You Mr. Alfred, must be our guide. We’ll all three go, with just one or two good friends with us.” Then she smiled in such a friendly manner at the company that each of them could imagine he was the person who would accompany them to Italy. “Yes, we’ll go to Italy! But not to the parts where the robbers are; we’ll stay in Rome and only travel by the great highways where we’ll be safe.”
And the daughter sighed very gently. And how much may lie in one little sigh or be read into it! The young man read a great deal into it. Those two blue eyes, bright that evening in his honor, must conceal treasures of heart and mind rarer than all the glories of Rome! When he left the party, he had lost his heart-lost it completely-to the young lady.
Now, the widow’s house was where Mr. Alfred the sculptor could most frequently be found. It was understood that his calls were not for the lady herself, though he and she did all the talking; he really came for the sake of the daughter. They called her Kala. Her real name was Karen Malene, but the two names had been contracted into the single name Kala. She was extremely, but some people said she was rather dull and probably slept late in the mornings.
“She has been accustomed to that since childhood,” said her mother. “She is as beautiful as Venus, and a beauty always tires easily. She does sleep rather late, but that’s what makes her eyes so bright.”
What a power there was in these clear eyes, these deep blue eyes! “Still waters run deep.” The young man felt the truth of that proverb, and his heart sank into the depths. He spoke of his adventures, and Mamma always asked the same naïve and pertinent questions she had asked at their first meeting.
It was a delight to hear Mr. Alfred speak. He told them of Naples, of trips to Mount Vesuvius, and showed them colored prints of some of the eruptions. The widow had never heard of such things before, much less taken time to think about them.
“Mercy save us!” she said. “So that’s a burning mountain! But isn’t it dangerous for the people who live there?”
“Entire cities have been destroyed,” he answered. “For example, Pompeii and Herculaneum.”
“Oh, the poor people! And you saw all that yourself?”
“Well, no, I didn’t see any of the eruptions shown in these pictures, but I’ll show you a drawing I made of an eruption I did see.”
He laid a pencil sketch on the table, and when Mamma, who had been studying the highly colored prints, glanced at the black-and-white drawing, she cried in amazement, “When you saw it did it throw up white fire?”
For a moment Alfred’s respect for Kala’s mamma nearly vanished; but then, dazzled by the light from Kala, he decided it was natural for the old lady to have no eye for color. After all, it didn’t matter, for Kala’s mamma had the most wonderful thing of all-she had Kala herself.
And Alfred and Kala were engaged, which was inevitable, and the engagement was announced in the town newspaper. Mamma brought thirty copies of the paper, so she could cut out the announcement and send it to her friends. The betrothed couple were happy, and the mamma-in-law-to-be was happy, too; she said it seemed like being related to Thorvaldsen himself.
“At any rate, you are his successor,” she told Alfred.
And it seemed to Alfred that Mamma had this time really said something clever. Kala said nothing, but her eyes sparkled; her every gesture was graceful. Yes, she was beautiful; that cannot be repeated too often.
Alfred made busts of Kala and his future mamma-in-law; they sat for him and watched how he molded and smoothed the soft clay between his fingers.
“I suppose it’s only for us that you do this common work,” said Mamma-in-law-to-be, “and don’t have your servant do all that dabbing together.”
“No, I have to mold the clay myself,” he explained.
“Oh, yes, you’re always so exceedingly polite,” said Mamma, while Kala silently pressed his hand, still soiled by the clay.
Then he unfolded to both of them the loveliness of nature in creation, explaining how the living stood higher in the scale than the dead, how the plant was above the mineral, the animal above the plant, and man above the animal, how mind and beauty are united in outward form, and how it was the task of the sculptor to seize that beauty and imprison it in his works.
Kala sat silent and nodded approval of the thought, while Mamma-in-law confessed, “It’s hard to follow all that. But my thoughts manage to hobble slowly along after you; they whirl around, but I try to hold them fast.”
And the power of Kala’s beauty held Alfred fast, seizing him and mastering him and filling his whole soul. There was beauty in Kala’s every feature; it sparkled in her eyes, lurked in the corners of her mouth and even in each movement of her fingers. The sculptor saw this; he spoke only of her, thought only of her, until the two became one. Thus it might be said that she also spoke often, for he was always talking of her, and they two were one.
