Monday, 31 July 2017

HCA: 'Lille Tuk'

Little Tuck

Well, there was this boy little Tuck, his name wasn’t really Tuck, but when he was small, before he could speak properly, he called himself Tuck; that was supposed to mean Carl, and it’s a good thing one knows that; he was to take care of his sister, Gustava, who was much smaller than he was, and also to do his homework, but the two things simply wouldn’t mix. The poor boy used to sit with his younger sister in his lap and sing all the songs he knew, and in the meantime steal a look at his geography book that lay open; by the next day he had to know all the towns in the diocese of Sealand and know everything about them that could be known.
Now his mother came home, for she had been out, and took little Gustava; Tuck ran over to the window and read until his eyes almost popped out of his head, for it was beginning to grow dark and then darker, but his mother could not afford to buy candles.
‘There’s an old washerwoman down there from the alley round the corner!’ his mother said, as she looked out of the window. ‘She can hardly bear her own weight and she also has to carry the bucket from the water pump; run down, little Tuck, there’s a good boy! help the old woman!’
And Tuck immediately ran down and helped her, but when he returned home it was completely dark, lighting a candle was out of the question, he was to go to bed; it was an old bench that could be used for sleeping; he lay there and thought about his geography homework: the diocese of Sealand and everything the teacher had said about it. He really ought to have learnt it, but that was out of the question now, of course. He pushed the geography book under his pillow, for he had heard that this could considerably help him remember his homework, but that’s not something one can rely on.
There he now lay thinking and thinking, and suddenly it was as if someone kissed his eyes and mouth, he was asleep and yet not asleep; it was as if he saw the gentle eyes of the old washerwoman looking at him, and she said: ‘it would be a great pity if you hadn’t learnt your homework task! you helped me, now I shall help you, and the Lord God will always do so!’
And suddenly the book under Tuck’s head started itching and twitching:
‘Cockadoodledoo! cluck! cluck!’ it was a hen and it came from Køge town. ‘I’m one of the Køge Hens!’ it said – the area of Køge was famous for the flapping wings of its windmills – and then it told Tuck how many inhabitants there were and of the battle that had taken place, and that it hadn’t been much to speak of.
‘Itchy, twitchy, thud!’ something landed with a bump – it was a wooden bird that now arrived, the popinjay from the shooting competition in Præstø. It said there were just as many inhabitants there as nails in its body, and it was quite proud: ‘Thorvaldsen once lived round the corner from me. Thud! I lie nicely here!’
But little Tuck wasn’t lying now, suddenly he was on horseback. And at a gallop, at a gallop. A magnificently clad knight with shining helmet and swaying plume had placed Tuck in front of himself on his horse and they were riding through the wood to the old town of Vordingborg, and it was a large, thriving town; on the royal castle high towers soared up, and the lights shone far out through the windows; inside there was singing and dancing; King Valdemar and stately young ladies-in-waiting were dancing. – Morning came, and just as the sun rose, the town sank and the king’s castle, one tower after the other, finally only a single one was left standing on the embankment where the castle had stood, and the town was so tiny and so poor, and the schoolboys came with their books under their arm and said ‘2000 inhabitants’, but that wasn’t true, there weren’t that many.
And little Tuck lay in his bed, it seemed to him that he was dreaming and yet not dreaming; but there was someone close to him:
‘Little Tuck! little Tuck!’ a voice said; it was a sailor, a very small person, that could possibly be a cadet, but it wasn’t a cadet. ‘I am to convey very many greetings from Korsør, a town that is on the way up! it is a thriving town, it has steamships and mail vans; once it was always referred to as ugly, but that is an outdated opinion.’ ‘I lie down by the sea,’ Korsør says, ‘I have highways and I have parks, and I have given birth to a writer who was amusing, and not everyone is that. I wanted to send a ship round the world, I didn’t do it but I could have done it, and then I smell so nice, right beside the gate the loveliest roses bloom!’
Little Tuck saw them, all turned red and green before his eyes, but when the colours had settled it was a whole wooded hillside close to the clear waters of the fjord; and above lay a magificent old church with two tall, pointed church spires: from the hillside wells bubbled up in thick jets of water that landed with a splash, and close by sat an old king with a golden crown on his long hair – it was King Hroar beside the springs, and the town is now called Roskilde. And across the hillside, into the old church, all the kings and queens of Denmark went hand in hand, each one wearing a golden crown, and the organ played and the springs murmured gently. Little Tuck saw everything, heard everything. ‘Don’t forget the estates of the realm!’ King Hroar said.
