Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Another scorpion from HCA - watch out for the sting in the tail

A leaf from heaven

High up in the clear upper air an angel flew with a flower from Heaven’s garden, and as he pressed his lips to the flower in a kiss, a tiny leaf broke off it and fell down onto miry soil in the middle of a forest, and immediately it took root and started to sprout among all the other plants.
‘That’s a ridiculous shoot, that one!’ they said, and none of them would have anything to do with it, neither the thistle nor the nettle. ‘It’s some sort of garden plant!’ they said and laughed at it, and so it was scoffed at as being a garden plant; but it grew and grew, like no other one, and spread out far and wide.
‘Where are you off to!’ said the tall thistles, which had thorns on every single leaf, ‘you’re going about things in a cack-handed sort of way! we can’t stand here and support you!’ The winter came, the snow lay over the plant, but the covering of snow gained a gleam from it as if made translucent by sunlight from below. When spring came, a blooming plant stood there, more beautiful than any other in the forest. Then along came a professor of botany who had an official personal record book to prove he was what he was, he examined the plant, tested it with his teeth, but it wasn’t anywhere in his botanical system; it was impossible for him to determine what class of species it belonged to.
‘It’s some sort of anomaly!’ he said. – ‘I don’t know it, it’s not included in the system!’
‘Not included in the system!’ the thistles and nettles said.
The large trees close by heard what was said, and they too could see that it wasn’t a tree of their kind, but they didn’t say anything, either good or bad, and that’s always the safest thing when one is stupid.
Through the forest a poor, innocent girl now came – her heart was pure, her intelligence great through faith, her entire inheritance in this world was an old bible, but from the leaves of this book God’s voice spoke to her: If people wish you ill, remember the story of Joseph: ‘Ye thought evil against me, but God meant it unto good.’ If you suffer injustice and are mocked, recall him who was the purest and best, he who was derided and nailed to the cross, where he prayed, ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!’
The stopped in front of the wonderful plant, whose green leaves smelled so sweet and refreshing and whose flowers seemed in the bright sunlight to be an explosion of different colours; and a sound came from each one, which concealed the deep well of melodies that has not been exhausted over thousands of years. With pious devotion she gazed on all this divine magnificence; she pulled down one of the branches so as to view the flower more closely and breathe in its fragrance, and it illuminated her mind and did her heart good; she would dearly have liked to own a flower from it, but she couldn’t bring herself to break it off, for then it would soon wither; and so she only took a single one of the green leaves, carried it home with her and placed it in her bible, where it lay fresh, forever fresh and incapable of withering.
Among the leaves of the bible it lay hidden; with the bible it was placed under the little girl’s head when weeks later she lay in her coffin, with the holy seriousness of death on her pious face, as if it showed itself in earthly dust that she now stood before her God.
But out in the forest the marvellous plant bloomed, soon it had the appearance of a tree, and all the migrating birds came and bowed down to it, particularly the swallow and the stork. ‘It’s foreign affectation!’ the thistle and the burdock said, ‘here where we live we can’t posssibly behave like that!
And the black slugs spat on the tree.
Then the swineherd came along, he jerked up thistles and shoots so as to burn ashes of all the green vegetation; the whole wonderful tree, pulled up by all its roots, was also included in his sheaf; ‘that’ll do some good too,’ he said, and no sooner said than done.
But for more than a year and a day the king of the country suffered from extreme melancholy; he was diligent and hard-working, but it did no need; profound treatises were read aloud to him as well as the very lightest literature that could be found, but it did no good. Then there came a message for one of the wisest men in the world; people had approached him on the subject and he had told them that there was a sure way to soothe and cure the sufferer. ‘In the king’s own realm there grows in the forest a plant of divine origin, such and such it looks like, there’s no mistaking it’, and a drawing had been included of the plant – it was very easy to recognise! – ‘It is green both winter and summer, so take – every evening – a fresh leaf from it and place it on the king’s forehead, then his thoughts will lighten and a lovely dream at night with strengthen him for the day that lies ahead!’
Now that was clear enough, so all doctors and botanical professors set out into the forest. – Yes, but where was the plant?
‘I had it somewhere in my sheaf!’ the swineherd said, ‘it must have become ashes long ago, but I didn’t know any better!’
‘Didn’t know any better!’ they all said. ‘Ignorance! Ignorance! how great you are!’ and those words the swineherd could take to heart – he and nobody else, they felt.
There was not a leaf to be found, the only one lay in the coffin of the dead girl, and no one knew about it.
And the king himself came in all his misery out to the place in the forest. ‘This is where the tree has stood!’ he said, ‘it is a holy place!’ –
And the plot of land was fenced in with golden railings and a sentry was posted there, both day and night.
The botanical professor wrote a thesis about the divine plant, and that gilded his reputation, which gave him great pleasure; and it became both him and his family well – which is the most positive thing about the whole story, for the plant was gone and the king was miserable and sad – ‘but he was already that in advance!’ the sentry said.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

