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«« Previous page · THE ALCHEMIST BY H.P. LOVECRAFT · THE TREE BY H.P. LOVECRAFT · UNDRESSED: A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR · MACHTELD – DE MUZE VAN KAREL APPEL · TON KORS: HANNIE SCHAFT. HET LEVENSVERHAAL VAN EEN VROUW IN VERZET TEGEN DE NAZI’S · HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: ‘BEAUTIFUL’ · HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: THE NIGHTINGALE · SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE MAN WHO NEVER LIVED AND WILL NEVER DIE · ARTHUR MUNBY: POST MORTEM · The Raven van E.A. Poe in Museum Meermanno, Den Haag · Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm: Rumpelstiltskin · Hans Christian Andersen: Pen and inkstand

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THE ALCHEMIST BY H.P. LOVECRAFT

LOVECRAFT_HP12The Alchemist
by H. P. Lovecraft

High up, crowning the grassy summit of a swelling mound whose sides are wooded near the base with the gnarled trees of the primeval forest, stands the old chateau of my ancestors. For centuries its lofty battlements have frowned down upon the wild and rugged countryside about, serving as a home and stronghold for the proud house whose honoured line is older even than the moss-grown castle walls. These ancient turrets, stained by the storms of generations and crumbling under the slow yet mighty pressure of time, formed in the ages of feudalism one of the most dreaded and formidable fortresses in all France. From its machicolated parapets and mounted battlements Barons, Counts, and even Kings had been defied, yet never had its spacious halls resounded to the footsteps of the invader.

But since those glorious years all is changed. A poverty but little above the level of dire want, together with a pride of name that forbids its alleviation by the pursuits of commercial life, have prevented the scions of our line from maintaining their estates in pristine splendour; and the falling stones of the walls, the overgrown vegetation in the parks, the dry and dusty moat, the ill-paved courtyards, and toppling towers without, as well as the sagging floors, the worm-eaten wainscots, and the faded tapestries within, all tell a gloomy tale of fallen grandeur. As the ages passed, first one, then another of the four great turrets were left to ruin, until at last but a single tower housed the sadly reduced descendants of the once mighty lords of the estate.

It was in one of the vast and gloomy chambers of this remaining tower that I, Antoine, last of the unhappy and accursed Comtes de C——, first saw the light of day, ninety long years ago. Within these walls, and amongst the dark and shadowy forests, the wild ravines and grottoes of the hillside below, were spent the first years of my troubled life. My parents I never knew. My father had been killed at the age of thirty-two, a month before I was born, by the fall of a stone somehow dislodged from one of the deserted parapets of the castle; and my mother having died at my birth, my care and education devolved solely upon one remaining servitor, an old and trusted man of considerable intelligence, whose name I remember as Pierre. I was an only child, and the lack of companionship which this fact entailed upon me was augmented by the strange care exercised by my aged guardian in excluding me from the society of the peasant children whose abodes were scattered here and there upon the plains that surround the base of the hill. At the time, Pierre said that this restriction was imposed upon me because my noble birth placed me above association with such plebeian company. Now I know that its real object was to keep from my ears the idle tales of the dread curse upon our line, that were nightly told and magnified by the simple tenantry as they conversed in hushed accents in the glow of their cottage hearths.

Thus isolated, and thrown upon my own resources, I spent the hours of my childhood in poring over the ancient tomes that filled the shadow-haunted library of the chateau, and in roaming without aim or purpose through the perpetual dusk of the spectral wood that clothes the side of the hill near its foot. It was perhaps an effect of such surroundings that my mind early acquired a shade of melancholy. Those studies and pursuits which partake of the dark and occult in Nature most strongly claimed my attention.

Of my own race I was permitted to learn singularly little, yet what small knowledge of it I was able to gain, seemed to depress me much. Perhaps it was at first only the manifest reluctance of my old preceptor to discuss with me my paternal ancestry that gave rise to the terror which I ever felt at the mention of my great house; yet as I grew out of childhood, I was able to piece together disconnected fragments of discourse, let slip from the unwilling tongue which had begun to falter in approaching senility, that had a sort of relation to a certain circumstance which I had always deemed strange, but which now became dimly terrible. The circumstance to which I allude is the early age at which all the Comtes of my line had met their end. Whilst I had hitherto considered this but a natural attribute of a family of short-lived men, I afterward pondered long upon these premature deaths, and began to connect them with the wanderings of the old man, who often spoke of a curse which for centuries had prevented the lives of the holders of my title from much exceeding the span of thirty-two years. Upon my twenty-first birthday, the aged Pierre gave to me a family document which he said had for many generations been handed down from father to son, and continued by each possessor. Its contents were of the most startling nature, and its perusal confirmed the gravest of my apprehensions. At this time, my belief in the supernatural was firm and deep-seated, else I should have dismissed with scorn the incredible narrative unfolded before my eyes.

The paper carried me back to the days of the thirteenth century, when the old castle in which I sat had been a feared and impregnable fortress. It told of a certain ancient man who had once dwelt on our estates, a person of no small accomplishments, though little above the rank of peasant; by name, Michel, usually designated by the surname of Mauvais, the Evil, on account of his sinister reputation. He had studied beyond the custom of his kind, seeking such things as the Philosopher’s Stone, or the Elixir of Eternal Life, and was reputed wise in the terrible secrets of Black Magic and Alchemy. Michel Mauvais had one son, named Charles, a youth as proficient as himself in the hidden arts, and who had therefore been called Le Sorcier, or the Wizard. This pair, shunned by all honest folk, were suspected of the most hideous practices. Old Michel was said to have burnt his wife alive as a sacrifice to the Devil, and the unaccountable disappearances of many small peasant children were laid at the dreaded door of these two. Yet through the dark natures of the father and the son ran one redeeming ray of humanity; the evil old man loved his offspring with fierce intensity, whilst the youth had for his parent a more than filial affection.