Suddenly eveything had vanished again; where could it have got to? it was as if one turned a page in a book. And now an old woman was standing there, a weeder, she came from Sorø, where grass grew on the market square. She had he grey canvas apron over her head and down her back; it was so wet, it must have rained: ‘Yes, it has!’ she said, and she was able to recite something amusing from Holberg’s comedies and knew about Valdemar and Absalon; but all of a sudden she shrank, rocked her head, it was as if she wanted to leap: ‘croak!’ she said, ‘it’s wet, it’s wet, it’s so grave-still good – in Sorø!’ suddenly she had turned into a frog, ‘croak!’ and then she was an old woman again. ‘One must dress to suit the weather!’ she said. ‘It’s wet’, it’s wet! my town is like a bottle; you enter it via the bottleneck and that’s where you have to go to get out again! I have had catfish and now I have fresh red-cheeked boys at the bottom of the bottle; there they gain wisdom: Greek! Greek! croak!’ it sounded just like frogs singing, or when one walks in marshy water with large boots on. It was always the same sound, so monotonous, so boring, so boring that little Tuck fell fast asleep, but that could do him nothing but good.
But in this sleep too there came a dream, or whatever it was: his little sister Gustava with her blue eyes and blond curly hair had sudden become a full-grown, lovely girl, and without having wings on she was able to fly and they fly across Sealand, over the green woods and blue waters.
‘Can you hear the cock crow, little Tuck! cock-a-doodle-doo! The hens fly up from Køge they too! you shall have a chicken run so large, so large that you will never be hungry or poor! You’ll be lucky enough to shoot the popinjay, as people say, will become a rich and happy man! your farm will soar up like the towers of King Valdemar, and be richly decorated with marble statues, like those from the Præstø quarter, if you get my meaning. Your name and fame will fly round the world, like the ship that was to have left from Korsør, and in Roskilde –– ‘remember the estates of the realm!’ King Hroar said; there you will speak well and wisely, little Tuck, and when you finally end in your grave, you will sleep so sweetly ––.’
‘As if I lay in Sorø!’ Tuck said, and then he woke up; it was a bright morning, he couldn’t recall the slightest bit of his dream, but that was not intended either, for one may not know what is to come.
And he leapt out of bed and read his book, and knew his lesson by heart at once. And the old washerwoman stuck her head round the door, nodded to him and said:
‘Thank you for your help yesterday, you blessed child! may the Lord God let your best dream be fulfilled!’ Little Tuck had no idea at all what he had dreamt – but the Lord God most certainly did!


HCA: 'Nabofamilierne'

The Neighbouring Families

You might well think that something was going on down at the village pond, but there wasn’t anything going on! The ducks, just when they felt most comfortable out on the water – some were standing on their heads because they were able to – all suddenly made for the bank; in the wet clay you could see the imprint of their webbed feet, and from quite far away one could hear them squalling away. The water began to stir quite a lot, only recently it had been as smooth as a mirror, one could see every tree, every bush close by in it, and the old farmhouse with the holes in its gable and the swallow’s nest, but especially the rose bush full of flowers that hung out from the wall practically over the water, where everything stood as in a painting, but upside-down; and when the water became agitated, everything merged into everything else, the whole picture was gone. Two duck feathers that had fallen from the ducks in their flight bobbed vigorously up and down, suddenly they moved faster, as if caught by a gust of wind, but there wasn’t any wind, and then they lay still, and the water was as smooth as a mirror once more, one could clearly see the gable with the swallow’s nest, and one could see the rosebush; every rose was reflected; they were so lovely, but were unaware of this themselves, for nobody had told them so. The sun shone down between the fine petals that were so full of fragrance; and every rose felt as we do when we are blissfully lost in thought.
‘How delightful it is to be alive!’ each rose said, ‘the only thing I could wish for is to be able to kiss the sun, because it is so warm and bright. –Oh yes, and the roses down there in the water I would also like to kiss! they look exactly like us; I would kiss the sweet young birds down there in the nest; oh yes, and there are some above us too! they are sticking out their heads and starting to cheep; they have no feathers whatsoever, as their father and mother have. It’s nice neighbours we have, both those up above and those down below. Oh, how delightful it is to be alive!’
The small nestlings up there and down there – yes, those down there were only an apparition in the water – were common sparrows, father and mother were grey sparrows; they had taken the empty swallow nest from the previous year, there they lay and were at home.
