Pictures of Sweden
Hans Christian Andersen
Part 3 out of 3
* * * * *
Reader, do you know what giddiness is? Pray that she may not seize
you, this mighty "Loreley" of the heights, this evil-genius from the
land of the sylphides; she whizzes around her prey, and whirls it into
the abyss. She sits on the narrow rocky path, close by the steep
declivity, where no tree, no branch is found, where the wanderer must
creep close to the side of the rock, and look steadily forward. She
sits on the church spire and nods to the plumber who works on his
swaying scaffold; she glides into the illumined saloon, and up to the
nervous, solitary one, in the middle of the bright polished floor, and
it sways under him--the walls vanish from him.
Her fingers touch one of the hairs of our head, and we feel as if the
air had left us, and we were in a vacuum.
We met with her at Danemora's immense gulf, whither we came on broad,
smooth, excellent high-roads, through the fresh forest. She sat on the
extreme edge of the rocky wall, above the abyss, and kicked at the tun
with her thin, awl-like legs, as it hung in iron chains on large
beams, from the tower-high corner of the bridge by the precipice.
The traveller raised his foot over the abyss, and set it on the tun,
into which one of the workmen received him, and held him; and the
chains rattled; the pulleys turned; the tun sank slowly, hovering
through the air. But he felt the descent; he felt it through his bones
and marrow; through all the nerves. Her icy breath blew in his neck,
and down the spine, and the air itself became colder and colder. It
seemed to him as if the rocks grew over his head, always higher and
higher: the tun made a slight swinging, but he felt it, like a fall--a
fall in sleep, that shock in the blood. Did it go quicker downwards,
or was it going up again? He could not distinguish by the sensation.
The tun touched the ground, or rather the snow--the dirty trodden,
eternal snow, down to which no sunbeam reaches, which no summer warmth
from above ever melts. A hollow sound was heard from within the dark,
yawning cavern, and a thick vapour rolled out into the cold air. The
stranger entered the dark halls; there seemed to be a crashing above
him: the fire burned; the furnaces roared; the beating of hammers
sounded; the watery damps dripped down--and he again entered the tun,
which was hoven up in the air. He sat with closed eyes, but giddiness
breathed on his head, and on his breast; his inwardly-turned eye
measured the giddy depth through the tun: "It is appalling," said he.
"Appalling!" echoed the brave and estimable stranger, whom we met at
Danemora's great gulf. He was a man from Scania, consequently from the
same street as the Sealander--if the Sound be called a street
(strait). "But, however, one can say one has been down there," said
he, and he pointed to the gulf; "right down, and up again; but it is
no pleasure at all."
"But why descend at all?" said I. "Why will men do these things?"
"One must, you know, when one comes here," said he. "The plague of
travelling is, that one must see everything: one would not have it
supposed otherwise. It is a shame to a man, when he gets home again,
not to have seen everything, that others ask him about."
"If you have no desire, then let it alone. See what pleases you on
your travels. Go two paces nearer than where you stand, and become
quite giddy: you will then have formed some conception of the passage
downward. I will hold you fast, and describe the rest of it for you."
And I did so, and the perspiration sprang from his forehead.
"Yes, so it is: I apprehend it all," said he: "I am clearly sensible
I described the dirty grey snow covering, which the sun's warmth never
thaws; the cold down there, and the caverns, and the fire, and the
"Yes; one should be able to tell all about it," said he. "That _you_
can, for you have seen it."
"No more than you," said I. "I came to the gulf; I saw the depth, the
snow below, the smoke that rolled out of the caverns; but when it was
time I should get into the tun--no, thank you. Giddiness tickled me
with her long, awl-like legs, and so I stayed where I was I have felt
the descent, through the spine and the soles of the feet, and that as
well as any one: the descent is the pinch. I have been in the Hartz,
under Rammelsberg; glided, as on Russian mountains, at Hallein,
through the mountain, from the top down to the salt-works; wandered
about in the catacombs of Rome and Malta: and what does one see in the
deep passages? Gloom--darkness! What does one feel? Cold, and a sense
of oppression--a longing for air and light, which is by far the best;
and that we have now."