One night the castle on the hill was thrown into the wildest confusion by the vanishment of young Godfrey, son to Henri the Comte. A searching party, headed by the frantic father, invaded the cottage of the sorcerers and there came upon old Michel Mauvais, busy over a huge and violently boiling cauldron. Without certain cause, in the ungoverned madness of fury and despair, the Comte laid hands on the aged wizard, and ere he released his murderous hold his victim was no more. Meanwhile joyful servants were proclaiming the finding of young Godfrey in a distant and unused chamber of the great edifice, telling too late that poor Michel had been killed in vain. As the Comte and his associates turned away from the lowly abode of the alchemists, the form of Charles Le Sorcier appeared through the trees. The excited chatter of the menials standing about told him what had occurred, yet he seemed at first unmoved at his father’s fate. Then, slowly advancing to meet the Comte, he pronounced in dull yet terrible accents the curse that ever afterward haunted the house of C——.

“May ne’er a noble of thy murd’rous line
Survive to reach a greater age than thine!”

spake he, when, suddenly leaping backwards into the black wood, he drew from his tunic a phial of colourless liquid which he threw into the face of his father’s slayer as he disappeared behind the inky curtain of the night. The Comte died without utterance, and was buried the next day, but little more than two and thirty years from the hour of his birth. No trace of the assassin could be found, though relentless bands of peasants scoured the neighbouring woods and the meadow-land around the hill.

Thus time and the want of a reminder dulled the memory of the curse in the minds of the late Comte’s family, so that when Godfrey, innocent cause of the whole tragedy and now bearing the title, was killed by an arrow whilst hunting, at the age of thirty-two, there were no thoughts save those of grief at his demise. But when, years afterward, the next young Comte, Robert by name, was found dead in a nearby field from no apparent cause, the peasants told in whispers that their seigneur had but lately passed his thirty-second birthday when surprised by early death. Louis, son to Robert, was found drowned in the moat at the same fateful age, and thus down through the centuries ran the ominous chronicle; Henris, Roberts, Antoines, and Armands snatched from happy and virtuous lives when little below the age of their unfortunate ancestor at his murder.

That I had left at most but eleven years of further existence was made certain to me by the words which I read. My life, previously held at small value, now became dearer to me each day, as I delved deeper and deeper into the mysteries of the hidden world of black magic. Isolated as I was, modern science had produced no impression upon me, and I laboured as in the Middle Ages, as wrapt as had been old Michel and young Charles themselves in the acquisition of daemonological and alchemical learning. Yet read as I might, in no manner could I account for the strange curse upon my line. In unusually rational moments, I would even go so far as to seek a natural explanation, attributing the early deaths of my ancestors to the sinister Charles Le Sorcier and his heirs; yet having found upon careful inquiry that there were no known descendants of the alchemist, I would fall back to occult studies, and once more endeavour to find a spell that would release my house from its terrible burden. Upon one thing I was absolutely resolved. I should never wed, for since no other branches of my family were in existence, I might thus end the curse with myself.

As I drew near the age of thirty, old Pierre was called to the land beyond. Alone I buried him beneath the stones of the courtyard about which he had loved to wander in life. Thus was I left to ponder on myself as the only human creature within the great fortress, and in my utter solitude my mind began to cease its vain protest against the impending doom, to become almost reconciled to the fate which so many of my ancestors had met. Much of my time was now occupied in the exploration of the ruined and abandoned halls and towers of the old chateau, which in youth fear had caused me to shun, and some of which, old Pierre had once told me, had not been trodden by human foot for over four centuries. Strange and awesome were many of the objects I encountered. Furniture, covered by the dust of ages and crumbling with the rot of long dampness, met my eyes. Cobwebs in a profusion never before seen by me were spun everywhere, and huge bats flapped their bony and uncanny wings on all sides of the otherwise untenanted gloom.

Of my exact age, even down to days and hours, I kept a most careful record, for each movement of the pendulum of the massive clock in the library told off so much more of my doomed existence. At length I approached that time which I had so long viewed with apprehension. Since most of my ancestors had been seized some little while before they reached the exact age of Comte Henri at his end, I was every moment on the watch for the coming of the unknown death. In what strange form the curse should overtake me, I knew not; but I was resolved, at least, that it should not find me a cowardly or a passive victim. With new vigour I applied myself to my examination of the old chateau and its contents.