‘Is that duck children swimming there?’ the young swallows asked when they saw duck feathers floating on the water.
‘Make up sensible questions before asking,’ their mother said. ‘Can’t you see that it’s feathers, living dress material that I have and you will get, but ours is finer! Though I wish we had them up here in the nest, for they warm well. I wonder what it was that frightened the ducks! there must have been something in the water, for it certainly wasn’t me! although I admittedly did say a rather loud ‘pip’ to you! The thick-headed roses ought to know, but they know absolutely nothing, simply look at themselves and give off scent. I really am sick and tired of those neighbours!’ –
 ‘Listen to the sweet little birds up there!’ the roses said, ‘ they’re starting to want to sing now!’ – They couldn’t before, but it’ll soon come!’ – What a great pleasure it must be! It’s so diverting to have such cheerful neighbours!’ –
Just then two horses arrived at a gallop, they were to be watered; a farmer’s boy sat on one of them, and he had taken off all his clothes except for his black hat; it was so broad-rimmed and big. The boy whistled as if he was a little bird, and then rode out into the deepest part of the village pond; and when he came over to the rose bush, he broke off one of the roses and put it in his hat, then he felt he was really smartly dressed, and off he rode with it. The other roses gazed after their sister and asked each other: ‘where did she go off to!’ but nobody knew.
‘I wouldn’t mind getting out into the world,’ one of them said to another one, ‘but it’s also very nice out here in our own green little spot! in the daytime the sun is so warm and at night the sky shines even more beautifully! we can see that through the many small holes in it!’ It was the stars they thought were holes, each and every one, for the roses didn’t know any better.
‘We liven up around the house,’ the sparrow mother said, ‘and swallow’s nests bring good fortune,’ people says; ‘so they are glad to have us! but those neighbours there, a whole rose bush right up against the wall like that, makes it damp; I think it will probably be taken away so that at least a grain of corn can grow there. Roses are only for looking at and for smelling, or at most for sticking in your hat. Every year, I know this from my mother, they fall off, the farmer’s wife conserves them with salt, they are given a French name, one that I can’t pronounce and don’t care for either; and then they are put on the fire when a nice smell is wanted. See, that it the whole course of their lives! they only exist for eyes and noses. So now you know!’
When evening came and the mosquitoes danced in the warm air, when the clouds were so red, the nightingale came and sang for the roses: that the Beautiful was like sunshine in this world; and that the Beautiful lived for ever. But the roses thought that the nightingale was singing about itself, which is also a thought. It didn’t occur to them that they were the ones that were to have the song, but they were glad to hear it and wondered if all the small sparrow nestlings could also become nightingales.
‘I understood very well what that bird sang!’ the young sparrows said, ‘there was only one word I didn’t understand: What is the Beautiful?’
‘It’s nothing!’ the sparrow mother said, ‘it’s just the way things can look. Up at the manor house, where the pigeons have their own house and have peas and corned strewn about the courtyard every day – I have eaten with them and you will get to as well! tell me who you keep company with and I will tell you who you are! – up there at the manor house they have two birds with green breasts and a crest on their heads; the tail can fan out as if it was a large wheel, and it has so many colours that it hurts your eyes; they are called peacocks, and they are the Beautiful! If their feathers were plucked a bit, they would not look any different than the rest of us. I would have pecked them if they hadn’t been so big!’
‘I’ll peck them!’ the smallest nestling said, and he didn’t have any feathers at all yet.
Inside the farmhouse two young people lived; they were so very fond of each other, they were so diligent and industrious, everything was so nice and orderly in their home. On Sunday morning the young wife went out, took a whole handful of the loveliest roses, put them in a glass of water and placed it on the chest of drawers, right in the middle.
‘Now I can see that it’s Sunday!’ the man said, kissed his sweet little wife, and they sat down, read a hymn, held each other’s hands, and the sun shone in through the windows onto the fresh roses and the young couple.
‘I’m tired of seeing that!’ the sparrow-mother said, looking into the room from her nest; and then she flew off.
She did the same thing the following Sunday, for every Sunday fresh roses were put in the glass and the rose bush went on blooming just as beautifully; the young sparrows, who had now got feathers, wanted to fly with her, but their mother said: ‘You stay put!’ and so they stayed put. – She flew off, but fly or not, suddenly she was caught in a horse-hair bird snare that some boys had fixed to a branch. The horse hairs fastened round her leg, they grew oh so tight that it felt her leg would be cut off; the pain, the fear were terrible; the boys were there in a flash and grabbed the bird, and they seized her so brutally hard. ‘It’s nothing more than a sparrow!’ they said, but even so they didn’t let it fly off again, they went home with it, and each time it cried out, they hit in on the beak.