A sonnet by the 17th century Swedish writer Georg Stiernhielm

över författarens sinnebild, en silkesmask

Håll stilla mitt förnuft, dig saktelig besinna,
vad detta vara må. Du sir här en figur,
en usel, naken kropp, en mask, ett kreatur,
som ingen skapnad har, där intet är till finna,

som ögat lyster se. Men märk: här ligger inna
mer än en tänka kan, en nyttig, ädel, pur,
en sällsam, underlig av Gud beredd natur:
en mask, dess spis är blad, dess id är artigt spinna,

dess spunna silkes-tråd, dess verk och väv är siden.
Av blad gör han en skatt, till dess han, tom och mager,
invecklat in-dör i sin väv och livet stäcker.

Men si, en ny figur, med vingar prydd, med tiden
här kommer fram igen, uppkvickter, fin och fager,
en livlig sol hans själ med kraft en gång uppväcker.

on the emblem of the writer – a silk-worm

My reason stay awhile, reflect ere you propound
what this perhaps may be. What you see here’s a figure,
a paltry naked hulk, a silk-worm, a mere creature
without appearance and where nothing can be found

designed to please the eye. Yet note: there lies within
more than a mind can grasp, a useful, fine, pure nature
of rare and curious kind in each God-given feature:
a worm whose food is leaves, whose sole delight to spin,

whose spun thread, toil and web on silk are all inclined.
Of leaves it treasure makes, till empty, thin and abject,
cocooned within its web its own life it then takes.

But look, a brand-new figure, graced with wings fine-lined,
in time will re-emerge, refreshed and fair of aspect,
once a vivacious sun its soul now re-awakes.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

A famous HCA this time - 'Big Claus and Little Claus'

Little Claus and Big Claus

In a town there once lived two men who had exactly the same name, Claus, but the one owned four horses and the other only one horse; so as to be able to tell them apart, the one who had four horses was called Big Claus, and the one with only one horse, Little Claus. Now we are to hear how they both fared – for this is a true story!

To see the whole tale, go to here

Friday, 15 August 2014

The Dung Beetle - Andersen does it again!

The dung beetle

The emperor’s horse was given gold shoes, a gold shoe on each hoof.
Why was it given gold shoes?
It was an extremely handsome animal, had fine legs, such wise eyes and a mane that hung like a silk veil down his neck. He had carried his master through gunsmoke and hails of bullets, heard the bullets whistle and sing past; he had bit and lashed out around him, also done battle when enemies thrust in close; leapt with his emperor on his back over the horse of a fallen foe, saved his emperor’s crown of red gold – and therefore the emperor’s horse was given gold shoes, a gold shoe on each hoof.
And now the dung beetle crawled out.
‘First the large, then the small,’ it said, ‘though size doesn’t count for anything.’ And it stretched out its spindly legs.
‘What do you want?’ the smith asked.
‘Gold shoes!’ the dung beetle answered.
‘You can’t be right in the head!’ the smith said, ‘do you want gold shoes too?’
‘Gold shoes!’ the dung beetle said. ‘Aren’t I just as good as that great beast that has to be attended to, currycombed, taken care of, have food and drink. Don’t I belong to the emperor’s stables as well?’
‘But why do you think the horse has been given gold shoes?’ the smith asked, ‘don’t you understand why?’
‘Understand? I understand that this is treating me with contempt,’ the dung beetle said, ‘ it’s an insult – and so now I’m off into the great wide world!’
‘Be off with you, then,’ the smith said.
‘Coarse fellow!’ the dung beetle said, and went outside, whistled a little tune, and now it came to a very presentable small flower garden where there was a beautiful scent of roses and lavender.
‘Isn’t it lovely here!’ said one of the small ladybirds that flew around with black dots on their red, shield-strong wings. ‘What a sweet fragrance and how beautiful it is here!’
‘I’m used to better!’ the dung beetle said. ‘Do you call this beautiful? There’s not even a dung heap!’