It was upon one of the longest of all my excursions of discovery in the deserted portion of the castle, less than a week before that fatal hour which I felt must mark the utmost limit of my stay on earth, beyond which I could have not even the slightest hope of continuing to draw breath, that I came upon the culminating event of my whole life. I had spent the better part of the morning in climbing up and down half-ruined staircases in one of the most dilapidated of the ancient turrets. As the afternoon progressed, I sought the lower levels, descending into what appeared to be either a mediaeval place of confinement, or a more recently excavated storehouse for gunpowder. As I slowly traversed the nitre-encrusted passageway at the foot of the last staircase, the paving became very damp, and soon I saw by the light of my flickering torch that a blank, water-stained wall impeded my journey. Turning to retrace my steps, my eye fell upon a small trap-door with a ring, which lay directly beneath my feet. Pausing, I succeeded with difficulty in raising it, whereupon there was revealed a black aperture, exhaling noxious fumes which caused my torch to sputter, and disclosing in the unsteady glare the top of a flight of stone steps. As soon as the torch, which I lowered into the repellent depths, burned freely and steadily, I commenced my descent. The steps were many, and led to a narrow stone-flagged passage which I knew must be far underground. The passage proved of great length, and terminated in a massive oaken door, dripping with the moisture of the place, and stoutly resisting all my attempts to open it. Ceasing after a time my efforts in this direction, I had proceeded back some distance toward the steps, when there suddenly fell to my experience one of the most profound and maddening shocks capable of reception by the human mind. Without warning, I heard the heavy door behind me creak slowly open upon its rusted hinges. My immediate sensations are incapable of analysis. To be confronted in a place as thoroughly deserted as I had deemed the old castle with evidence of the presence of man or spirit, produced in my brain a horror of the most acute description. When at last I turned and faced the seat of the sound, my eyes must have started from their orbits at the sight that they beheld. There in the ancient Gothic doorway stood a human figure. It was that of a man clad in a skull-cap and long mediaeval tunic of dark colour. His long hair and flowing beard were of a terrible and intense black hue, and of incredible profusion. His forehead, high beyond the usual dimensions; his cheeks, deep-sunken and heavily lined with wrinkles; and his hands, long, claw-like, and gnarled, were of such a deathly, marble-like whiteness as I have never elsewhere seen in man. His figure, lean to the proportions of a skeleton, was strangely bent and almost lost within the voluminous folds of his peculiar garment. But strangest of all were his eyes; twin caves of abysmal blackness, profound in expression of understanding, yet inhuman in degree of wickedness. These were now fixed upon me, piercing my soul with their hatred, and rooting me to the spot whereon I stood. At last the figure spoke in a rumbling voice that chilled me through with its dull hollowness and latent malevolence. The language in which the discourse was clothed was that debased form of Latin in use amongst the more learned men of the Middle Ages, and made familiar to me by my prolonged researches into the works of the old alchemists and daemonologists. The apparition spoke of the curse which had hovered over my house, told me of my coming end, dwelt on the wrong perpetrated by my ancestor against old Michel Mauvais, and gloated over the revenge of Charles Le Sorcier. He told how the young Charles had escaped into the night, returning in after years to kill Godfrey the heir with an arrow just as he approached the age which had been his father’s at his assassination; how he had secretly returned to the estate and established himself, unknown, in the even then deserted subterranean chamber whose doorway now framed the hideous narrator; how he had seized Robert, son of Godfrey, in a field, forced poison down his throat, and left him to die at the age of thirty-two, thus maintaining the foul provisions of his vengeful curse. At this point I was left to imagine the solution of the greatest mystery of all, how the curse had been fulfilled since that time when Charles Le Sorcier must in the course of Nature have died, for the man digressed into an account of the deep alchemical studies of the two wizards, father and son, speaking most particularly of the researches of Charles Le Sorcier concerning the elixir which should grant to him who partook of it eternal life and youth.

His enthusiasm had seemed for the moment to remove from his terrible eyes the hatred that had at first so haunted them, but suddenly the fiendish glare returned, and with a shocking sound like the hissing of a serpent, the stranger raised a glass phial with the evident intent of ending my life as had Charles Le Sorcier, six hundred years before, ended that of my ancestor. Prompted by some preserving instinct of self-defence, I broke through the spell that had hitherto held me immovable, and flung my now dying torch at the creature who menaced my existence. I heard the phial break harmlessly against the stones of the passage as the tunic of the strange man caught fire and lit the horrid scene with a ghastly radiance. The shriek of fright and impotent malice emitted by the would-be assassin proved too much for my already shaken nerves, and I fell prone upon the slimy floor in a total faint.

When at last my senses returned, all was frightfully dark, and my mind remembering what had occurred, shrank from the idea of beholding more; yet curiosity overmastered all. Who, I asked myself, was this man of evil, and how came he within the castle walls? Why should he seek to avenge the death of poor Michel Mauvais, and how had the curse been carried on through all the long centuries since the time of Charles Le Sorcier? The dread of years was lifted from my shoulders, for I knew that he whom I had felled was the source of all my danger from the curse; and now that I was free, I burned with the desire to learn more of the sinister thing which had haunted my line for centuries, and made of my own youth one long-continued nightmare. Determined upon further exploration, I felt in my pockets for flint and steel, and lit the unused torch which I had with me. First of all, the new light revealed the distorted and blackened form of the mysterious stranger. The hideous eyes were now closed. Disliking the sight, I turned away and entered the chamber beyond the Gothic door. Here I found what seemed much like an alchemist’s laboratory. In one corner was an immense pile of a shining yellow metal that sparkled gorgeously in the light of the torch. It may have been gold, but I did not pause to examine it, for I was strangely affected by that which I had undergone. At the farther end of the apartment was an opening leading out into one of the many wild ravines of the dark hillside forest. Filled with wonder, yet now realising how the man had obtained access to the chateau, I proceeded to return. I had intended to pass by the remains of the stranger with averted face, but as I approached the body, I seemed to hear emanating from it a faint sound, as though life were not yet wholly extinct. Aghast, I turned to examine the charred and shrivelled figure on the floor. Then all at once the horrible eyes, blacker even than the seared face in which they were set, opened wide with an expression which I was unable to interpret. The cracked lips tried to frame words which I could not well understand. Once I caught the name of Charles Le Sorcier, and again I fancied that the words “years” and “curse” issued from the twisted mouth. Still I was at a loss to gather the purport of his disconnected speech. At my evident ignorance of his meaning, the pitchy eyes once more flashed malevolently at me, until, helpless as I saw my opponent to be, I trembled as I watched him.