Such was the betrothal; and now came the wedding day, with bridesmaids and presents, all duly mentioned in the wedding speech.
Mamma-in-law had set up a bust of Thorvaldsen, attired in a dressing gown, at one end of the table, for it was her whim that he was to be a guest. There were songs and toasts, for it was a gay wedding and they were a handsome pair. “Pygmalion gets his Galatea,” one of the songs said.
“That is something from mythology!” said Mamma-in-law.
Next day the young couple left for Copenhagen, where they were to live. Mamma-in-law went with them, “to give them a helping hand,” she explained-which meant to take charge of the house. Kala was to live in a doll’s house. Everything was so bright, new, and fine. There the three of them sat, and as for Alfred, to use a proverb that describes his circumstances, he sat like the bishop in the goose yard.
The magic of form had fascinated him. He had regarded the case and had no interest in learning what the case contained, and that is unfortunate, very unfortunate, in married life! If the case breaks and the gilding rubs off, the purchaser may repent of his bargain. It is very embarrassing to discover in a large party that one’s suspender buttons are coming off and that one has no belt to fall back on; but it is still worse to realize at a great party that one’s wife and mother-in-law are talking nonsense and that one cannot think of a clever piece of wit to cover up the stupidity of it.
The young couple often sat hand in hand, he speaking and she letting drop a word now and then-with always the same melody, like a clock striking the same two or three notes constantly. It was really a mental relief when one of her friends, Sophie, came to visit them.
Sophie wasn’t pretty. To be sure, she was not deformed; Kala always said she was a little crooked, but no one but a female friend would have noticed that. She was a very levelheaded girl and had no idea that she might ever become dangerous here. Her visits brought a fresh breath of air into the doll’s house, air that they all agreed was certainly needed there. But they felt they needed more airing, so they came out into the air, and Mamma-in-law and the young couple traveled to Italy.
“Thank heaven we are back in our own home again!” said both mother and daughter when they and Alfred returned home a year later.
“Traveling is no fun,” said Mamma-in-law. “On the contrary, it’s very tiring; pardon me for saying so. I found the time dragged, even though I had my children with me; and it is expensive, very expensive, to travel. All those galleries you have to see, and all the things you have to look at! You must do it for self-protection, because when you get back people are sure to ask you about them; and then they’re sure to tell you that you’ve missed the most worth-while things. I got so tired at last of those everlasting Madonnas; I thought I would turn into a Madonna myself!”
“And the food one gets!” said Kala.
“Yes,” agreed Mamma. “Not even a dish of honest meat soup! It is awful the way they cook!”
And Kala had become tired from traveling; she was always tired; that was the trouble. Sophie came to live with them, and her presence was a real help.
Mamma-in-law had to admit that Sophie understood both housekeeping and art, though you would hardly have expected a knowledge of the last from a person of her modest background. Moreover, she was honest and loyal; she showed that clearly when Kala lay sick, fading away.
If the case is everything, that case should be strong, or it is all over. And it was all over with the case-Kala died.
“She was so beautiful,” said Mamma. “She was very different from the antiques, because they’re all so damaged. Kala was completely perfect, just as a beauty should be.”
Alfred wept and the Mother wept, and both went into mourning. The black dresses became Mamma very well, so she wore her mourning the longer. Moreover, she soon experienced another grief, when she saw Alfred marry again. And he married Sophie, who had no looks at all!
“He has gone from one extreme to the other!” said Mamma-in-law. “Gone from the most beautiful to the ugliest! How could he forget his first wife! Men have no constancy. Now, my husband was entirely different, and he died before I did.”
“Pygmalion got his Galatea,” said Alfred. “Yes, that’s what the wedding song said. I really fell in love with a beautiful statue, which came to life in my arms, but the soul mate that heaven sends down to us, one of its angels who can comfort and sympathize with and uplift us, I have not found or won till now. You came to me, Sophie, not in the glory of superficial beauty – but fair enough, prettier than was necessary. The most important thing is still the most important. You came to teach a sculptor that his work is only clay and dust, only the outward form in a fabric that passes away, and that we must seek the spirit within. Poor Kala! Ours was but a wayfarer’s life. In the next world, where we shall come together through sympathy, we shall probably be half strangers to each other.
