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Posts Tagged ‘Hans Christian Andersen’


Seven swans a-swimming

Six deer a-laying

Five GO-OLD rings

Four cunning birds

Three duck’s legs

Two pheasant cocks

And a partridge-less wonky pear tree!

Swans on the fjord

All right, so I’m falling behind on the Twelve Days of Christmas, but I’ll catch up…

There are more – significantly more – than seven swans in the picture above. Roskilde Fjord with its shallow waters seems very popular with swans in late autumn / early winter; it seems like a gathering place for their migration South for the winter. Some swans do spend the winter in Denmark, whereas others fly South.

In “The Ugly Duckling” Hans Christian Andersen lets the swans fly South for the winter, though of course the Ugly Duckling in the fairy tale is left behind.

They were dazzling white, with long graceful necks. They were swans. They uttered a very strange cry as they unfurled their magnificent wings to fly from this cold land, away to warmer countries and to open waters. (…) It was not that he envied them, for how could he ever dare dream of wanting their marvellous beauty for himself? He would have been grateful if only the ducks would have tolerated him-the poor ugly creature.

Well, I know my other references to Hans Christian Andersen – our most famous Danish writer – have been to the darker, more depressing stories he wrote, but at least as far as The Ugly Duckling goes he’s actually showing an optimist streak:

He felt so very happy, but he wasn’t at all proud, for a good heart never grows proud. He thought about how he had been persecuted and scorned, and now he heard them all call him the most beautiful of all beautiful birds. The lilacs dipped their clusters into the stream before him, and the sun shone so warm and so heartening. He rustled his feathers and held his slender neck high, as he cried out with full heart: “I never dreamed there could be so much happiness, when I was the ugly duckling.”

You never know who you can be – or who you are going to be – and I guess this does for gardens as well. I think my lesson from this has to be that I need to open myself up to things that aren’t necessarily what I think of as “my thing”. I’ve already started – by accident – with the new bed in the lawn. I intended it to be a perennial bed, but then the only plants I had to put in it were roses and some soft-fruit bushes, so it is turning out to be more of a low shrubbery with some perennials dotted in-between. And a vacuum at the front where I will have to grow something from seed. Annuals, or maybe pretty vegetables.

It will be lovely, though absolutely not in the way I imagined when I started digging up the lawn for the bed. After all, as long as I grow something it will be lovely. I’ve got the seeds, I’ve got the bulbs; I just need to make something, any thing, happen and then I will be a success. And I do that every year, so I guess I am already a success. In other words, I rustle my feathers, hold my slender neck high and cry out with a full heart: “I am a gardener!”

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Far down in the forest, where the warm sun and the fresh air made a sweet resting-place, grew a pretty little fir-tree; and yet it was not happy, it wished so much to be tall like its companions– the pines and firs which grew around it. The sun shone, and the soft air fluttered its leaves, and the little peasant children passed by, prattling merrily, but the fir-tree heeded them not. Sometimes the children would bring a large basket of raspberries or strawberries, wreathed on a straw, and seat themselves near the fir-tree, and say, “Is it not a pretty little tree?” which made it feel more unhappy than before.

(…)

The swallows knew nothing, but the stork, after a little reflection, nodded his head, and said, “Yes, I think I do. I met several new ships when I flew from Egypt, and they had fine masts that smelt like fir. I think these must have been the trees; I assure you they were stately, very stately.”
“Oh, how I wish I were tall enough to go on the sea,” said the fir-tree. “What is the sea, and what does it look like?”
“It would take too much time to explain,” said the stork, flying quickly away.
“Rejoice in thy youth,” said the sunbeam; “rejoice in thy fresh growth, and the young life that is in thee.”

(…)

“This evening,” they all exclaimed, “how bright it will be!” “Oh, that the evening were come,” thought the tree, “and the tapers lighted! then I shall know what else is going to happen. Will the trees of the forest come to see me? I wonder if the sparrows will peep in at the windows as they fly? shall I grow faster here, and keep on all these ornaments summer and winter?” But guessing was of very little use; it made his bark ache, and this pain is as bad for a slender fir-tree, as headache is for us. At last the tapers were lighted, and then what a glistening blaze of light the tree presented! It trembled so with joy in all its branches, that one of the candles fell among the green leaves and burnt some of them. “Help! help!” exclaimed the young ladies, but there was no danger, for they quickly extinguished the fire. After this, the tree tried not to tremble at all, though the fire frightened him; he was so anxious not to hurt any of the beautiful ornaments, even while their brilliancy dazzled him. And now the folding doors were thrown open, and a troop of children rushed in as if they intended to upset the tree; they were followed more silently by their elders. For a moment the little ones stood silent with astonishment, and then they shouted for joy, till the room rang, and they danced merrily round the tree, while one present after another was taken from it.