Suddenly the wretch, animated with his last burst of strength, raised his hideous head from the damp and sunken pavement. Then, as I remained, paralysed with fear, he found his voice and in his dying breath screamed forth those words which have ever afterward haunted my days and my nights. “Fool,” he shrieked, “can you not guess my secret? Have you no brain whereby you may recognise the will which has through six long centuries fulfilled the dreadful curse upon your house? Have I not told you of the great elixir of eternal life? Know you not how the secret of Alchemy was solved? I tell you, it is I! I! I! that have lived for six hundred years to maintain my revenge, FOR I AM CHARLES LE SORCIER!”

The Alchemist (1908)
by H. P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937)

fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive K-L, Lovecraft, H.P., Tales of Mystery & Imagination


THE TREE BY H.P. LOVECRAFT

LOVECRAFT_HP12The Tree
by H. P. Lovecraft

“Fata viam invenient.”

On a verdant slope of Mount Maenalus, in Arcadia, there stands an olive grove about the ruins of a villa. Close by is a tomb, once beautiful with the sublimest sculptures, but now fallen into as great decay as the house. At one end of that tomb, its curious roots displacing the time-stained blocks of Pentelic marble, grows an unnaturally large olive tree of oddly repellent shape; so like to some grotesque man, or death-distorted body of a man, that the country folk fear to pass it at night when the moon shines faintly through the crooked boughs. Mount Maenalus is a chosen haunt of dreaded Pan, whose queer companions are many, and simple swains believe that the tree must have some hideous kinship to these weird Panisci; but an old bee-keeper who lives in the neighbouring cottage told me a different story.

Many years ago, when the hillside villa was new and resplendent, there dwelt within it the two sculptors Kalos and Musides. From Lydia to Neapolis the beauty of their work was praised, and none dared say that the one excelled the other in skill. The Hermes of Kalos stood in a marble shrine in Corinth, and the Pallas of Musides surmounted a pillar in Athens, near the Parthenon. All men paid homage to Kalos and Musides, and marvelled that no shadow of artistic jealousy cooled the warmth of their brotherly friendship.

But though Kalos and Musides dwelt in unbroken harmony, their natures were not alike. Whilst Musides revelled by night amidst the urban gaieties of Tegea, Kalos would remain at home; stealing away from the sight of his slaves into the cool recesses of the olive grove. There he would meditate upon the visions that filled his mind, and there devise the forms of beauty which later became immortal in breathing marble. Idle folk, indeed, said that Kalos conversed with the spirits of the grove, and that his statues were but images of the fauns and dryads he met there—for he patterned his work after no living model.

So famous were Kalos and Musides, that none wondered when the Tyrant of Syracuse sent to them deputies to speak of the costly statue of Tyché which he had planned for his city. Of great size and cunning workmanship must the statue be, for it was to form a wonder of nations and a goal of travellers. Exalted beyond thought would be he whose work should gain acceptance, and for this honour Kalos and Musides were invited to compete. Their brotherly love was well known, and the crafty Tyrant surmised that each, instead of concealing his work from the other, would offer aid and advice; this charity producing two images of unheard-of beauty, the lovelier of which would eclipse even the dreams of poets.

With joy the sculptors hailed the Tyrant’s offer, so that in the days that followed their slaves heard the ceaseless blows of chisels. Not from each other did Kalos and Musides conceal their work, but the sight was for them alone. Saving theirs, no eyes beheld the two divine figures released by skilful blows from the rough blocks that had imprisoned them since the world began.

At night, as of yore, Musides sought the banquet halls of Tegea whilst Kalos wandered alone in the olive grove. But as time passed, men observed a want of gaiety in the once sparkling Musides. It was strange, they said amongst themselves, that depression should thus seize one with so great a chance to win art’s loftiest reward. Many months passed, yet in the sour face of Musides came nothing of the sharp expectancy which the situation should arouse.

Then one day Musides spoke of the illness of Kalos, after which none marvelled again at his sadness, since the sculptors’ attachment was known to be deep and sacred. Subsequently many went to visit Kalos, and indeed noticed the pallor of his face; but there was about him a happy serenity which made his glance more magical than the glance of Musides—who was clearly distracted with anxiety, and who pushed aside all the slaves in his eagerness to feed and wait upon his friend with his own hands. Hidden behind heavy curtains stood the two unfinished figures of Tyché, little touched of late by the sick man and his faithful attendant.

As Kalos grew inexplicably weaker and weaker despite the ministrations of puzzled physicians and of his assiduous friend, he desired to be carried often to the grove which he so loved. There he would ask to be left alone, as if wishing to speak with unseen things. Musides ever granted his requests, though his eyes filled with visible tears at the thought that Kalos should care more for the fauns and the dryads than for him. At last the end drew near, and Kalos discoursed of things beyond this life. Musides, weeping, promised him a sepulchre more lovely than the tomb of Mausolus; but Kalos bade him speak no more of marble glories. Only one wish now haunted the mind of the dying man; that twigs from certain olive trees in the grove be buried by his resting-place—close to his head. And one night, sitting alone in the darkness of the olive grove, Kalos died.

Beautiful beyond words was the marble sepulchre which stricken Musides carved for his beloved friend. None but Kalos himself could have fashioned such bas-reliefs, wherein were displayed all the splendours of Elysium. Nor did Musides fail to bury close to Kalos’ head the olive twigs from the grove.
As the first violence of Musides’ grief gave place to resignation, he laboured with diligence upon his figure of Tyché. All honour was now his, since the Tyrant of Syracuse would have the work of none save him or Kalos. His task proved a vent for his emotion, and he toiled more steadily each day, shunning the gaieties he once had relished. Meanwhile his evenings were spent beside the tomb of his friend, where a young olive tree had sprung up near the sleeper’s head. So swift was the growth of this tree, and so strange was its form, that all who beheld it exclaimed in surprise; and Musides seemed at once fascinated and repelled.

