excerpted from “What the Moon Saw” by Hans Christian Andersen
IT is a strange thing, when I feel most fervently and most deeply, my hands and my tongue seem alike tied, so that I cannot rightly describe or accurately portray the thoughts that are rising within me; and yet I am a painter; my eye tells me as much as that, and all my friends who have seen my sketches and fancies say the same.
I am a poor lad, and live in one of the narrowest of lanes; but I do not want for light, as my room is high up in the house, with an extensive prospect over the neighbouring roofs. During the first few days I went to live in the town, I felt low-spirited and solitary enough. Instead of the forest and the green hills of former days, I had here only a forest of chimney-pots to look out upon. And then I had not a single friend; not one familiar face greeted me.
So one evening I sat at the window, in a desponding mood; and presently I opened the casement and looked out. Oh, how my heart leaped up with joy! Here was a well-known face at last—a round, friendly countenance, the face of a good friend I had known at home. In fact, it was the MOON that looked in upon me. He was quite unchanged, the dear old Moon, and had the same face exactly that he used to show when he peered down upon me through the willow trees on the moor. I kissed my hand to him over and over again, as he shone far into my little room; and he, for his part, promised me that every evening, when he came abroad, he would look in upon me for a few moments. This promise he has faithfully kept. It is a pity that he can only stay such a short time when he comes. Whenever he appears, he tells me of one thing or another that he has seen on the previous night, or on that same evening. “Just paint the scenes I describe to you”—this is what he said to me—“and you will have a very pretty picture-book.” I have followed his injunction for many evenings. I could make up a new “Thousand and One Nights,” in my own way, out of these pictures, but the number might be too great, after all. The pictures I have here given have not been chosen at random, but follow in their proper order, just as they were described to me. Some great gifted painter, or some poet or musician, may make something more of them if he likes; what I have given here are only hasty sketches, hurriedly put upon the paper, with some of my own thoughts, interspersed; for the Moon did not come to me every evening— a cloud sometimes hid his face from me.
[the moon then describes thirty-two evenings to the painter, but it is the seventh evening, in which each character seen by the moon maintains a different perspective about the trees and the forest, that we are featuring here]
“ALONG the margin of the shore stretches a forest of firs and beeches, and fresh and fragrant is this wood; hundreds of nightingales visit it every spring. Close beside it is the sea, the ever-changing sea, and between the two is placed the broad high-road. One carriage after another rolls over it; but I did not follow them, for my eye loves best to rest upon one point. A Hun’s Grave lies there, and the sloe and blackthorn grow luxuriantly among the stones. Here is true poetry in nature.
“And how do you think men appreciate this poetry? I will tell you what I heard there last evening and during the night.
“First, two rich landed proprietors came driving by. ‘Those are glorious trees!’ said the first. ‘Certainly; there are ten loads of firewood in each,’ observed the other: ‘it will be a hard winter, and last year we got fourteen dollars a load’—and they were gone. ‘The road here is wretched,’ observed another man who drove past. ‘That’s the fault of those horrible trees,’ replied his neighbour; ‘there is no free current of air; the wind can only come from the sea’—and they were gone. The stage coach went rattling past. All the passengers were asleep at this beautiful spot. The postillion blew his horn, but he only thought, ‘I can play capitally. It sounds well here. I wonder if those in there like it?’—and the stage coach vanished. Then two young fellows came gallopping up on horseback. There’s youth and spirit in the blood here! thought I; and, indeed, they looked with a smile at the moss-grown hill and thick forest. ‘I should not dislike a walk here with the miller’s Christine,’ said one— and they flew past.
“The flowers scented the air; every breath of air was hushed; it seemed as if the sea were a part of the sky that stretched above the deep valley. A carriage rolled by. Six people were sitting in it. Four of them were asleep; the fifth was thinking of his new summer coat, which would suit him admirably; the sixth turned to the coachman and asked him if there were anything remarkable connected with yonder heap of stones. ‘No,’ replied the coachman, ‘it’s only a heap of stones; but the trees are remarkable.’ ‘How so?’ ‘Why I’ll tell you how they are very remarkable. You see, in winter, when the snow lies very deep, and has hidden the whole road so that nothing is to be seen, those trees serve me for a landmark. I steer by them, so as not to drive into the sea; and you see that is why the trees are remarkable.’
“Now came a painter. He spoke not a word, but his eyes sparkled. He began to whistle. At this the nightingales sang louder than ever. ‘Hold your tongues!’ he cried testily; and he made accurate notes of all the colours and transitions—blue, and lilac, and dark brown. ‘That will make a beautiful picture,’ he said. He took it in just as a mirror takes in a view; and as he worked he whistled a march of Rossini. And last of all came a poor girl. She laid aside the burden she carried, and sat down to rest upon the Hun’s Grave. Her pale handsome face was bent in a listening attitude towards the forest. Her eyes brightened, she gazed earnestly at the sea and the sky, her hands were folded, and I think she prayed, ‘Our Father.’ She herself could not understand the feeling that swept through her, but I know that this minute, and the beautiful natural scene, will live within her memory for years, far more vividly and more truly than the painter could portray it with his colours on paper. My rays followed her till the morning dawn kissed her brow.”