For the whole story, go to here.

Andersen could write about anything at all - this time a shirt-collar

The shirt collar

There was once a fine gentleman whose entire personal effects consisted of a bootjack and a comb, but he had the loveliest shirt collar in the world and this is a story about that shirt collar. It was now so old that it was thinking of getting married, and it so happened that it ended up in the wash along with a garter.
‘Upon my soul!’ the shirt collar said, ‘I’ve have never before set eyes on anyone so slim and so fine, so soft and so dainty. May I make so bold as to ask you your name?’
‘I won’t tell you!’ the garter said.
‘Where do you come from?’ the collar asked.
But the garter was extremely bashful by nature and thought that was a strange thing to be asked to reply to.
‘You must surely be a girdle!’ the collar said, ‘some sort of underneath girdle! I can clearly see that you combine utility and adornment, my little miss!’
‘You’re not allowed to speak to me!’ the garter said, ‘I’m sure I have not in any way given you occasion to!’
‘Oh yes, when you are as pretty as you are!’ the collar said, ‘that’s occasion enough!’
‘Don’t come so close to me!’ the garter said. ‘You look so masculine!’
‘I’m also a fine gentleman!’ the shirt collar said, ‘ I own a bootjack and a comb!’ and that wasn’t strictly true, for it was his master that owned them, but it was boasting.
‘Don’t come close to me!’ the garter said, ‘I’m not used to that sort of thing!’
‘Prude!’ the shirt collar said and then it was taken up out of the wash; it was starched and hung over the chair in the sunshine and then placed on the ironing board; and a hot iron was applied to it.
‘Madam!’, the collar said, ‘little widowed lady! I’m getting overheated! I’m becoming quite transformed, I’m almost outside myself, you’re burning a hole in me! oh! I ask you to marry me!’
‘Ragged individual!’ the iron said and proudly flattened the collar, for it imagined it was a steam engine that was to be used on the railway to pull carriages.
‘Ragged individual!’ it said.
The shirt collar frayed a bit at the edges, and so the paper scissors came along to cut off the frayed ends.
‘Oh!’ the shirt collar said! ‘You must be a prima ballerina! how you can stretch your legs! You are the most elegant thing I have ever seen! No human being can possibly emulate you!’
‘I know,’ the scissors said.
‘You deserve to be a countess!’ the shirt collar said, ‘All I have is a fine gentlemen, a bootjack and a comb! If only I had a shire of my own!’
Proposing, is he!’ the scissors said, got very angry and gave the collar a hefty snip, and that was being rejected with a vengeance.
‘It looks like I’ll have to propose to the comb! It’s remarkable how you manage to keep all your teeth, my little miss!’ the shirt collar said. ‘Have you never considered becoming engaged!’
‘Yes, indeed I have!’ the comb said, ‘for I’m engaged to the bootjack!’
‘Engaged!’ the shirt collar said; now there was no one left to proposed to and so he despised it.
A long time passed, and eventually the shirt collar ended up in a box at the paper mill; there were rages of all sorts there, the fine ones separated from the coarse ones – as it should be. They all had a great deal to tell, but the shirt collar most of all, for it was a proper boaster.
‘I’ve had such a vast number of sweethearts!’ the shirt collar said, ‘I was never left in peace! But I was also a fine gentleman, complete with starch! I had both a bootjack and a comb that I never made use of! You should have seen me back then, when I lay on my side! I’ll never forget my first sweetheart, she was a garter, so fine, so soft and so delicate, she plunged into a tub of water for my sake! There was also a widowed lady that was white-hot for me, but I left her standing to get black! There was the prima ballerina, she was the one who gave me the gash I bear to this day, she was so fierce! my own comb was in love with me, she lost all her teeth when our affair came to an end. Oh yes, I’ve experienced a great deal of that sort of thing! but what pains me most is the garter, I mean the girdle that ended up in the tub of water. I have a lot on my conscience, I could well do with being turned into white paper!’
Which they all were, all the rags were turned into white paper, but the shirt collar became precisely the sheet of white paper we see here, on which the story has been printed, and that was because it boasted so terribly afterwards about what never had happened in the first place; and we should remember not to behave in the same way, for indeed we can never be sure that we don’t end up too in the rag box and are turned into white paper and have our whole story printed on it, even our deepest secrets and afterwards have to run around telling others about them, like the shirt collar.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