"But nevertheless, it is so very remarkable!" said the man; and he
drew forth his "Hand-book for Travellers in Sweden," from which he
read: "Danemora's iron-works are the oldest, largest, and richest in
Sweden; the best in Europe. They have seventy-nine openings, of which
seventeen only are being worked. The machine mine is ninety-three
Just then the bells sounded from below: it was the signal that the
time of labour for that day was ended. The hue of eve still shone on
the tops of the trees above; but down in that deep, far-extended gulf,
it was a perfect twilight. Thence, and out of the dark caverns, the
workmen swarmed forth. They looked like flies, quite small in the
space below: they scrambled up the long ladders, which hung from the
steep sides of the rocks, in separate landing-places: they climbed
higher and higher--upwards, upwards--and at every step they became
larger. The iron chains creaked in the scaffolding of beams, and three
or four young fellows stood in their wooden shoes on the edge of the
tun; chatted away right merrily, and kicked with their feet against
the side of the rock, so that they swung from it: and it became darker
and darker below; it was as if the deep abyss became still deeper!
"It is appalling!" said the man from Scania. "One ought, however, to
have gone down there, if it were only to swear that one _had_ been.
You, however, have certainly been down there," said he again to me.
"Believe what you will," I replied; and I say the same to the reader.
* * * * *
That capital fellow, Charles Dickens, has told us about the swine, and
since then it puts us into a good humour whenever we hear even the
grunt of one. Saint Anthony has taken them under his patronage, and if
we think of the "prodigal son," we are at once in the midst of the
sty, and it was just before such a one that our carriage stopped in
Sweden. By the high road, closely adjoining his house, the peasant had
his sty, and that such a one as there is probably scarcely its like in
the world. It was an old state-carriage, the seats were taken out of
it, the wheels taken off, and thus it stood, without further ceremony,
on its own bottom, and four swine were shut in there. If these were
the first that had been in it one could not determine; but that it was
once a state-carriage everything about it bore witness, even to the
strip of morocco that hung from the roof inside, all bore witness of
better days. It is true, every word of it.
"Uff," said the occupiers within, and the carriage creaked and
complained--it was a sorrowful end it had come to.
"The beautiful is past!" so it sighed; so it said, or it might have
We returned here in the autumn. The carriage, or rather the body of
the carriage, stood in its old place, but the swine were gone: they
were lords in the forests; rain and drizzle reigned there; the wind
tore the leaves off all the trees, and allowed them neither rest nor
quiet: the birds of passage were gone.
"The beautiful is past!" said the carriage, and the same sigh passed
through the whole of nature, and from the human heart it sounded: "The
beautiful is past! with the delightful green forest, with the warm
sunshine, and the song of birds--past! past!" So it said, and so it
creaked in the trunks of the tall trees, and there was heard a sigh,
so inwardly deep, a sigh direct from the heart of the wild rose-bush,
and he who sat there was the rose-king. Do you know him! he is of a
pure breed, the finest red-green breed: he is easily known. Go to the
wild rose hedges, and in autumn, when all the flowers are gone, and
the red hips alone remain, one often sees amongst these a large
red-green moss-flower: that is the rose-king. A little green leaf
grows out of his head--that is his feather: he is the only male person
of his kind on the rose-bush, and he it was who sighed.
"Past! past! the beautiful is past! The roses are gone; the leaves of
the trees fall off!--it is wet here, and it is cold and raw!--The
birds that sang here are now silent; the swine live on acorns; the
swine are lords in the forest!"
They were cold nights, they were gloomy days; but the raven sat on the
bough and croaked nevertheless: "brah, brah!" The raven and the crow
sat on the topmost bough: they have a large family, and they all said:
"brah, brah! caw, caw!" and the majority is always right.
There was a great miry pool under the tall trees in the hollow, and
here lay the whole herd of swine, great and small--they found the
place so excellent. "Oui! oui!" said they, for they knew no more
French, but that, however, was something. They were so wise, and so
fat, and altogether lords in the forest.
