Ogier the Dane
There is an old castle in Denmark by the name of Kronborg, it lies directly overlooking the Sound, where hundreds of large ships sail past every day, British, Russian and Prussian; and they salute the castle as they sail past with cannons: ‘boom!’ and the castle replies with cannons: ‘boom!’ for that’s how the cannons say ‘Good day!’, ‘Many thanks!’ – In winter no ships sail past, for then ice covers the Sound right across to the land of Sweden and it is just like a regular highway, there the Danish flag flutters and there the Swedish flag, and the Danish and Swedish peoples say to each other ‘Good day!’, ‘many thanks!’ but not with cannons, no with friendly handshakes, and the one fetches wheat bread and pretzels from the other, for foreign fare tastes best. But the jewel in the crown is nevertheless old Kronborg and the fact that beneath it Ogier the Dane sits in the deep, dark cellar where no one comes, he is clad in iron and steel and supports his head on his strong arms; his long beard hangs down over the marble table to which it has become firmly attached, he sleeps and dreams, but in his dreams he sees everything that happens up here in Denmark. Every Christmas Eve and angel of God comes and tells him that what he has dreamt is true, and that he can go back to sleep, for Denmark is as yet not in any real danger! but should such danger arise, well, then Ogier the Dane will rise to his feet and the table will split when he tugs up his beard! then he will come out and strike a blow that can be heard in every country in the world.
An old grandfather sat telling all this about Ogier the Dane to his young grandson, and the little boy knew that what his grandfather said was true. And while the old man told about him, he carved away at a large wooden figurehead that was to represent Ogier the Danes and be placed at the front of a ship, for the old grandfather was a ship’s woodcarver, which is a man who does figureheads according to what name the ship is going to have, and now he had carved Ogier the Dane standing so proudly with his long beard and holding in one hand his broadsword, but with his other hand on the Danish coat of arms.
And the old grandfather told so much about remarkable Danish men and women that the young grandson finally thought that he now knew as much as Ogier the Danes could possibly know as he only dreamt about it; and when the little boy went to bed, he thought so much about it that he pressed his chin hard into the duvet and felt that he had a long beard that had become firmly attached to it.
But the old grandfather kept on with his work and carved the last section of it, the Danish coat of arms; and then he had finished and he looked at all of it and thought about everything he had read and heard about what he had told the little boy that evening; and he nodded and wiped his spectacles, put them back on his nose and said: ‘Ah yes, Ogier the Dane will hardly come in my lifetime! but perhaps the boy will get to see him and be there when the country’s fate is in the balance,’ and the old grandfather nodded, and the more he looked at his Ogier the Dane, the more obvious it became to him that he had carved a good figurehead; it really seemed to fill with colour, the harness gleaming like iron and steel; the hearts in the Danish coat of arms grew redder and redder and the lions leapt with golden crowns on their heads.
‘It really is the loveliest coat of arms anyone has in the whole world!’ the old man said. ‘The lions represent strength and the hearts gentleness and love!’ and he looked at the uppermost lion and thought of King Canute, who linked great England to the Danish throne, and he looked at the second lion and thought of Waldemar, who gathered together the Danish realm and subdued the Wendish countries; he looked at the third lion and thought of Margrethe, who united Denmark, Sweden and Norway; but when he looked at the red hearts, they shone even more brightly that before and turned into flames.
The first flame led him into a cramped, dark prison cell; there a prisoner sad, a lovely woman, Christian IV’s daughter: Leonora Ulfeldt; and the flame came to rest like a rose on her breast and flowered along with her heart, she who was the noblest and best of all Danish women.
‘Yes, this is a heart in Denmark’s coat of arms!’ the old grandfather said.
And his thoughts followed the flame, which led him out onto the sea, where the cannons thundered, where the ships lay shrouded in smoke, and the flame attached itself like the ribbon of an order to the breast of Hvitfeldt as he blew up his ship in order to save the fleet.