Inside the farmhouse, an old fellow stood making shaving soap and hand soap, soap in balls and soap in bars. He was an itinerant, cheerful old chap, and when he saw the sparrow the boys came with which they said they weren’t at all interested in, he said: ‘shall we make it beautiful?’ and a shudder passed through the sparrow-mother when he said that. And out of his box, in which there lay the loveliest colours, he took a lot of gleaming gold leaf, and the boys were told to run and fetch an egg, and he took the egg-white and smeared it all over the bird, then daubed the gold-leaf on, and then the sparrow-mother was a gilt bird; but she didn’t think anything of all this finery, her whole body simply shook. And the soap-man took a red patch of cloth, he tore it out of the lining of his old jacket, cut it into the shape of a serrated cockscomb and pasted it onto the bird’s head.
‘Now watch the gold bird fly!’ he said and let go of the sparrow, who in a state of utter terror flew off into the bright sunshine. Oh, how it gleamed! all the sparrows, and even a large crow who was no youngster himself, were quite frightened by the sight, but they flew after it even so, for they wanted to find out what sort of a strange bird it was.
‘From where! from where!’ the crow croaked.
‘Wait a bit! wait a bit’ the sparrows tweeted. But she refused to wait a bit; out of fear and fright she made for home; she almost sank to the ground and all the time more birds congregated, large and small; some flew right up close so as to peck away at her. ‘What an oddity! what an oddity!’ they all cried out.
‘What an oddity! what an oddity!’ her nestlings cried out when she approached the nest. ‘It must definitely be a young peacock, there are all those colours that hurt the eyes, just like mother said: cheep! that is the Beautiful!’ And so they pecked away with their small beaks and made it impossible for her to enter, and she was so frightened she could no more say cheep than say: I am your mother. The other birds now joined in the pecking, so that all her feathers fell off, and bloodied and torn the sparrow-mother sank down into the rose bush.
‘The poor creature!’ the roses said. ‘Come, let’s hide you! Lean your little head up against us!’
The sparrow mother spread its wings out one final time, then held them tightly at her sides and died there among the neighbouring family, the beautiful fresh roses.
‘Cheep!’ the small sparrows in the nest said. ‘I simply can’t understand where mother’s got to! It could possibly be a trick of hers to force us to take care of ourselves. She’s let us keep the house as our inheritance! but which of us is to have sole right to it when we have families.’
‘Yes, I can’t have all you lot here when I expand and have a wife and children!’ the smallest of them said. ‘I’ll probably have more wives and children than you!’ the second one said.
‘But I’m the eldest!’ said a third. They all ended up squabbling, they beat their wings, pecked with their beaks, and thud, one after the other was pushed out of the nest. There they lay, extremely angry; they cocked their heads right over to one side and blinked with the eye pointing upwards – that was their way of looking sulky. They could fly a little, and then they practised some more, and finally they agreed that so as to recognise each other again should they meet out in the world, they would say ‘cheep!’ and scratch three times with their left leg.
The young sparrow that was left up in the nest spread itself out as much as it could, for now it was a house-owner, but this didn’t last for long. – That night, red fire gleamed through the windows, the flames shot out under the roof, the dry straw blazed up, the whole house caught fire, along with the young sparrow, although the young couple fortunately managed to escape.
When the sun had risen the following morning and everything seemed so refreshed as after a peaceful night’s sleep, there was nothing left of the farmhouse except a few black, charred beams that leant up against the chimney, which was its own master; there was much smoke still coming from the plot of land, but in front of it, fresh and blooming, the entire rose bush stood unharmed, mirroring its every branch and flower in the still water.
‘Oh, how lovely the roses are in front of the burnt-out house!’ a passing man called out. ‘What a charming little picture! I simply must capture it!’ and the man took a small book with white pages out of his pocket, and he took his pencil, for he was a painter, and then drew the smoking gravel, the charred beams up against the leaning chimney, for it was beginning to lean more and more, but right at the front stood the large, blooming rose bush, it really was lovely, and was also the reason for the whole scene being drawn.