Three years after the death of Kalos, Musides despatched a messenger to the Tyrant, and it was whispered in the agora at Tegea that the mighty statue was finished. By this time the tree by the tomb had attained amazing proportions, exceeding all other trees of its kind, and sending out a singularly heavy branch above the apartment in which Musides laboured. As many visitors came to view the prodigious tree, as to admire the art of the sculptor, so that Musides was seldom alone. But he did not mind his multitude of guests; indeed, he seemed to dread being alone now that his absorbing work was done. The bleak mountain wind, sighing through the olive grove and the tomb-tree, had an uncanny way of forming vaguely articulate sounds.

The sky was dark on the evening that the Tyrant’s emissaries came to Tegea. It was definitely known that they had come to bear away the great image of Tyché and bring eternal honour to Musides, so their reception by the proxenoi was of great warmth. As the night wore on, a violent storm of wind broke over the crest of Maenalus, and the men from far Syracuse were glad that they rested snugly in the town. They talked of their illustrious Tyrant, and of the splendour of his capital; and exulted in the glory of the statue which Musides had wrought for him. And then the men of Tegea spoke of the goodness of Musides, and of his heavy grief for his friend; and how not even the coming laurels of art could console him in the absence of Kalos, who might have worn those laurels instead. Of the tree which grew by the tomb, near the head of Kalos, they also spoke. The wind shrieked more horribly, and both the Syracusans and the Arcadians prayed to Aiolos.

In the sunshine of the morning the proxenoi led the Tyrant’s messengers up the slope to the abode of the sculptor, but the night-wind had done strange things. Slaves’ cries ascended from a scene of desolation, and no more amidst the olive grove rose the gleaming colonnades of that vast hall wherein Musides had dreamed and toiled. Lone and shaken mourned the humble courts and the lower walls, for upon the sumptuous greater peristyle had fallen squarely the heavy overhanging bough of the strange new tree, reducing the stately poem in marble with odd completeness to a mound of unsightly ruins. Strangers and Tegeans stood aghast, looking from the wreckage to the great, sinister tree whose aspect was so weirdly human and whose roots reached so queerly into the sculptured sepulchre of Kalos. And their fear and dismay increased when they searched the fallen apartment; for of the gentle Musides, and of the marvellously fashioned image of Tyché, no trace could be discovered. Amidst such stupendous ruin only chaos dwelt, and the representatives of two cities left disappointed; Syracusans that they had no statue to bear home, Tegeans that they had no artist to crown. However, the Syracusans obtained after a while a very splendid statue in Athens, and the Tegeans consoled themselves by erecting in the agora a marble temple commemorating the gifts, virtues, and brotherly piety of Musides.

But the olive grove still stands, as does the tree growing out of the tomb of Kalos, and the old bee-keeper told me that sometimes the boughs whisper to one another in the night-wind, saying over and over again, “Οἶδα! Οἶδα!—I know! I know!”

The Tree (1920)
by H. P. Lovecraft (1890 – 1937)

fleursdumal.nl magazine

More in: Archive K-L, Lovecraft, H.P., Tales of Mystery & Imagination


UNDRESSED: A BRIEF HISTORY OF UNDERWEAR

 V&A_UNDERWEAR_02

V&A Museum exhibition until Sunday, 12 March 2017

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear

Discover the fascinating and sometimes controversial story of underwear design from the 18th century to the present day

“Hold tight: the lingerie show that will take your breath away “
Anna Murphy, The Times

V&A_UNDERWEAR_04This exhibition explores the intimate relationship between underwear and fashion and its role in moulding the body to a fashionable ideal, with cut, fit, fabric and decoration revealing issues of gender, sex and morality.

Undressed: 350 Years of Underwear in Fashion

Underwear is fashion’s foundation. The majestic shapes of 18th century court dress, the distorted hourglass shapes of the Victorian and Edwardian eras, and Dior’s cinched ‘New Look’ were all dependent upon elaborate corsetry, technologically complex petticoats, hoops, and padded underpinnings. This exhibition will look at the history of private and intimate clothing – from corsets to court mantuas and boudoir wear to bustles – exploring underwear’s function in decorating and manipulating the body. Featuring highlights from the V&A’s extensive collection of underwear, the objects will be displayed thematically, and shown alongside contextual images from the V&A’s archives.

V&A_UNDERWEAR_01Both culturally emblematic and the most everyday of objects, underwear attracts interest, debate, and sometimes controversy.

Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear

will display more than 200 examples of men’s and women’s underwear from about 1750 to the present day. In particular, it will investigate how underwear design combines the practical and personal with the sensory and fashionable, in the process both protecting and enhancing the body. The exhibition will map developments in underwear design and explore the ways in which fashion designers have transformed underwear into outerwear.

Curating an exhibition is a process built on collaboration, between conservators, researchers, designers and other specialists. Our blog will allow you to experience some of their work through their own words. Our posts will also give us the chance to delve a little deeper into some of the themes, objects and personalities of Undressed.

The exhibition, Undressed: A Brief History of Underwear, will be on display at the V&A from 16th April 2016 to 12th March 2017.