The old ones lay still, for they thought; the young ones, on the
contrary, were so brisk--busy, but apparently uneasy. One little pig
had a curly tail--that curl was the mother's delight. She thought that
they all looked at the curl, and thought only of the curl; but that
they did not. They thought of themselves, and of what was useful, and
of what the forest was for. They had always heard that the acorns they
ate grew on the roots of the trees, and therefore they had always
rooted there; but now there came a little one--for it is always the
young ones that come with news--and he asserted that the acorns fell
down from the branches: he himself had felt one fall right on his
head, and that had given him the idea, so he had made observations,
and now he was quite sure of what he asserted. The old ones laid their
heads together. "Uff," said the swine, "uff! the finery is past! the
twittering of the birds is past! we will have fruit! whatever can be
eaten is good, and we eat everything!"
"Oui! oui!" said they altogether.
But the mother sow looked at her little pig with the curly tail.
"One must not, however, forget the beautiful!" said she.
"Caw! caw!" screamed the crow, and flew down, in order to be appointed
nightingale: one there should be--and so the crow was directly
"Past! past!" sighed the Rose King, "all the beautiful is past!"
It was wet; it was gloomy; there was cold and wind, and the rain
pelted down over the fields, and through the forest, like long water
jets. Where are the birds that sang? where are the flowers in the
meadows, and the sweet berries in the wood?--past! past!
A light shone from the forester's house: it twinkled like a star, and
shed its long rays out between the trees. A song was heard from
within; pretty children played around their old grandfather, who sat
with the Bible on his lap and read about God, and eternal life, and
spoke of the spring that would come again: he spoke of the forest that
would renew its green leaves, of the roses that would flower, of the
nightingales that would sing, and of the beautiful that would again be
But the Rose King did not hear it; he sat in the raw, cold weather,
And the swine were lords in the forest, and the mother sow looked at
her little pig, and his curly tail.
"There will always be some, who have a sense for the beautiful!" said
the mother sow.
* * * * *
Nature's treasures are most often unveiled to us by accident. A dog's
nose was dyed by the bruised purple fish, and the genuine purple dye
was discovered; a pair of wild buffalos were fighting on America's
auriferous soil, and their horns tore up the green sward that covered
the rich gold vein.
"In former days," as it is said by most, "everything came
spontaneously. Our age has not such revelations; now one must slave
and drudge if one would get anything; one must dig down into the deep
shafts after the metals, which decrease more and more;--when the earth
suddenly stretches forth her golden finger from California's
peninsula, and we there see Monte Christo's foolishly invented riches
realized; we see Aladdin's cave with its inestimable treasures. The
world's treasury is so endlessly rich that we have, to speak plain and
straightforward, scraped a little off the up-heaped measure; but the
bushel is still full, the whole of the real measure is now refilled.
In science also, such a world lies open for the discoveries of the
"But in poetry, the greatest and most glorious is already found, and
gained!" says the poet. "Happy he who was born in former times; there
was then many a land still undiscovered, on which poetry's rich gold
lay like the ore that shines forth from the earth's surface."
Do not speak so! happy poet thou, who art born in our time! thou dost
inherit all the glorious treasures which thy predecessors gave to the
world; thou dost learn from them, that truth only is eternal,--the
true in nature and mankind.
Our time is the time of discoveries--poetry also has its new
"Where does it exist?" you ask.
The coast is so near, that you do not think that _there_ is the new
world. Like a bold Leander, swim with me across the stream: the black
words on the white paper will waft you--every period is a heave of the
* * * * *
It was in the library's saloon. Book-shelves with many books, old and
new, were ranged around for every one; manuscripts lay there in heaps;
there were also maps and globes. There sat industrious men at little
tables, and wrote out and wrote in, and that was no easy work. But
suddenly, a great transformation took place; the shelves became
terraces for the noblest trees, with flowers and fruit; heavy clusters
of grapes hung amongst leafy vines, and there was life and movement
The old folios and dusty manuscripts rose into flower-covered tumuli,
and there sprang forth knights in mail, and kings with golden crowns
on, and there was the clang of harp and shield; history acquired the
life and fullness of poetry--for a poet had entered there. He saw the
living visions; breathed the flowers' fragrance; crushed the grapes,
and drank the sacred juice. But he himself knew not yet that he was a
poet--the bearer of-light for times and generations yet to come.