“It is winter now,” thought the tree, “the ground is hard and covered with snow, so that people cannot plant me. I shall be sheltered here, I dare say, until spring comes. How thoughtful and kind everybody is to me! Still I wish this place were not so dark, as well as lonely, with not even a little hare to look at. How pleasant it was out in the forest while the snow lay on the ground, when the hare would run by, yes, and jump over me too, although I did not like it then. Oh! it is terrible lonely here.”
“Squeak, squeak,” said a little mouse, creeping cautiously towards the tree; then came another; and they both sniffed at the fir-tree and crept between the branches.
“Oh, it is very cold,” said the little mouse, “or else we should be so comfortable here, shouldn’t we, you old fir-tree?”

(…)

“It was very pleasant when the merry little mice sat round me and listened while I talked. Now that is all passed too. However, I shall consider myself happy when some one comes to take me out of this place.” But would this ever happen? Yes; one morning people came to clear out the garret, the boxes were packed away, and the tree was pulled out of the corner, and thrown roughly on the garret floor; then the servant dragged it out upon the staircase where the daylight shone. “Now life is beginning again,” said the tree, rejoicing in the sunshine and fresh air. Then it was carried down stairs and taken into the courtyard so quickly, that it forgot to think of itself, and could only look about, there was so much to be seen. The court was close to a garden, where everything looked blooming. Fresh and fragrant roses hung over the little palings. The linden-trees were in blossom; while the swallows flew here and there, crying, “Twit, twit, twit, my mate is coming,”—but it was not the fir-tree they meant. “Now I shall live,” cried the tree, joyfully spreading out its branches; but alas! they were all withered and yellow, and it lay in a corner amongst weeds and nettles.

Christmas past

The star of gold paper still stuck in the top of the tree and glittered in the sunshine. In the same courtyard two of the merry children were playing who had danced round the tree at Christmas, and had been so happy. The youngest saw the gilded star, and ran and pulled it off the tree. “Look what is sticking to the ugly old fir-tree,” said the child, treading on the branches till they crackled under his boots. And the tree saw all the fresh bright flowers in the garden, and then looked at itself, and wished it had remained in the dark corner of the garret. It thought of its fresh youth in the forest, of the merry Christmas evening, and of the little mice who had listened to the story of “Humpty Dumpty.”

“Past! past!” said the old tree; “Oh, had I but enjoyed myself while I could have done so! but now it is too late.” Then a lad came and chopped the tree into small pieces, till a large bundle lay in a heap on the ground. The pieces were placed in a fire under the copper, and they quickly blazed up brightly, while the tree sighed so deeply that each sigh was like a pistol-shot. Then the children, who were at play, came and seated themselves in front of the fire, and looked at it and cried, “Pop, pop.” But at each “pop,” which was a deep sigh, the tree was thinking of a summer day in the forest; and of Christmas evening, and of “Humpty Dumpty,” the only story it had ever heard or knew how to relate, till at last it was consumed. The boys still played in the garden, and the youngest wore the golden star on his breast, with which the tree had been adorned during the happiest evening of its existence. Now all was past; the tree’s life was past, and the story also,—for all stories must come to an end at last.

For the full text of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of The Fir Tree, please visit andersenstories.com. Or better yet, buy his complete fairy tales as a real book somewhere in a real bookshop. -Then you might also find out what REALLY happened to The Little Mermaid… And how Disney got it all wrong! If you think the story of The Fir Tree is depressing, just wait until you read The Little Mermaid!

Starring in this re-enactment of The Fir Tree was my Christmas tree from 2010. -Which I only yesterday got around to chopping up after it has spent ages in our pile of twigs and branches at the back of the house. Now all is past; the tree’s life is past, and the blog entry also,—for all blog entries must come to an end at last.

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