“That was not spoken kindly,” said Sophie, ” not like a true Christian. In the next world, where there is no marriage, but where, as you say, souls find each other through sympathy, where everything beautiful is developed and elevated, her soul may attain such completeness that it may resound far more melodiously than mine. Then you will again utter the first exciting cry of your love, ‘Beautiful, beautiful!'”
Hans Christian Andersen (1805—1875) fairy tales and stories
Hans Christian Andersen
In China, you know, the emperor is a Chinese, and all those about him are Chinamen also. The story I am going t tell you happened a great many years ago, so it is well to hear it now before it is forgotten. The emperor’s palac was the most beautiful in the world. It was built entirely of porcelain, and very costly, but so delicate and brittle tha whoever touched it was obliged to be careful. In the garden could be seen the most singular flowers, with prett silver bells tied to them, which tinkled so that every one who passed could not help noticing the flowers.
Indeed everything in the emperor’s garden was remarkable, and it extended so far that the gardener himself did not kno where it ended. Those who travelled beyond its limits knew that there was a noble forest, with lofty trees, slopin down to the deep blue sea, and the great ships sailed under the shadow of its branches. In one of these trees live a nightingale, who sang so beautifully that even the poor fishermen, who had so many other things to do, woul stop and listen. Sometimes, when they went at night to spread their nets, they would hear her sing, and say, “Oh, i not that beautiful?” But when they returned to their fishing, they forgot the bird until the next night. Then they woul hear it again, and exclaim “Oh, how beautiful is the nightingale’s song!
Travellers from every country in the world came to the city of the emperor, which they admired very much, as well as the palace and gardens; but when they heard the nightingale, they all declared it to be the best of all.
And the travellers, on their return home, related what they had seen; and learned men wrote books, containing descriptions of the town, the palace, and the gardens; but they did not forget the nightingale, which was really the greatest wonder. And those who could write poetry composed beautiful verses about the nightingale, who lived in a forest near the deep sea.
The books travelled all over the world, and some of them came into the hands of the emperor; and he sat in his golden chair, and, as he read, he nodded his approval every moment, for it pleased him to find such a beautiful description of his city, his palace, and his gardens. But when he came to the words, “the nightingale is the most beautiful of all,” he exclaimed:
“What is this? I know nothing of any nightingale. Is there such a bird in my empire? and even in my garden? I have never heard of it. Something, it appears, may be learnt from books.”
Then he called one of his lords-in-waiting, who was so high-bred, that when any in an inferior rank to himself spoke to him, or asked him a question, he would answer, “Pooh,” which means nothing.
“There is a very wonderful bird mentioned here, called a nightingale,” said the emperor; “they say it is the best thing in my large kingdom. Why have I not been told of it?”
“I have never heard the name,” replied the cavalier; “she has not been presented at court.”
“It is my pleasure that she shall appear this evening.” said the emperor; “the whole world knows what I possess better than I do myself.”
“I have never heard of her,” said the cavalier; “yet I will endeavor to find her.”
But where was the nightingale to be found? The nobleman went up stairs and down, through halls and passages; yet none of those whom he met had heard of the bird. So he returned to the emperor, and said that it must be a fable, invented by those who had written the book. “Your imperial majesty,” said he, “cannot believe everything contained in books; sometimes they are only fiction, or what is called the black art.”
“But the book in which I have read this account,” said the emperor, “was sent to me by the great and mighty emperor of Japan, and therefore it cannot contain a falsehood. I will hear the nightingale, she must be here this evening; she has my highest favor; and if she does not come, the whole court shall be trampled upon after supper is ended.”
“Tsing-pe!” cried the lord-in-waiting, and again he ran up and down stairs, through all the halls and corridors; and half the court ran with him, for they did not like the idea of being trampled upon. There was a great inquiry about this wonderful nightingale, whom all the world knew, but who was unknown to the court.