It was in the fresh, fragrant forest, in the last hour of
leave-taking. Love's kiss, as the farewell, was the initiatory baptism
for the future poetic life; and the fresh fragrance of the forest
became sweeter, the chirping of the birds more melodious: there came
sunlight and cooling breezes. Nature becomes doubly delightful where a
And as there were two roads before Hercules, so there were before him
two roads, shown by two figures, in order to serve him; the one an old
crone, the other a youth, beautiful as the angel that led the young
The old crone had on a mantle, on which were wrought flowers, animals,
and human beings, entwined in an arabesque manner. She had large
spectacles on, and beside her lantern she held a bag filled with old
gilt cards--apparatus for witchcraft, and all the amulets of
superstition: leaning on her crutch, wrinkled and shivering, she was,
however, soaring, like the mist over the meadow.
"Come with me, and you shall see the world, so that a poet can have
benefit from it," said she. "I will light my lantern; it is better
than that which Diogenes bore; I shall lighten your path."
And the light shone; the old crone lifted her head, and stood there
strong and tall, a powerful female figure. She was Superstition.
"I am the strongest in the region of romance," said she,--and she
herself believed it.
And the lantern's light gave the lustre of the full moon over the
whole earth; yes, the earth itself became transparent, as the still
waters of the deep sea, or the glass mountains, in the fairy tale.
"My kingdom is thine! sing what thou see'st; sing as if no bard before
thee had sung thereof."
And it was as if the scene continually changed. Splendid Gothic
churches, with painted images in the panes, glided past, and the
midnight-bell struck, and the dead arose from the graves. There, under
the bending elder tree, sat the mother, and swathed her newly-born
child; old, sunken knights' castles rose again from the marshy ground;
the drawbridge fell, and they saw into the empty halls, adorned with
images, where, under the gloomy stairs of the gallery, the
death-proclaiming white woman came with a rattling bunch of keys. The
basilisk brooded in the deep cellar; the monster bred from a cock's
egg, invulnerable by every weapon, but not from the sight of its own
horrible form: at the sight of its own image, it bursts like the steel
that one breaks with the blow of a stout staff. And to everything that
appeared, from the golden chalice of the altar-table, once the
drinking-cup of evil spirits, to the nodding head on the gallows-hill,
the old crone hummed her songs; and the crickets chirped, and the
raven croaked from the opposite neighbour's house, and the
winding-sheet rolled from the candle. Through the whole spectral world
sounded, "death! death!"
"Go with me to life and truth," cried the second form, the youth who
was beautiful as a cherub. A flame shone from his brow--a cherub's
sword glittered in his hand. "I am _Knowledge_," said he: "my world is
greater--its aim is truth."
And there was a brightness all around; the spectral images paled; it
did not extend over the world they had seen. Superstition's lantern
had only exhibited _magic-lantern_ images on the old ruined wall, and
the wind had driven wet misty vapours past in figures.
"I will give thee a rich recompense. Truth in the created--truth in
And through the stagnant lake, where before the misty spectral figures
rose, whilst the bells sounded from the sunken castle, the light fell
down on a swaying vegetable world. One drop of the marsh water, raised
against the rays of light, became a living world, with creatures in
strange forms, fighting and revelling--a world in a drop of water. And
the sharp sword of Knowledge cleft the deep vault, and shone therein,
where the basilisk killed, and the animal's body was dissolved in a
death-bringing vapour: its claw extended from the fermenting
wine-cask; its eyes were air, that burnt when the fresh wind touched
And there resided a powerful force in the sword; _so_ powerful, that
the grain of gold was beaten to a flat surface, thin as the covering
of mist that we breathe on the glass-pane; and it shone at the sword's
point, so that the thin threads of the cobweb seemed to swell to
cables, for one saw the strong twistings of numberless small threads.