Later that day two of the sparrows who had been born here passed by. ‘Where’s the house?’ they said, ‘where’s the nest? – Cheep, everything’s gone up in flames, along with our strong brother! that was what he got for keeping the nest. – The roses have escaped unhurt! they’re still standing there with rosy cheeks. They’re not grieving the misfortune of their neighbour. Well, I won’t speak to them, and it’s ugly here, that’s my opinion!’ So they flew off.
That autumn there was a lovely sunny day, one would really believe it was the middle of summer. It was so dry and tidy in the yard in front of the large staircase of the manor house, and pigeons went back and forth, black, white and violet – they glistened in the sunshine and the old pigeon-mothers ruffled their feathers and said to their young, ‘group yourselves! group yourselves!’ – for that showed them up to greater advantage.
‘What’s all that stray grey running around among us?’ an old pigeon asked that had red and green between its eyes. ‘Stray grey! stray grey!’ she said.
‘They’re sparrows! honest creatures! We’ve always had the reputation of being good-natured, so we let them pick things up! – They don’t join in the conversation and scratch so prettily with their leg!’
Yes indeed, they scratched, three times they scratched with their left leg, but they also said cheep and so they recognised each other, they were three sparrows from the burnt-out house. –
‘Extremely good place to eat, this!’ the sparrows said.
And the pigeons went around together, ruffled their feathers and had their own opinions about things.
‘Do you see that ruffling pigeon?’ one of them said about another, ‘and do you see her, how she’s swallowing peas? she’s getting too many! she’s getting the best ones! coo coo! can you see how her comb’s thinning out! can you see that, dearest, that ill-humoured creature! Too true, too true!’ and the eyes of all them gleamed red with ill-humour. ‘Group yourselves, group yourselves! Stray grey! stray grey! Too true, too true, coo coo!’ they went on incessantly – and still will a thousand years from now.
The sparrows fed well, and heard well, they even formed a group, but it didn’t suit them; they had eaten their fill; so they left the pigeons and expressed their opinion about them amongst themselves, then they hopped in under the garden palings, and as the door of the garden room was open, one of them hopped up onto the doorstep, he was more that replete and therefore bold: ‘cheep!’ he said, ‘I dare all right!’ – ‘cheep!’ the second one said, ‘I dare too and a bit more!’ and he then hopped right into the room. There was nobody in there, the third can see that, so he flew even further up into the room and said: ‘all the way in or nothing at all! that’s a ridiculous-looking human nest! and how things have been arranged here! Now, what on earth is this!’
Right in front of the sparrows roses were blooming, they were reflected in the water, and the charred beams lay up against the dilapidated chimney! – Now, what on earth is this! how did it get inside the manor house?’
And all three sparrows wanted to fly over the roses and chimney, but it was a flat wall they flew into; all of it was a painting, a large, magnificent work that the painter had done from the small drawing he had made.
‘Cheep!’ the sparrows said, it’s nothing! It just looks like it! Cheep! it’s the Beautiful! Can you make head or tail of it, for I can’t!’ and then they flew off, for people were entering the room.
Days and years now passed, the pigeons had cooed many times, not to mention too-trued, the petulant creatures! The sparrows had frozen during the winter and lived the life during the summer; all of them were betrothed or married – or whatever one should call it. They had young, and each one’s  were, of course, the loveliest and cleverest; one flew here and one flew there, and if they met, they recognised each other by ‘cheep’ and three scratchings with their left leg. The oldest of them, such an ancient bird she was, had no nest and no young; she wanted just once to see a big city and so she flew to Copenhagen. –
There lay a large house with many colours there; it lay very close to the palace and the canal, where there were ships carry apples and pots. The windows were broader at the bottom than at the top, and when the sparrows peeped in, it seemed to them as if they were looking down into a tulip, all sorts of colours and convolutions, and in the middle of the tulip stood white human figures; they were of marble, some were also of plaster, but that makes no difference to sparrow eyes. On top of the house there was a metal carriage with metal horses hitched to it, and the goddess of victory, she too of metal, drove it. It was the Thorvaldsen Museum.
‘How it gleams! how it gleams!’ the sparrow maid said, ‘it must surely be the Beautiful! cheep! but here it is larger than a peacock!’ she could still recall ever since her young days what was the largest Beautiful thing her mother knew. And she flew straight down into the courtyard; there everything was splendid too, palms and branches had been painted up the walls, and in the middle of the courtyard stood a large, blooming rose bush; it inclined its fresh branches with the many roses over a grave; and she flew across to it, for there several sparrows could be seen, ‘cheep!’ and three scratchings with her left leg; that greeting she had given many a time for days and years, and no one had understood it, for those who are parted do not meet every day; that greeting had become a habit, but today there were two old sparrows and a young one who said ‘cheep!’ and scratched with their left leg.