Victoria and Albert Museum
Cromwell Road,
London, SW7 2RL

# more info on website Victoria & Albert Museum

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MACHTELD – DE MUZE VAN KAREL APPEL

Museum De Fundatie Zwolle t/m 18 september 2016

MachteldAppelIn 1955 ontmoette Karel Appel zijn muze. Machteld was een jonge vrouw met stijl, een mannequin die van boeken hield, een anker in zijn turbulente leven. In 1970 overleed ze, slechts 35 jaar oud.

Focuspunt in de kabinettentoonstelling ‘Machteld – De muze van Karel Appel’ is het monumentale portret dat Appel in 1962 van zijn grote liefde schilderde. Daarnaast is L’Oiseau Barbare uit 1961 te zien, een beschilderde olijfstronk in de vorm van een vogel. Beide werken komen uit de collectie van de architect Karel Sijmons en zijn vrouw Tony. Aan de hand van brieven en foto’s krijgt de bezoeker een uniek inzicht in de bijzondere relatie van het echtpaar met Karel en Machteld Appel. Dochter Babette Cremer-Sijmons bracht de documenten samen in een boek en haalde herinneringen op aan de vrouw die ook haar inspireerde.

Over Karel en Machteld Appel verscheen een publicatie van de hand van Babette Sijmons: “In de turbulente sfeer [rond Karel Appel], met woest paletmes en kwast was altijd de stille aanwezigheid te vinden in de vorm van Machteld, die – als zij niet hoefde te werken als vaste mannequin van Cristobal Balanciaga – een eiland van kalmte uitstraalde. Onverstoorbaar op de achtergrond las zij haar boeken en gaf af en toe de schilder zacht commentaar.”

De Muze van Karel Appel
door Babette Sijmons
64 pagina’s, 17 x 24 cm,
35 illustraties in kleur en 22 in zwart-wit,
Nederlands/Engels
ISBN 978 94 6262 073 5
€ 17,50

Museum de Fundatie
Blijmarkt 20
8011 NE Zwolle
Telefoon: 0572 388188
info@museumdefundatie.nl

# Meer informatie via website Museum de Fundatie

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TON KORS: HANNIE SCHAFT. HET LEVENSVERHAAL VAN EEN VROUW IN VERZET TEGEN DE NAZI’S

SCHAFT_KORS101Nieuw boek van Ton Kors geeft een uitstekend gedocumenteerd en levendig beeld van de jonge verzetsstrijder Hannie Schaft.

Verzetsstrijdster Hannie Schaft werd op 17 april 1945 – drie weken voor de bevrijding – doodgeschoten in de duinen bij Bloemendaal. Hierbij zou ze, na een schampschot, koelbloedig hebben gezegd: ‘Ik schiet beter’, waarna een SD’er zijn machinepistool op haar leegschoot.

Hannie Schaft groeide uit tot een legendarische figuur in het Nederlandse verzet tegen de Duitse bezetter. De net als Schaft uit Haarlem afkomstige journalist Ton Kors raakte in toenemende mate door haar geïntrigeerd. Nadat hij een reeks artikelen aan Schaft had gewijd besloot hij tot het schrijven van haar levensverhaal.

SCHAFT_102Een groot aantal mensen die haar gekend hebben, vertellen in dit boek over haar. Hun getuigenissen geven gestalte aan deze jonge vrouw, die ook het liquideren van tegenstanders en verraders niet uit de weg ging. In zijn boek brengt Kors ook de controverse na haar dood, of zij al dan niet behoord had tot de illegale CPN, ter sprake.

Ton Kors’ Hannie Schaft geeft een uitstekend gedocumenteerd en levendig beeld van een van de belangrijkste figuren van het Nederlandse verzet tijdens de Tweede Wereldoorlog. Aan deze uitgave wordt een uitgebreid nawoord toegevoegd.

Ton Kors (1946-1993) was correspondent in Zuid-Afrika, werkte voor het Haarlems Dagblad en was chef reportage bij Nieuwe Revu.

Auteur: Ton Kors
Hannie Schaft
Het levensverhaal van een vrouw in verzet tegen de nazi’s
Uitgever: Just Publishers
ISBN 9789089759405
Paperback, 225 p.

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HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: ‘BEAUTIFUL’

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.

“Charming, charming!”

“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!'”

END

Hans Christian Andersen (1805—1875)  fairy tales and stories

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HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN: THE NIGHTINGALE

Hans Christian Andersen

(1805—1875)

The nightingale

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.”

END

Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and stories

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SHERLOCK HOLMES, THE MAN WHO NEVER LIVED AND WILL NEVER DIE

sherlockholmes21

This year the Museum of London welcomes an exciting new exhibition, delving into the mind of the world’s most famous fictional detective; Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes

 Asking searching questions such as who is Sherlock Holmes, and why does he still conjure up such enduring fascination, this major exhibition – London’s first on the detective since 1951 – will explore how Sherlock Holmes has transcended literature onto stage and screen and continues to attract huge audiences to this day.

sherlockholmes22Going beyond film and fiction, visitors to the museum will be transported to the real Victorian London – the backdrop for many of Conan Doyle’s stories. Through early film, photography, paintings and original artefacts, the exhibition will recreate the atmosphere of Sherlock’s London, with visitors able to envisage the places that the detective visited and imagine they are standing on the pavement of the Strand watching the horse drawn traffic pass by.

Sherlock Holmes, the man who never lived and will never die, Museum of London

We look at the roots of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous fictional detective, explore depictions of Victorian London and delve into the enduringly popular characteristics of Sherlock Holmes.