And today's HCA is about a thistle

What the thistle came to experience

Close to the lordly manor there lay a beautiful well-kept garden with rare trees and flowers; at which visitors to the estate expressed their delight at them, local people from countryside and market towns came on Sundays and public holidays and asked for permission to see the garden – and even entire schools came to pay similar visits.
Outside the garden, next to the palings facing the gravel road, there was a huge thistle; it was so large, with a number of branches stretching out from its root so that it spread out could well have been called a thistle bush. Nobody looked at it, except the old donkey that pulled the milkmaid’s milk-cart. It stretched it neck out towards the thistle and said: ‘You’re lovely, I could eat you!’ but the tether wasn’t long enough for the donkey to be able to reach out and eat it.
A large party was held at the manor, with distinguished relatives from the capital, fine young girls, and among them was one from a long way off – she came from Scotland, was of noble birth, rich in money and possessions, a bride well worth having, more than one young man said – likewise their mothers.
The young guests romped around on the lawn and played croquet; they went walking among the flowers, and each of the young girls picked a flower and put it in the buttonhole of one of the young gentlemen; but the young Scottish lady searched for a long time, rejected one flower after the other, none of them seemed to appeal to her; then she looked out over the palings, outside stood the large thistle bush with its red-blue, hardy flowers. She saw them, she smiled and asked the son of the house to pick her one of these.
‘It is the flower of Scotland!’ she said; ‘resplendent in the country’s coat of arms – give it to me!’
And he fetched the loveliest one and in doing so pricked his fingers, as if it had been growing on the thorniest of roses.
She placed the thistle flower in the young man’s buttonhole, and he felt highly honoured. Every one of the other young gentlemen would gladly have exchanged their own magnificent flower to be able to wear his one, personally presented by the young Scottish lady. And if the son of the house felt honoured, how much more did the thistle bush – it was as if dew and sunshine went through it.
‘I’m something more than I’ve always thought!’ it said to itself. ‘I really belong inside the palings and not outside. One is assigned the strangest of places in this world! but now I have one of my own on the other side, and in a buttonhole, no less!’
It told every bud that sprouted and unfolded about this event, and it did not take many days before the thistle bush heard – not from humans, or chirruping birds, but from the air itself that hides and spreads sounds far and wide, right from the innermost paths and the garden and rooms of the manor where windows and doors stood open – that the young gentleman who got the thistle flower from the hand of the fine young Scottish lady now owned her hand and heart as well. They made a fine pair, were a good match.
‘I’m the one who brought them together!’ the thistle bush felt, thinking of the flower it had given for the buttonhole. Every flower that bloomed was told of the event.
‘I’m sure to be planted in the garden!’ the thistle thought, ‘perhaps in a pot which pinches, that’s the greatest honour of all!’
And the thistle bush thought so intensely about this that it said with utter conviction: ‘I’ll end up in a pot!’
It promised every little thistle flower that came out that it too would end up in a pot, perhaps in a buttonhole: the highest thing that could be achieved; but none of them ended up in a pot, let alone a buttonhole; they drank air and light, basked in sunshine during the day and bathed in dew at night, flowered, were visited by bee and botfly that were searching for a dowry, the honey in the flower – and they took the honey and left the flower where it was: ‘Pack of thieves!’ the thistle bush said. ‘If only I could impale them on my spikes! but I can’t.’
The flowers hung their heads, wilted, but new ones came instead.
‘You come as if called for!’ the thistle bush said, ‘at any moment I expect us to move to the other side of the palings.’
A pair of innocent camomiles and a long, slender plantain stood and listened to this in great admiration and believed everything the thistle said.
The old donkey from the milk-cart looked out of the corner of its eye at the thistle bush from the roadside, but its tether was too short for it to be able to reach it.
And the thistle thought hard and long about Scotland’s thistle, to whose family it felt it belonged, and finally it believed itself to have come from Scotland and that its parents were themselves incorporated in the national coat of arms. It was a grand thought, but a grand thistle is probably entitled to have grand thoughts.
‘One often comes from so fine a family that one doesn’t dare acknowledge it!’ the nettle that grew close by said, it too had a kind of vague idea that it could become a ‘nettle cloth’ if treated in the right way.
And the summer passed, and the autumn passed; the leaves fell off the trees, the flowers got brighter coloured and their scent grew weaker. The gardener’s boy sang in the garden, over the palings:

‘Uphill, downhill, so it goes,
That’s life, everybody knows!’

The young fir-trees in the forest were beginning to long for Christmas, but there was still a long way to go.
‘I’m still standing here!’ the thistle said. ‘It’s as if no one has a thought for me, even though I brought the pair together; they became engaged, and they’ve held their wedding, a week ago now. Well, I won’t make a move, for I’m unable to.’
Several more weeks passed; the thistle stood with it last, single flower, large and full-flowered. It had sprouted down close to the root, the wind blew chill over it, its colours faded, its glory faded, its calyx, the size of an artichoke, stood out like a sunflower all in silver.
Then out into the garden came the young couple, now man and wife; they walked alongside the palings, the young lady looked out over it.
‘The large thistle’s still standing there!’ she said. ‘Now it hasn’t any more flowers!’
‘Yes, it has, there is the ghost of the final one!’ he said and pointed to the silver-gleaming remains of the flower, though still a flower.
‘It’s lovely, isn’t it!’ she said. ‘Such a flower must be carved into the frame around our picture!’
And once more the young man had to climb over the palings and break off the head of the thistle. It pricked his fingers; after all he had called it ‘the ghost’. And it came inside the garden, up to the manor and into the hall; there a picture stood: ‘The young Married Couple’. A thistle flower had been painted in the bridegroom’s buttonhole. There was much talk of this, and of the flower calyx they brought in, the last thistle-flower that now gleamed like silver, it was to be used to make the carving in the frame.
And the air spread this talk, far and wide.
‘What one can come to experience in this life!’ the thistle bush said. ‘My first-born ended up in a buttonhole, my last-born ended up in a frame! What will become of me?’
And the donkey at the roadside looked at it out the corner of its eye.
‘Come to me, my luscious lovely! I can’t come over to you, my tether’s not long enough!’
But the thistle bush didn’t answer; it stood them more and more thoughtful; it thought and it thought, right up until Christmas, and then its thinking produced its own flower.
‘When one’s children are well inside, a mother can make do with standing outside the palings!’
‘That’s an honest thought!’ the sun’s ray said. ‘You too shall find a good place!’
‘In a pot or a frame?’ the thistle asked.
‘In a fairytale!’ the sun’s ray said.
And here it is!

Monday, 11 August 2014

Today's HCA - 'Five Peas from a Pod'