At last they met with a poor little girl in the kitchen, who said, “Oh, yes, I know the nightingale quite well; indeed, she can sing. Every evening I have permission to take home to my poor sick mother the scraps from the table; she lives down by the sea-shore, and as I come back I feel tired, and I sit down in the wood to rest, and listen to the nightingale’s song. Then the tears come into my eyes, and it is just as if my mother kissed me.”
“Little maiden,” said the lord-in-waiting, “I will obtain for you constant employment in the kitchen, and you shall have permission to see the emperor dine, if you will lead us to the nightingale; for she is invited for this evening to the palace.”
So she went into the wood where the nightingale sang, and half the court followed her. As they went along, a cow began lowing.
“Oh,” said a young courtier, “now we have found her; what wonderful power for such a small creature; I have certainly heard it before.”
“No, that is only a cow lowing,” said the little girl; “we are a long way from the place yet.”
Then some frogs began to croak in the marsh.
“Beautiful,” said the young courtier again. “Now I hear it, tinkling like little church bells.”
“No, those are frogs,” said the little maiden; “but I think we shall soon hear her now:”
And presently the nightingale began to sing.
“Hark, hark! there she is,” said the girl, “and there she sits,” she added, pointing to a little gray bird who was perched on a bough.
“Is it possible?” said the lord-in-waiting, “I never imagined it would be a little, plain, simple thing like that. She has certainly changed color at seeing so many grand people around her.”
“Little nightingale,” cried the girl, raising her voice, “our most gracious emperor wishes you to sing before him.”
“With the greatest pleasure,” said the nightingale, and began to sing most delightfully.
“It sounds like tiny glass bells,” said the lord-in-waiting, “and see how her little throat works. It is surprising that we have never heard this before; she will be a great success at court.”
“Shall I sing once more before the emperor?” asked the nightingale, who thought he was present.
“My excellent little nightingale,” said the courtier, “I have the great pleasure of inviting you to a court festival this evening, where you will gain imperial favor by your charming song.”
“My song sounds best in the green wood,” said the bird; but still she came willingly when she heard the emperor’s wish.
The palace was elegantly decorated for the occasion. The walls and floors of porcelain glittered in the light of a thousand lamps. Beautiful flowers, round which little bells were tied, stood in the corridors: what with the running to and fro and the draught, these bells tinkled so loudly that no one could speak to be heard.
In the centre of the great hall, a golden perch had been fixed for the nightingale to sit on. The whole court was present, and the little kitchen-maid had received permission to stand by the door. She was not installed as a real court cook. All were in full dress, and every eye was turned to the little gray bird when the emperor nodded to her to begin.
The nightingale sang so sweetly that the tears came into the emperor’s eyes, and then rolled down his cheeks, as her song became still more touching and went to every one’s heart. The emperor was so delighted that he declared the nightingale should have his gold slipper to wear round her neck, but she declined the honor with thanks: she had been sufficiently rewarded already.
“I have seen tears in an emperor’s eyes,” she said, “that is my richest reward. An emperor’s tears have wonderful power, and are quite sufficient honor for me;” and then she sang again more enchantingly than ever.
“That singing is a lovely gift;” said the ladies of the court to each other; and then they took water in their mouths to make them utter the gurgling sounds of the nightingale when they spoke to any one, so thay they might fancy themselves nightingales. And the footmen and chambermaids also expressed their satisfaction, which is saying a great deal, for they are very difficult to please. In fact the nightingale’s visit was most successful.
She was now to remain at court, to have her own cage, with liberty to go out twice a day, and once during the night. Twelve servants were appointed to attend her on these occasions, who each held her by a silken string fastened to her leg. There was certainly not much pleasure in this kind of flying.
The whole city spoke of the wonderful bird, and when two people met, one said “nightin,” and the other said “gale,” and they understood what was meant, for nothing else was talked of. Eleven peddlers’ children were named after her, but not of them could sing a note.
One day the emperor received a large packet on which was written “The Nightingale.”