‘Well, just look, good day, good day!’ it was three old ones from the sparrow nest and a young one of the same sparrow family. ‘Just think that we should meet here!’ they said. ‘It’s a very fine place, but there’s not much to eat. It’s the Beautiful! cheep!’
And many people came from the side-rooms, where the splendid marble statues stood, and went over to the grave which housed the great master who had carved the marble statues, and all those who came stood with radiant faces around Thorvaldsen’s grave, and a few gathered the fallen rose petals as keepsakes. There were people from far and wide; some came from Great Britain, from Germany and France; the loveliest lady took one of the roses and placed in at her breast. Then the sparrows believed that the roses ruled here, and that the whole house had been built for their sake, and this did seem to be a bit much, but since the humans all made such a fuss of the roses, they did not want to do less. ‘Cheep!’ they said, swept the floor with their tails, and looked with one eye at the roses; they did not have to look long before they were certain that they were former neighbours; and that was also the case. The painter who had drawn the rose bush by the burnt-out house had later that year been granted permission to dig it up, and had then given it to the master builder, for no roses could rival them; and he had placed the bush on Thorvaldsen’s grave where, as an image of the Beautiful, the roses still bloomed and gave their red, fragrant petals to be carried as keepsakes to distant countries.
‘Have you been given a fixed job here in the city?’ the sparrows asked. And the roses nodded; they recognised their grey neighbours and were so glad to see them again.
‘How marvellous it is to live and bloom, to see old friends and kind faces every day! Here it is as if every day was a holiday!’
‘Cheep!’ the sparrows said, ‘yes, it’s our old neighbours! We remember their origins from the village pond! cheep! how you have come up in the world! Some also manage this without any exertion whatsoever. And what’s so nice about such a red splodge, I don’t know! – And there’s a withered leaf, I can see it!’
And so they nibbled at it till it fell off, and the bush stood even fresher and greener, and the roses smelt so sweet in the sunshine on Thorvaldsen’s grave, to whose immortal name they added their beauty.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Anneke Brassinga; 'Aspecten (II)'

HCA: 'Den gamle Gadeløgte'

The Old Street Lamp

Have you heard the story about the old street lamp? It’s not exactly vastly amusing, but can always stand being heard just the once. It was an unassuming old street lamp that had done service for many, many years but was now going to be scrapped. It was the last evening it was sitting up on its lamp-post lighting up the street, and it felt like an old ballet figurante who is dancing on her final evening and knows that the following day she will be consigned to the attic. The lamp feared the day about to come so strongly for it knew that it was to be sent to the council hall for the first time and be inspected by ‘the thirty-six men’ of the town to see if it was fit or unfit for use. It would then be decided if it was to be sent to one of the bridges and light up there, or to a factory in the country, perhaps to a iron founder’s and be melted down, for it could definitely be used for all sorts of things, but it was distressed at not knowing if it would then retain the memory of having been a street lamp. – Whichever way it went, it would be separated from the watchman and his wife, who it totally regarded as its family. It became a street lamp when he became a watchman. His wife back then was a trifle condescending, she only deigned to look at the lamp when she passed in in the evening, never during the daytime. Now, on the other hand, in recent years, all three of them – the watchman, his wife and the lamp – had grown old, the wife had also taken care of lamp, polished it and poured trane oil into it. The married couple were honest folk, they had not cheated the lamp of a single drop. It was its last day in the street and the following day it was to go to the council hall – these were two dark thoughts for the lamp, so one can well imagine how it was burning. But other thoughts also passed through its head; there was so much it had seen, so much it felt like doing, perhaps just as much as ‘the thirty-six men’, but it did not say anything, for it was an unassuming old lamp, it did not wish to offend anybody, least of all those in authority. It remembered so much, and at times its flame flared inside it, it was as if it had the feeling: ‘yes, I too will be remembered! there was that handsome young man – yes, many years ago now! he came with a letter, it was on pink paper, so fine, so fine, and with a gilt edge, it was so beautifully written, it was a lady’s hand; he read it at least twice and he kissed it and he looked up at me with two eyes that said: ‘I am the happiest person on earth!’ Yes, only he and I knew what was in the first letter from his sweetheart. – I also remember another pair of eyes, it is strange how one thoughts can flit back and forth! here in the street there was a fine funeral, the beautiful young lady lay in the coffin on the velvet-draped hearse, there were so many flowers and wreaths, so many gleaming torches that I was quite inconspicuous; the whole pavement was full of people, all of them following the funeral procession, but when the torches were out of sight and I looked around me, there was still someone standing crying by my lamp-post, I will never forget the grief in the eyes that looked up at me!’ – Many thoughts such as these passed through the mind of the street-lamp, burning this evening for the last time. The sentry who is replaced does at least know his successor, and can exchange a few words with him, but the lamp did not know its successor, though it could have given him a tip or two, and rain and rough weather, how far the moonlight shone on the pavement and from which direction the wind blew.