Five peas from a pod

There were five peas in a pea pod, they were green and the pod was green, and so they believed the whole world was green, and that was absolutely correct! The pod grew and the peas grew; they adapted them to their living quarters; they sat in a straight row. – The sun shone outside and heated the pod, the rain got it ready; it was warm and snug, light in the daytime and dark at night, just as it should be, and the peas grew larger and increasingly thoughtful as they sat there – for they had to spend their time doing something.
‘Am I always going to be sitting here!’ they said, ‘I only hope I don’t get hard from sitting so long. Don’t I have a feeling that there’s something outside – I seem to sense it!’
And the weeks went by; the peas turned yellow and the pod turned yellow: ‘The whole world’s turning yellow!’ they said and they were at liberty to do so.
Then they felt the pod being shaken; it was picked from the plant, it came into human hands and down into a coat pocket, along with several other pods full of peas. – ‘Now the pod’s soon going to be opened!’ they said, and sat there waiting.
‘Now I just wonder which of us will go farthest in the world!’ the smallest pea said. ‘Yes, we’ll soon find out.’
‘Whatever must be, must be!’ the largest one said.
‘Pppppp!’ the pod split open and all five peas tumbled out into the bright sunshine; they were lying in a child’s hand, a little boy was holding them, and he said they were just right for his peashooter; and one pea was put in it at once and shot off.
‘Off I fly into the great wide world! catch me it you can!’ and away it sped.
‘I,’ the second one said, ‘will fly right into the sun, it’s a real pea pod and highly suitable for the likes of me!’
And it was gone.
‘I’ll sleep wherever I land up,’ the two others said,’ but we’re sure to go forwards!’ and they rolled onto the floor before they came into the peashooter, but they eventually made it. ‘We’ll go farthest in the world!’
‘Whatever must be, must be!’ the last one said and it was shot into the air, and it flew up towards the old board under the attic window, flew straight into a crack where there was moss and soft earth; and the moss wrapped itself around it; and there it lay hidden, but not forgotten by the Good Lord.
‘Whatever must be, must be!’ it said.
In the tiny attic room there lived a poor woman who used to go out and polish tiled stoves in the daytime, yes, she even used to saw firewood and do heavy tasks, for she was strong and hard-working, although she remained as poor as ever; and up in her little room lay her teenage only daughter who was so fine and frail; she had been bed-ridden for a whole year and seemed unable to either live or die.
‘She’s going to join her younger sister!’ the woman said. ‘I had just the two children, it was hard enough to take care of both of them, but then the Good Lord shared the task with me and called her home; so now I would like to keep the one still left me, but he doesn’t want them to be separated from each other, so she will go up and join her little sister!’
But the sick little child stayed where she was; she lay quietly and patiently all through the day while her mother was out earning money.
It was spring now, and early one morning, just as the mother was about to go to work, the sun shone so beautifully in through the small window across the floor and the sick girl looked over at the bottom window pane.
‘What on earth is that green thing I can just see at the window pane? It’s moving in the wind!’
And her mother went over to the window and opened it slightly.
‘Well, I never!’ she said, ‘if it isn’t a little pea that’s begun to sprout fine green leaves. How on earth can it have ended up here in the crack? Now you’ve got a little garden to look at!’
And the sick girl’s bed was moved closer to the window so she could see the pea grow, and her mother went off to work.’
‘Mother, I think I’m getting better!’ the little girl said that evening. ‘Today the sun has shone so warmly on me. The little pea is doing so well! and I want to do well to and be able to go outside in the sunshine!’
‘If only you could!’ her mother said, but she didn’t believe it would happen; nevertheless, she placed a small stick next to the green shoot that had given her child such happy thoughts so that it would not be snapped by the wind; she fixed a length of yarn to the board and the top of the window frame, so that the pea-stalk had something to catch onto and twine round when it climbed – and it did, you could see it grow for every day that passed.
‘Well I never, it’s coming into flower!’ the woman said one morning, and now she too began to hope and believe that the sick little girl would get better; it struck her that the child had recently spoken in a more lively fashion, the last few mornings she had got out of bed on her own and had sat gazing with bright eyes at her small pea-garden made up of a single pea. A week later, the sick child was up for more than hour for the very first time. She sat happily in the warm sunshine; the window was open, and outside in full bloom there was a white and red pea flower. The little girl leant forwards and very gently kissed the fine petals. That day was a very festive sort of day.
‘The Good Lord himself has planted it and let it thrive so as to bring you hope and happiness, my dearest child – and me as well!’ the happy mother said and smiled at the flower as if to one of God’s good angels.
But now it’s time to talk about the other peas! – yes, the one that few out into the great wide world: ‘Catch me if you can!’ fell into the roof gutter and ended up in a pigeon’s crop, where it lay like Jonas in the whale. The two lazy ones also ended up being eaten by pigeons, and that is a way of being extremely useful; but the fourth one that wanted to get up to the sun – it fell into the gutter in the street, and it lay there for days and weeks, in the foul water, where it really started to swell.
‘I’m getting so nice and fat!’ the pea said. ‘I’ll burst eventually, and I don’t think any pea can get any farther than that, or has ever done. I am the most remarkable of the five peas from the pea pod.
And the gutter agreed with it.
But the young girl at the attic window stood with shining eyes, a healthy bloom on her cheeks, and she folded her delicate hands above the pea flower and thanked the Lord God for it.
‘My bet’s still on my pea!’ the gutter said!