“Here is no doubt a new book about our celebrated bird,” said the emperor. But instead of a book, it was a work of art contained in a casket, an artificial nightingale made to look like a living one, and covered all over with diamonds, rubies, and sapphires. As soon as the artificial bird was wound up, it could sing like the real one, and could move its tail up and down, which sparkled with silver and gold. Round its neck hung a piece of ribbon, on which was written “The Emperor of China’s nightingale is poor compared with that of the Emperor of Japan’s.”
“This is very beautiful,” exclaimed all who saw it, and he who had brought the artificial bird received the title of “Imperial nightingale-bringer-in-chief.”
“Now they must sing together,” said the court, “and what a duet it will be.”
But they did not get on well, for the real nightingale sang in its own natural way, but the artificial bird sang only waltzes. “That is not a fault,” said the music-master, “it is quite perfect to my taste,” so then it had to sing alone, and was as successful as the real bird; besides, it was so much prettier to look at, for it sparkled like bracelets and breast-pins.
Thirty three times did it sing the same tunes without being tired; the people would gladly have heard it again, but the emperor said the living nightingale ought to sing something. But where was she? No one had noticed her when she flew out at the open window, back to her own green woods.
“What strange conduct,” said the emperor, when her flight had been discovered; and all the courtiers blamed her, and said she was a very ungrateful creature. “But we have the best bird after all,” said one, and then they would have the bird sing again, although it was the thirty-fourth time they had listened to the same piece, and even then they had not learnt it, for it was rather difficult. But the music-master praised the bird in the highest degree, and even asserted that it was better than a real nightingale, not only in its dress and the beautiful diamonds, but also in its musical power.
“For you must perceive, my chief lord and emperor, that with a real nightingale we can never tell what is going to be sung, but with this bird everything is settled. It can be opened and explained, so that people may understand how the waltzes are formed, and why one note follows upon another.”
“This is exactly what we think,” they all replied, and then the music-master received permission to exhibit the bird to the people on the following Sunday, and the emperor commanded that they should be present to hear it sing. When they heard it they were like people intoxicated; however it must have been with drinking tea, which is quite a Chinese custom. They all said “Oh!” and held up their forefingers and nodded, but a poor fisherman, who had heard the real nightingale, said, “it sounds prettily enough, and the melodies are all alike; yet there seems something wanting, I cannot exactly tell what.”
And after this the real nightingale was banished from the empire.
The artificial bird was placed on a silk cushion close to the emperor’s bed. The presents of gold and precious stones which had been received with it were round the bird, and it was now advanced to the title of “Little Imperial Toilet Singer,” and to the rank of No. 1 on the left hand; for the emperor considered the left side, on which the heart lies, as the most noble, and the heart of an emperor is in the same place as that of other people. The music-master wrote a work, in twenty-five volumes, about the artificial bird, which was very learned and very long, and full of the most difficult Chinese words; yet all the people said they had read it, and understood it, for fear of being thought stupid and having their bodies trampled upon.
So a year passed, and the emperor, the court, and all the other Chinese knew every little turn in the artificial bird’s song; and for that same reason it pleased them better. They could sing with the bird, which they often did. The street-boys sang, “Zi-zi-zi, cluck, cluck, cluck,” and the emperor himself could sing it also. It was really most amusing.
One evening, when the artificial bird was singing its best, and the emperor lay in bed listening to it, something inside the bird sounded “whizz.” Then a spring cracked. “Whir-r-r-r” went all the wheels, running round, and then the music stopped.
The emperor immediately sprang out of bed, and called for his physician; but what could he do? Then they sent for a watchmaker; and, after a great deal of talking and examination, the bird was put into something like order; but he said that it must be used very carefully, as the barrels were worn, and it would be impossible to put in new ones without injuring the music. Now there was great sorrow, as the bird could only be allowed to play once a year; and even that was dangerous for the works inside it. Then the music-master made a little speech, full of hard words, and declared that the bird was as good as ever; and, of course no one contradicted him.
Five years passed, and then a real grief came upon the land. The Chinese really were fond of their emperor, and he now lay so ill that he was not expected to live. Already a new emperor had been chosen and the people who stood in the street asked the lord-in-waiting how the old emperor was.