And the voice of Knowledge seemed over the whole world, so that the
age of miracles appeared to have returned. Thin iron ties were laid
over the earth, and along these the heavily-laden waggons flew on the
wings of steam, with the swallow's flight; mountains were compelled to
open themselves to the inquiring spirit of the age; the plains were
obliged to raise themselves; and then thought was borne in words,
through metal wires, with the lightning's speed, to distant towns.
"Life! life!" it sounded through the whole of nature. "It is our time!
Poet, thou dost possess it! Sing of it in spirit and in truth!"
And the genius of Knowledge raised the shining sword; he raised it far
out into space, and then--what a sight! It was as when the sunbeams
shine through a crevice in the wall in a dark space, and appear to us
a revolving column of myriads of grains of dust; but every grain of
dust here was a world! The sight he saw was our starry firmament!
Thy earth is a grain of dust here, but a speck whose wonders astonish
thee; only a grain of dust, and yet a star under stars. That long
column of worlds thou callest thy starry firmament, revolves like the
myriads of grains of dust, visibly hovering in the sunbeam's revolving
column, from the crevice in the wall into that dark space. But still
more distant stands the milky way's whitish mist, a new starry heaven,
each column but a radius in the wheel! But how great is this itself!
how many radii thus go out from the central point--God!
So far does thine eye reach, so clear is thine age's horizon! Son of
time, choose, who shall be thy companion? Here is thy new career! with
the greatest of thy time, fly thou before thy time's generation! Like
twinkling Lucifer, shine thou in time's roseate morn.
* * * * *
Yes, in knowledge lies Poetry's California! Every one who only looks
backward, and not clearly forward, will, however high and honourably
he stands, say, that if such riches lie in knowledge, they would long
since have been made available by great and immortal bards, who had a
clear and sagacious eye for the discovery of truth. But let us
remember that when Thespis spoke from his car, the world had also wise
men. Homer had sung his immortal songs, and yet a new form of genius
appeared, to which a Sophocles and Aristophanes gave birth; the Sagas
and mythology of the North were as an unknown treasure to the stage,
until Oehlenschlaeger showed what mighty forms from thence might be
made to glide past us.
It is not our intention that the poet shall versify scientific
discoveries. The didactic poem is and will be, in its best form,
always but a piece of mechanism, or wooden figure, which has not the
true life. The sunlight of science must penetrate the poet; he must
perceive truth and harmony in the minute and in the immensely great
with a clear eye: it must purify and enrich the understanding and
imagination, and show him new forms which will supply to him more
animated words. Even single discoveries will furnish a new flight.
What fairy tales cannot the world unfold under the microscope, if we
transfer our human world thereto? Electro-magnetism can present or
suggest new plots in new comedies and romances; and how many humorous
compositions will not spring forth, as we from our grain of dust, our
little earth, with its little haughty beings look out into that
endless world's universe, from milky way to milky way? An instance of
what we here mean is discoverable in that old noble lady's words: "If
every star be a globe like our earth, and have its kingdoms and
courts--what an endless number of courts--the contemplation is enough
to make mankind giddy!"
We will not say, like that French authoress: "Now, then, let me die:
the world has no more discoveries to make!" O, there is so endlessly
much in the sea, in the air, and on the earth--wonders, which science
will bring forth!--wonders, greater than the poet's philosophy can
create! A bard will come, who, with a child's mind, like a new
Aladdin, will enter into the cavern of science,--with a child's mind,
we say, or else the puissant spirits of natural strength would seize
him, and make him their servant; whilst he, with the lamp of poetry,
which is, and always will be, the human heart, stands as a ruler, and
brings forth wonderful fruits from the gloomy passages, and has
strength to build poetry's new palace, created in one night by
In the world itself events repeat themselves; the human character was
and will be the same during long ages and all ages; and as they were
in the old writings, they must be in the new. But science always
unfolds something new; light and truth are everything that is
created--beam out from hence with eternally divine clearness. Mighty
image of God, do thou illumine and enlighten mankind; and when its
intellectual eye is accustomed to the lustre, the new Aladdin will
come, and thou, man, shalt with him, who concisely dear, and richly
sings the beauty of truth, wander through Poetry's California.
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