On the gutter plank there stood three hopefuls who had presented themselves to the lamp, for they thought it was the one that passed on its office: one of these was a herring head, for it gleams in the dark, and felt that could represent a true saving of trane oil if it was placed on the lamp-post. The second was a piece of touchwood, which also gleams, and always more than split cod does, that’s obvious, apart from which it was the last piece of a tree that had once added splendour to the forest. The third was a glow-worm; where it had come from the lamp failed to understand, but the worm was there and emitted light also, though the touchwood and herring-head swore that this was only from time to time, so it could never be taken into consideration.
The old lamp said that none of them gave off enough light to be a street-lamp, but not one of them believed that, and when they heard that the lamp did not pass on its office, they said that this was a very good thing, for it was much too decrepit to be able to make a choice.
Just then a wind swept round the street corner, it whistled through the cowl of the old lamp, and said to it: ‘What’s this I hear that you’re leaving us tomorrow? It this the last evening I am to meet you here? In that case, you are to have a present! I will now lift up your cranium so you will be able not only to remember completely clearly everything you have heard and seen, but also be so clear-headed whenever something is told or read in your presence that you can also see it!’
‘Well, that really is most generous!’ the old street-lamp said, ‘thank you so much! I only hope I won’t be melted down!’
‘That won’t happen yet!’ the wind said, ‘and now I will inflate your memory; if you can get some more presents like this one, you ought to have a quite enjoyable old age!’
‘I only hope I won’t be melted down!’ the lamp said, ‘or can you also guarantee me my memory?’ –
‘Be reasonable, old lamp!’ the wind said, and then it blew. – Immediately the moon appeared.
‘What will you give?’ the wind asked.
‘I will give nothing!’ it said, ‘I am on the wane, and the lamps have never shone for me, but I have shone for the lamps.’ And the moon went behind the clouds once more, for it didn’t want to be pestered. Then right onto the cowl there fell a drop of water, it was like a drip from the eaves, but the drop said it came from the grey clouds and was also a present, and perhaps the best of them all. I will percolate into you, so you will acquire the ability in the space of one night, whenever you wish it, can be transformed into rust, completely disintegrate and turn into dust. But the lamp thought that this was a bad present and so did the wind; ‘Is there nothing better, is there nothing better?’ it blew as loudly as it could; then a gleaming shooting star fell in a long, shining trail.
‘What was that?’ the herring head cried out, ‘didn’t a star just fall down? I think it went straight into the lamp! – Well, if the office is also being sought by something of such high standing, we might as well go home and lie down!’ which it did, as did the others; but the old lamp suddenly gleamed with a marvellously strong light: ‘That was a delightful present!’ it said. ‘The bright stars, in which I have always taken so much pleasure, and that shine more delightfully than I have ever been able to, despite this being my entire endeavour and aspiration, have noticed me, poor old lamp that I am, and sent one down with a present to me that enables all that I personally remember and see really clearly will also be able to be seen by those of which I am fond! and only then can a pleasure be complete, for when one cannot share it with others it remains but a half happiness!’
‘A very noble idea indeed!’ the wind said, ‘but you do not yet know that it calls for wax candles. Without a wax candle being lit inside you, none of the others will be able to see anything in you. The stars have not taken that into account, they believe that everything that shines must at least have a wax candle inside it. But now I’m tired!’ the wind said, ‘now I want to lie down!’ and so it lay down.