But he only said, “Pooh!” and shook his head.
Cold and pale lay the emperor in his royal bed; the whole court thought he was dead, and every one ran away to pay homage to his successor. The chamberlains went out to have a talk on the matter, and the ladies’-maids invited company to take coffee. Cloth had been laid down on the halls and passages, so that not a footstep should be heard, and all was silent and still. But the emperor was not yet dead, although he lay white and stiff on his gorgeous bed, with the long velvet curtains and heavy gold tassels. A window stood open, and the moon shone in upon the emperor and the artificial bird.
The poor emperor, finding he could scarcely breathe with a strange weight on his chest, opened his eyes, and saw Death sitting there. He had put on the emperor’s golden crown, and held in one hand his sword of state, and in the other his beautiful banner. All around the bed and peeping through the long velvet curtains, were a number of strange heads, some very ugly, and others lovely and gentle-looking. These were the emperor’s good and bad deeds, which stared him in the face now Death sat at his heart.
“Do you remember this?” “Do you recollect that?” they asked one after another, thus bringing to his remembrance circumstances that made the perspiration stand on his brow.
“I know nothing about it,” said the emperor. “Music! music!” he cried; “the large Chinese drum! that I may not hear what they say.”
But they still went on, and Death nodded like a Chinaman to all they said.
“Music! music!” shouted the emperor. “You little precious golden bird, sing, pray sing! I have given you gold and costly presents; I have even hung my golden slipper round your neck. Sing! sing!”
But the bird remained silent. There was no one to wind it up, and therefore it could not sing a note. Death continued to stare at the emperor with his cold, hollow eyes, and the room was fearfully still.
Suddenly there came through the open window the sound of sweet music. Outside, on the bough of a tree, sat the living nightingale. She had heard of the emperor’s illness, and was therefore come to sing to him of hope and trust. And as she sung, the shadows grew paler and paler; the blood in the emperor’s veins flowed more rapidly, and gave life to his weak limbs; and even Death himself listened, and said, “Go on, little nightingale, go on.”
“Then will you give me the beautiful golden sword and that rich banner? and will you give me the emperor’s crown?” said the bird.
So Death gave up each of these treasures for a song; and the nightingale continued her singing. She sung of the quiet churchyard, where the white roses grow, where the elder-tree wafts its perfume on the breeze, and the fresh, sweet grass is moistened by the mourners’ tears. Then Death longed to go and see his garden, and floated out through the window in the form of a cold, white mist.
“Thanks, thanks, you heavenly little bird. I know you well. I banished you from my kingdom once, and yet you have charmed away the evil faces from my bed, and banished Death from my heart, with your sweet song. How can I reward you?”
“You have already rewarded me,” said the nightingale. “I shall never forget that I drew tears from your eyes the first time I sang to you. These are the jewels that rejoice a singer’s heart. But now sleep, and grow strong and well again. I will sing to you again.”
And as she sung, the emperor fell into a sweet sleep; and how mild and refreshing that slumber was!
When he awoke, strengthened and restored, the sun shone brightly through the window; but not one of his servants had returned– they all believed he was dead; only the nightingale still sat beside him, and sang.
“You must always remain with me,” said the emperor. “You shall sing only when it pleases you; and I will break the artificial bird into a thousand pieces.”
“No; do not do that,” replied the nightingale; “the bird did very well as long as it could. Keep it here still. I cannot live in the palace, and build my nest; but let me come when I like. I will sit on a bough outside your window, in the evening, and sing to you, so that you may be happy, and have thoughts full of joy. I will sing to you of those who are happy, and those who suffer; of the good and the evil, who are hidden around you. The little singing bird flies far from you and your court to the home of the fisherman and the peasant’s cot. I love your heart better than your crown; and yet something holy lingers round that also. I will come, I will sing to you; but you must promise me one thing.”
“Everything,” said the emperor, who, having dressed himself in his imperial robes, stood with the hand that held the heavy golden sword pressed to his heart.
“I only ask one thing,” she replied; “let no one know that you have a little bird who tells you everything. It will be best to conceal it.”
