What one can think up
There was once a young man who was studying to become a poet, he wanted to be one by Easter, get married and make a living out of his writing, which, as he knew quite well, was just a question of thinking something up, but he couldn’t think up anything. He had been born too late, everything had been considered before he came into the world, everything had been thought up and written about.
‘Those lucky people who were born a thousand years ago!’ he said. ‘They could easily become immortal! and anyone born just a hundred years ago was lucky too, since there was still something to think up; now the world’s completely thought out, so what can I think into it!’
He studied so hard that he grew poorly and ill, the wretched individual; no doctor could help him, but perhaps the wise woman could. She lived in a small house by the field gate, which she used to open for those driving or riding past; she was surely able to open up more than the gate, she was wiser than the doctor who drives in his own carriage and pays high taxes.
‘I must go and pay her a visit!’ the young man said.
The house she lived in was small and neat, but boring to look at; there wasn’t a tree, not a flower; there was a beehive standing outside the door – extremely useful! – there was a small potato patch – extremely useful! – and on the bank by the ditch there was blackthorn that had finished flowering and produced berries that make one purse up one’s mouth if eaten before the frost has touched them.
‘I’m looking at the epitome of our own unpoetic age!’ the young man thought to himself, and that was at any rate a thought, a real gem of one, that he had at the wise woman’s door.
‘Write it down!’ she said; ‘every little bit helps – crumbs are also bread! I know why you’ve come; you can’t think anything up, and yet you want to be a poet by Easter!’
‘Everything’s been written down!’ he said. ‘Our age is not like olden times!’
‘No!’ the woman said; ‘in olden times wise women used to be burnt, and poets went around with shrunken guts and holes at their elbows. This age is precisely right, it’s the very best one! but you’re looking at it with the wrong pair of eyes, you haven’t pricked up your ears and you probably never say your Lord’s Prayer every evening. There is plenty to think up and write about in every way, if one’s able to tell a story. You can release it from the plants and crops of the earth, scoop it up from running or still waters, but you must understand it, understand how to catch a sun’s ray. Just you try on my spectacles, put my trumpet to your ear, then pray to the Lord God and stop thinking about yourself!’
Now the last bit was very hard indeed, more than a wise woman can reasonably demand.
He took the spectacles and the ear trumpet, was then positioned in the middle of the potato patch; she placed a large potato in his hand; a sound could be heard from it; out came a song with words, the history of the potatoes, interesting – an everyday story in ten parts, ten lines were enough.
And what did the potato sing?
It sang about itself and its family: the advent of the potatoes to Europe, the lack of appreciation they had suffered and undergone before, as now, they were recognised as a greater blessing than a gold nugget.
‘By royal command we were distributed from every town hall; an announcement was made regarding our great importance, but people did not believe it, they did not even understand how to plant us. One dug a hole and threw his entire ration of potatoes into it; another pushed one potato down into the ground here, another there, and expected each one to come up as an entire tree from which one could shake down potatoes. They came up, flowered, bore waterlogged fruit, but everything withered. No one thought about what lay down below. The blessing: the potatoes. Yes, we’ve had our trials and tribulations, well, our ancestors have, them and us, but it makes no difference! what stories!’
‘That’s enough, now!’ the woman said. ‘Look at the blackthorn bushes!’
‘We too,’ the blackthorn bushes said, ‘have close relations in the homeland of the potatoes, further north than they grew. There were Norwegians who sailed westwards from Norway through fog and stormy weather to an unknown land where, under ice and snow, they found plants and vegetation, bushes with the vine’s blackish blue berries: the sloe bushes that froze into mature grapes, as we also do. And the land was given the names “Vinland” and “Greenland” and “Sloeland”!’
‘That is a truly romantic story!’ the young man said.
‘Yes, now follow me!’ the wise woman said and led him over to the beehive. He looked into it. What a hustle and bustle! There were bees in all the passages who whirred their wings so that there was a healthy draught in all of the large factory, that was their job; now bees arrived from outside, born with baskets on their legs, they brought pollen that was shaken out, separated and made into honey and wax; they came, they flew off; the queen bee also wanted to fly, but then all of them would have to fly off with her! it was not time yet; but she still wanted to fly; so they bit the wings off Her Majesty, and then she had to stay put.
‘Climb up onto the bank by the ditch!’ the wise woman said, ‘come and take a look out across the highway where you can see folk!’
‘What a teeming mass of people!’ the young man said, ‘Story upon story! It whizzes and whirrs! it makes me feel giddy! I’m falling over backwards!’
‘No, no, go forwards!’ the woman said, ‘enter the throng of people, view them, listen to them, and open your heart too! then you’ll soon be able to think things up! before you go, though, return my spectacles and my ear trumpet!’ and she took them back.
‘But now I can’t see a single thing!’ the young man said, ‘now I can’t hear anything any more!’
‘In that case, you can’t be a poet by Easter!’ the wise woman said.
‘By when then?’ he asked.
‘Neither by Easter nor Whitsun! You’re incapable of learning how to think up things.’
‘What shall I do to make a living out of poetry?’
‘You can already do that at Shrovetide, when children bash away at the cat in the barrel! Bash away at the poets in the barrel instead! bash what they write, it’s as good as bashing them personally. Don’t let yourself be put off; bash away, and out will fall buns you can use to feed both yourself and your wife!’
‘What things one can think up!’ the young man said, and then he bashed every second poet, since he wasn’t able to become a poet himself.
We’ve heard this from the wise woman, she knows how to think things up.