And the third flame led him to the abject huts of Greenland, where the clergyman Hans Egede stood with love in both word and deed; the flame was a star on his breast, a heart in the Danish coat of arms.
And the old grandfather’s thoughts went ahead of the hovering flame, for he knew where the flame wished to go. In the humble living room of the peasant’s wife stood Frederik VI and wrote his name in chalk on the beam; the flame quivered on his breast, quivered in his heart; in that peasant’s living room his heart became a heart in the Danish coat of arms. And the old grandfather dried his eyes, for he had known and lived for King Frederik with his silvery hair and honest blue eyes, and he folded his hands and gazed quietly in front of him. Then his daughter-in-law came in and told him that it was late, that he was to rest, and that the supper table had been laid.
‘But what a lovely carving you’ve done, grandfather!’ she said. ‘Ogier the Dane and all of our ancient coat of arms! – It’s as if I had seen that face before!’
‘No, I hardly think you have!’ the old grandfather said, ‘but I have seen it, and I had tried to carve it in wood as I remember it. It was when the British fleet was At Reden, and the Danish off Copenhagen on the Second of April that we showed we were true old Danes! On the good ship “Denmark” where I was in Steen Bille’s squadron, I had a man at my side; it was as if the bullets were afraid of him! he merrily sang old songs and shot and fought as if he were more than a human being. I still remember his face; but where he came from and what became of him nobody knows. I have often thought that it was old Ogier the Dane himself who had swum down from Kronborg and helped us in our hour of danger; that was what I thought, and there you have his portrait!’
And it cast its large shadow right up the wall, even taking in part of the ceiling, it looked as if it was the real Ogier the Dane himself standing behind it, for the shadow moved, but it was also able to do so because the flame of the candle was not burning steadily. And the daughter-in-law kissed the old grandfather and led him to the large armchair in front of the table, and she and her husband, who was of course the old man’s son and the father of the little boy lying in bed, sat and ate their supper, and the old grandfather talked about the Danish lions and the Danish hearts, about strength and gentleness, and explained quite clearly that there was yet another strength than that which lay in the sword, and he pointed to the shelf with old books on them, where all of Holberg’s comedies lay, those plays that were so often read because they were so amusing, one felt one really knew all the characters from the old days in them.
‘See, he knew how to carve too!’ the old grandfather said; ‘he has carved the mad and uncouth side of people to the best of his ability!’ and the old grandfather nodded towards the mirror, where the calendar stood with ‘The Round Tower’ and said ‘Tycho Brahe, he was another one who used the sword, not to carve people’s flesh and blood, but to carve a clearer path up among all the stars of heaven!’ – And he too, whose father was of my occupation, the son of the old wood carver, he whom we ourselves have seen with his white hair and strong shoulders, he who is mentioned in every country of the world! yes, he was a real carver, I’m just a whittler! Yes, Ogier the Dane can come in many shapes and forms, so that all the countries of the world will come to hear of Denmark’s strength. Let us drink a toast to Bertel Thorvaldsen’!’
But the little boy in bed could clearly see old Kronborg down by the Sound, the real Ogier the Dane who sad deep down in the cellar with his beard firmly attached to the marble table, dreaming about everything that happens up here; Ogier the Dane also dreamt about the humble room where the figurehead carver sat, he heard everything that was spoken and nodded in his dreams and said:
‘Just remember me, you Danish people! keep me in your thoughts! I will come in your hour of need!’ And outside Kronborg the sun shone from a blue sky and the wind bore the notes of the hunting horn across the Sound from the neighbouring country, the ships sailed past and gave their greeting: ‘boom! boom!’ and from Kronborg came the reply: ‘boom! boom!’, but Ogier the Dane did not wake up no matter how loud the shooting of the cannons was, for it was nothing more than ‘Good day!’ – ‘Many thanks!’ It will take a different kind of shooting to wake him; but one day he will awaken, for there’s mettle a-plenty in Ogier the Dane!’