The next day – – well, the next day we can skip; the next evening the lamp was lying in an armchair, and where was that –? At the old watchman’s. He had requested ‘the thirty-six men’, because of his many years of faithful service, to be allowed to keep the old lamp; they laughed at him when he asked for this and gave it to him, and now the lamp lay in an armchair, close to the warm tiled stove, and it was just as if this had made it bigger, for it almost filled the entire chair. And the old couple were already eating their evening meal and they looked benignly over at the old lamp, as if they would have liked to have given it a seat at the table. They really did live down in a cellar, four feet underground; one had to pass through a cobbled entrance hall to enter their living room, but it was nice and warm here for there selvages had been set up at the door; it looked nice and tidy here; curtains round the bedstead, and above the small windows, where up on the sill there stood two strange flower pots; sailor Christian had bought them home with him from the East or the West Indies, they were two elephants of earthenware, their backs were hollowed out and flowers came out of the soil that had been placed inside, in one of them grew the finest chives, it was the old couple’s kitchen garden, and in the other a large, blooming geranium, that was their flower garden. On the wall hung a large, coloured picture with ‘The Congress of Vienna’, which showed all the kings and emperors!  – A grandfather clock with heavy lead weights went ‘tick! tock!’ and was always too fast, that was better than going too slow, the old couple said. They ate their evening meal, and the old street lamp, as mentioned, lay in the armchair close to the warm tiled stove. To the street lamp it felt as if its entire world had been turned upside-down. – But the old watchman looked at it and talked about what the two of them had experienced together, in rain and rough weather, in the bright, short summer nights and when the snow drifted so much it was good to get back down to the cellar shelter, then everything felt allright for the old lamp once more, it saw everything as if it were there still – yes, the wind really had given it plenty of inner light. –
They were so industrious and so assiduous, the old couple, no hour of the day spent dozing; every Sunday afternoon some book or other was taken out, preferably a travel account, and the old man read aloud about Africa, about the great forests and the elephants that roamed wild there, and the old woman listened attentively and then glanced over at the earthenware elephants that were flower pots! – ‘I can almost imagine it!’ she said. And the lamp wished so intensely that it had a wax candle that could be lit and placed inside it, for then she would be able to see exactly as the lamp saw things, the tall trees, the dense intertwining branches, the naked black men on horseback and whole herds of elephants that crushed reeds and bushes with their massive feet.
‘What’s the good of all my abilities when there is no wax candle!’ the lamp sighed, ‘they only have trane oil and tallow candles, and that is not enough!’
One day a whole bundle of wax-candle stumps came into the cellar, the largest piece were burnt and the smaller piece the old woman used to wax her thread with when she sewed; there were wax candles all right, but no one thought of placing a small piece in the lamp.
‘Here I am with all my rare abilities!’ the lamp said, I have everything inside me, but I cannot share it with them! They don’t know that I can transform the white walls into the loveliest of tapestries, into real forests, into everything they could ever wish! – They simply don’t know!’
The lamp though stood neat and nicely polished in a corner where one’s eyes always fell on it; people admittedly called it a piece of scrap metal, but the old couple weren’t a bit put out by this, they were so fond of the lamp.
One day, it was the old watchman’s birthday, the old woman went over the lamp, gave a little smile and said: ‘I’ll let it light things up as a celebration!’ and the tin cowl gave a creak, for it thought: ‘now at last they’ve seen the light!’ but they used trane oil and no wax candle, it burnt the whole evening, but now the lamp knew that the gift the stars had given it, the best gift of all, would remain a hidden treasure during its lifetime. Then it dreamt – and when one has such abilities, one is actually able to dream – that the old couple were dead, and that it had ended up at an iron founder’s and was to be melted down, it was just as scared as when it was to go to the council hall and be inspected by ‘the thirty-six men’, but although it had the ability to disintegrate into rust and dust whenever it so wished, it did not do so, and it was put in the melting furnace and became the loveliest iron candlestick in which anyone would wish to place a wax candle; it had the form of an angel that carried a bouquet, and at the centre of the bouquet the wax candle was put and the candlestick was placed on a green writing desk, and the room was so cosy, lined with many books, hung with lovely pictures, it was in a writer’s home, and everything that he thought and wrote unfurled around him, the room became deep, dark forests, became sunlit meadows there the stork strutted, and became the ship’s deck high on the ocean waves! –
‘What abilities I have!’ the old lamp said as it woke up. ‘It almost makes me wish to be melted down! – but no, that must not happen as long as the old couple are still alive! They are fond of me for my own sake! I am like a child to them, and they have polished me and given me trane oil and I am just as well off as “The Congress”, which is so distinguished!’
And from then on, it knew a greater inner serenity, and that was something the unassuming old street lamp very much deserved.