Transcending literature onto stage and screen, Sherlock Holmes continues to fascinate audiences to this day. In this exhibition, London’s first on the detective since 1951, we use early film, photography and paintings plus original Victorian era artefacts to recreate the atmosphere of Sherlock’s London, and to re-imagine the places featured in Conan Doyle’s famous stories.

sherlockholmes23Objects and artworks include:
• Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1886 ‘A Study in Scarlet’ notebook, containing the first ever lines of a Sherlock Holmes story
• ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ manuscript by Edgar Allan Poe
• Claude Monet’s painting ‘Pont de Londres’ (Charing Cross Bridge, London) 1902
• Belstaff coat used in the BBC’s Sherlock series, featuring Benedict Cumberbatch

Until 12 April 2015

# More on website museum of london

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ARTHUR MUNBY: POST MORTEM

munby

Arthur Munby
(1828-1910)

Post Mortem

I lay in my coffin under the sod;
But the rooks they caw’d, and the sheep they trod
And munch’d and bleated, and made such a noise–
What with the feet of the charity boys
Trampling over the old grave-stones–
That it loosen’d my inarticulate bones,
And chased my sleep away.

So I turn’d (for the coffin is not so full
As it was, you know) my aching skull;
And said to my wife–and it’s not my fault
If she does lie next to me in the vault–
Said to her kindly, “My love, my dear,
How do you like these sounds we hear
Over our heads to-day?”

My wife had always a good strong voice;
But I’m not so sure that I did rejoice
When I found it as strong as it used to be,
And so unexpectedly close to me:
I thought, if her temper should set in,
Why, the boards between us are very thin,
And whenever the bearers come one by one
To deposit the corpse of my eldest son,
Who is spending the earnings of his papa
With such sumptuous ease and such great eclat,
They may think it more pleasant, perhaps, than I did,
To find that in death we were not divided.
However, I trusted to time and the worms;
And I kept myself to the mildest terms
Of a conjugal “How d’ye do.”

“John,” said my wife, “you’re a Body, like me;
At least if you ain’t, why you ought to be;
And I really don’t think, when I reflect,
That I ought to pay as much respect
To a rattling prattling skeleton
As I did to a man of sixteen stone.
However” (says she), “I shall just remark
That this here place is so cool and dark,
I’m certain sure, if you hadn’t have spoke,
My slumber’d never have thus been broke;
So I wish you’d keep your–voice in your head;
For I don’t see the good of being dead,
If one mayn’t be quiet too.”

She spoke so clear and she spoke so loud,
I thank’d my stars that a linen shroud
And a pair of boards (though they were but thin)
Kept out some part of that well-known din:
And, talking of shrouds, the very next word
That my empty echoing orbits heard
Was, “Gracious me, I can tell by the feel
That I’m all over rags from head to heel!
Here’s jobs for needle and thread without ending,
For there’s ever-so-many holes wants mending!”
“My love,” I ventured to say, “I fear
It’s not much use, your mending ’em here;
For, as fast as you do, there’s worse than moth,
And worse than mice, or rats, or both,
Will eat up the work of your cotton ball
And leave you never a shroud at all–
No more than they have to me.”

Now, whether it was that she took it ill
My seeking to question her feminine skill,
Or whether ’twas simply that we were wedded–
The very thing happen’d that I most dreaded:
For, by way of reply, on the coffin-side,
Just where the planks had started wide,
There came a blow so straight and true
That it shook my vertebral column in two;
And what more might have follow’d I cannot tell,
But that very minute (’twas just as well)
The flagstone was lifted overhead,
And the red-nosed buriers of the dead
Let down a load on my coffin-plate
That stunned me quite with the shock of its weight.
‘Twas the corpse, of course, of my eldest son,
Who had injured his brain (a little one)
By many a spirituous brain-dissolver,
And finish’d it off with a Colt’s revolver.
Well–when they had gone and the noise had ceased,
I look’d for one other attack, at least:
But, would you believe it? The place was quiet,
And the worms resumed their usual diet!
Nay, everything else was silent too;
The rooks they neither caw’d nor flew,
And the sheep slept sound by footstone and head,
And the charity boys had been whipp’d to bed.
So I turn’d again, and I said to myself–
“Now, as sure as I’m laid on this sordid shelf
Away from the living that smile or weep,
I’ll sleep if I can, and let her too sleep:
And I will not once, for pleasure or pain,
Unhinge my jaws to speak again,
No, not if she speaks to me.”

Arthur Munby poetry
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The Raven van E.A. Poe in Museum Meermanno, Den Haag

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Lezing en voordracht van The Raven van E.A. Poe in Museum Meermanno / Huis van het boek, Den Haag

POEea_fdm11Op zaterdag 30 augustus spreekt Johan Vandendriessche over ‘The Raven’ van Edgar Allan Poe en draagt hij het gedicht voor.
‘The Raven’ van Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) is één der meest beklijvende gedichten uit de Amerikaanse literatuur. Wat zit er achter de symboliek? Hoe breng je dit gedicht uit 1845 vandaag, in het Nederlands, met respect voor de originele versie? Wat doet dit gedicht met een mens, die er lang mee bezig is? En welke dualiteit spookte door het brein van Poe? Johan Vandendriessche (Bibliotheek Permeke – Antwerpen) duikt samen met de raaf in een tolvlucht naar de kern van het gedicht.