So saying, the nightingale flew away.
The servants now came in to look after the dead emperor; when, lo! there he stood, and, to their astonishment, said, “Good morning.”
Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and stories
Hans Christian Andersen
Pen and inkstand
In a poet’s study, somebody made a remark as he looked at the inkstand that was standing on the table: “It’s strange what can come out of that inkstand! I wonder what the next thing will be. Yes, it’s strange!”
“That it is!” said the Inkstand. “It’s unbelievable, that’s what I have always said.” The Inkstand was speaking to the Pen and to everything else on the table that could hear it. “It’s really amazing what comes out of me! Almost incredible! I actually don’t know myself what will come next when that person starts to dip into me. One drop from me is enough for half a piece of paper, and what may not be on it then? I am something quite remarkable. All the works of this poet come from me. These living characters, whom people think they recognize, these deep emotions, that gay humor, the charming descriptions of nature – I don’t understand those myself, because I don’t know anything about nature – all of that is in me. From me have come out, and still come out, that host of lovely maidens and brave knights on snorting steeds. The fact is, I assure you, I don’t know anything about them myself.”
“You are right about that,” said the Pen. “You have very few ideas, and don’t bother about thinking much at all. If you did take the trouble to think, you would understand that nothing comes out of you except a liquid. You just supply me with the means of putting down on paper what I have in me; that’s what I write with. It’s the pen that does the writing. Nobody doubts that, and most people know as much about poetry as an old inkstand!”
“You haven’t had much experience,” retorted the Inkstand. “You’ve hardly been in service a week, and already you’re half worn out. Do you imagine you’re the poet? Why, you’re only a servant; I have had a great many like you before you came, some from the goose family and some of English make. I’m familiar with both quill pens and steel pens. Yes, I’ve had a great many in my service, and I’ll have many more when the man who goes through the motions for me comes to write down what he gets from me. I’d be much interested in knowing what will be the next thing he gets from me.”
“Inkpot!” cried the Pen.
Late that evening the Poet came home. He had been at a concert, had heard a splendid violinist, and was quite thrilled with his marvelous performance. From his instrument he had drawn a golden river of melody. Sometimes it had sounded like the gentle murmur of rippling water drops, wonderful pearl-like tones, sometimes like a chorus of twittering birds, sometimes like a tempest tearing through mighty forests of pine. The Poet had fancied he heard his own heart weep, but in tones as sweet as the gentle voice of a woman. It seemed as if the music came not only from the strings of the violin, but from its sounding board, its pegs, its very bridge. It was amazing! The selection had been extremely difficult, but it had seemed as if the bow were wandering over the strings merely in play. The performance was so easy that an ignorant listener might have thought he could do it himself. The violin seemed to sound, and the bow to play, of their own accord, and one forgot the master who directed them, giving them life and soul. Yes, the master was forgotten, but the Poet remembered him. He repeated his name and wrote down his thoughts.
“How foolish it would be for the violin and bow to boast of their achievements! And yet we human beings often do so. Poets, artists, scientists, generals – we are all proud of ourselves, and yet we’re only instruments in the hands of our Lord! To Him alone be the glory! We have nothing to be arrogant about.”
Yes, that is what the Poet wrote down, and he titled his essay, “The Master and the Instruments.”
“That ought to hold you, madam,” said the Pen, when the two were alone again. “Did you hear him read aloud what I had written?”
“Yes, I heard what I gave you to write,” said the Inkstand. “It was meant for you and your conceit. It’s strange that you can’t tell when anyone is making fun of you. I gave you a pretty sharp cut there; surely I must know my own satire!”
“Inkpot!” said the Pen.
“Scribble-stick!” said the Inkstand.
They were both satisfied with their answers, and it is a great comfort to feel that one has made a witty reply – one sleeps better afterward. So they both went to sleep.
But the Poet didn’t sleep. His thoughts rushed forth like the violin’s tones, falling like pearls, sweeping on like a storm through the forest. He understood the sentiments of his own heart; he caught a ray of the light from the everlasting Master.
To him alone be the glory!
Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and stories
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