Na de lezing en voordracht van het gedicht is er gelegenheid voor vragen. De lezing wordt afgesloten met koffie en thee. Tevens kunt u de tentoonstelling ‘Vogels. Duizenden vogels in honderden boeken’ bezoeken en de nieuwe aanwinsten van het museum met onder meer een geïllustreerde uitgave van ‘The Raven’ door de Cheloniidae Press met etsen en houtgravuren van kunstenaar Alan James Robinson.
De lezing is van 14.00 tot 15.00 uur, waarna koffie en thee wordt geserveerd. (Inloop vanaf 13.30)

Kosten en aanmelden: de lezing kost € 5,- exclusief museumentree. Zie voor meer informatie over lezing, tentoonstelling en andere activiteiten: www.meermanno.nl

Huis van het boek
Museum Meermanno
Prinsessegracht 30
2514 AP Den Haag
T 070 34 62 700
info@meermanno.nl
www.meermanno.nl

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Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm: Rumpelstiltskin

grimmfairytales01Jacob & Wilhelm Grimm ♦ Rumpelstiltskin ♦ There was once a miller who was poor, but he had one beautiful daughter. It happened one day that he came to speak with the king, and, to give himself consequence, he told him that he had a daughter who could spin gold out of straw. The king said to the miller, “That is an art that pleases me well; if thy daughter is as clever as you say, bring her to my castle to-morrow, that I may put her to the proof.”

When the girl was brought to him, he led her into a room that was quite full of straw, and gave her a wheel and spindle, and said, “Now set to work, and if by the early morning thou hast not spun this straw to gold thou shalt die.” And he shut the door himself, and left her there alone. And so the poor miller’s daughter was left there sitting, and could not think what to do for her life: she had no notion how to set to work to spin gold from straw, and her distress grew so great that she began to weep. Then all at once the door opened, and in came a little man, who said, “Good evening, miller’s daughter; why are you crying?”

grimmfairytales40“Oh!” answered the girl, “I have got to spin gold out of straw, and I don’t understand the business.” Then the little man said, “What will you give me if I spin it for you?” – “My necklace,” said the girl. The little man took the necklace, seated himself before the wheel, and whirr, whirr, whirr! three times round and the bobbin was full; then he took up another, and whirr, whirr, whirr! three times round, and that was full; and so he went on till the morning, when all the straw had been spun, and all the bobbins were full of gold.

At sunrise came the king, and when he saw the gold he was astonished and very much rejoiced, for he was very avaricious. He had the miller’s daughter taken into another room filled with straw, much bigger than the last, and told her that as she valued her life she must spin it all in one night. The girl did not know what to do, so she began to cry, and then the door opened, and the little man appeared and said, “What will you give me if I spin all this straw into gold?” – “The ring from my finger,” answered the girl. So the little man took the ring, and began again to send the wheel whirring round, and by the next morning all the straw was spun into glistening gold. The king was rejoiced beyond measure at the sight, but as he could never have enough of gold, he had the miller’s daughter taken into a still larger room full of straw, and said, “This, too, must be spun in one night, and if you accomplish it you shall be my wife.” For he thought, “Although she is but a miller’s daughter, I am not likely to find any one richer in the whole world.” As soon as the girl was left alone, the little man appeared for the third time and said, “What will you give me if I spin the straw for you this time?” – “I have nothing left to give,” answered the girl. “Then you must promise me the first child you have after you are queen,” said the little man. “But who knows whether that will happen?” thought the girl; but as she did not know what else to do in her necessity, she promised the little man what he desired, upon which he began to spin, until all the straw was gold. And when in the morning the king came and found all done according to his wish, he caused the wedding to be held at once, and the miller’s pretty daughter became a queen.

grimmfairytales41In a year’s time she brought a fine child into the world, and thought no more of the little man; but one day he came suddenly into her room, and said, “Now give me what you promised me.” The queen was terrified greatly, and offered the little man all the riches of the kingdom if he would only leave the child; but the little man said, “No, I would rather have something living than all the treasures of the world.” Then the queen began to lament and to weep, so that the little man had pity upon her. “I will give you three days,” said he, “and if at the end of that time you cannot tell my name, you must give up the child to me.”

Then the queen spent the whole night in thinking over all the names that she had ever heard, and sent a messenger through the land to ask far and wide for all the names that could be found. And when the little man came next day, (beginning with Caspar, Melchior, Balthazar) she repeated all she knew, and went through the whole list, but after each the little man said, “That is not my name.” The second day the queen sent to inquire of all the neighbours what the servants were called, and told the little man all the most unusual and singular names, saying, “Perhaps you are called Roast-ribs, or Sheepshanks, or Spindleshanks?” But he answered nothing but “That is not my name.” The third day the messenger came back again, and said, “I have not been able to find one single new name; but as I passed through the woods I came to a high hill, and near it was a little house, and before the house burned a fire, and round the fire danced a comical little man, and he hopped on one leg and cried,

grimmfairytales42“To-day do I bake, to-morrow I brew,

The day after that the queen’s child comes in;

And oh! I am glad that nobody knew

That the name I am called is Rumpelstiltskin!”

You cannot think how pleased the queen was to hear that name, and soon afterwards, when the little man walked in and said, “Now, Mrs Queen, what is my name?” she said at first, “Are you called Jack?” – “No,” answered he. “Are you called Harry?” she asked again. “No,” answered he. And then she said, “Then perhaps your name is Rumpelstiltskin?”

The Devil told you that! the Devil told you that!” cried the little man, and in his anger he stamped with his right foot so hard that it went into the ground above his knee; then he seized his left foot with both his hands in such a fury that he split in two, and there was an end of him.

THE END

 

Jacob Grimm (1785-1863) & Wilhelm Grimm (1786-1859). This Brothers Grimm version of the story has been translated in 1844 into English by Margarate Hunt. KHM1 055: Kinder- und Hausmärchen (Children’s and Household Tales)

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Hans Christian Andersen: Pen and inkstand

Hans Christian Andersen

(1805—1875)

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!

END

Hans Christian Andersen fairy tales and stories

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