The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

The Watchman of the Tower - Taarnvægteren Ole.


"Everything in the world goes up and down, and I can't get any farther up than I am right now," said the watchman of the tower, whose name was Ole. "Up and down, we all have to try it, and most of us end up as the watchman of a tower, who sees the world and everything in it from above." "I Verden gaaer det op og ned og ned og op! nu kan jeg ikke komme høiere!" sagde Taarnvægteren Ole. "Op og ned og ned og op maae de Fleste prøve; i Grunden blive vi Alle tilsidst Taarnvægtere; see Livet og Tingene ovenfra!"
That was the way my friend Ole, the watchman of the tower, spoke. He was an amusing, talkative fellow, who seemed to poke fun at most things and yet was serious at heart. They say that he came of good family and that his father had been a city alderman, or could have been one if he had wanted to. Ole had studied, and been an assistant teacher in some school that a deacon kept. He was supposed to get room and board, plus his clothes washed and his boots polished. It was the latter that caused the trouble. Ole was still young and liked to cut a figure, if not in the town, then at least on the street where he lived. He insisted that his shoes were to be polished with proper English blacking, but the deacon said lard would do just as well. They had an argument in the course of which they accused each other of miserliness and vanity. The blacking blackened their friendship and they parted. What Ole had asked from the deacon he also demanded of the world: English blacking, and all he ever got was lard! This had made him turn into a hermit; and the only place a hermitage could be found in a large city, which also provided a living, was in a church tower. He ascended into the sky and smoked his pipe all alone, while from his lofty post--as a hired watchman--he looked out over the city. He looked above and he looked below; and he read books and he thought and thought. He liked to talk about all that he had seen and not seen, and he loved to discuss what he had read in books and in himself while on his lonely duty. I often lent him books--good books--and a man can be judged by the company he keeps. He didn't like English governess novels, or their French cousins: they were brewed on the rose branch, without the flower; and on drafts from doors their author never had entered. He liked biographies and books of natural history. I visited him at least once a year, usually just after New Year, for he always has something interesting to say about that event. Saaledes talte Ole paa Taarnet, min Ven, den gamle Vægter, en morsom, snaksom Fyr, der syntes at sige Alt og dog gjemte saa Meget i Alvor paa Hjertebunden; ja, han var kommen af Godtfolk, der vare dem, som sagde, at han var en Conferentsraads Søn, eller kunde have været det! studeret havde han, været Hjelpelærer, Hjelpedegn, men hvad kunde det hjelpe! da boede han hos Degnen, skulde have Alting frit i Huset; da var han ung og fiin endnu, som man siger: han vilde have sine Støvler børstede med Blanksværte, men Degnen vilde kun give Fedtsværte, og derover kom de i Uenighed; den Ene talte om Gjerrighed, den Anden talte om Forfængelighed, Sværten blev Fjendskabets sorte Grund, og saa skiltes de ad; men hvad han forlangte af Degnen, forlangte han ogsaa af Verden: Blank-Sværte, og han fik altid kun Fedtsværte; - saa gik han væk fra alle Mennesker og blev Eremit, men Eremitage med Levebrød midt i en stor Stad findes kun paa Kirketaarnet, der steg han op og røg sin Pibe paa sin eensomme Gang; han saae ned, og han saae op, tænkte derved og fortalte, paa sin Maade, om, hvad han saae og ikke saae, hvad han læste i Bøger og i sig selv. Jeg laante ham tidt Læsning, gode Bøger, og paa dem man omgaaes skal man kjendes. Han holdt ikke af engelske Gouvernante-Romaner, sagde han, heller ikke af de franske, der vare bryggede paa Trækvind og Rosinstilke, nei, Levnetsbeskrivelser vilde han have, Bøger om Naturens Undere. Jeg besøgte ham idetmindste eengang om Aaret, sædvanlig strax efter Nytaar, han havde altid da Eet og Andet, der knyttede sig til hans Tanker ved Aarets Omskiftelse.
I shall tell you what he said on two of my visits and try to do it in his own words, as well as I remember them: Jeg skal fortælle to Besøg, og give hans egne Ord, om jeg kan det.
Among the books that I had lent Ole last was one about cobblestones. These are the stones that nature has worn round and smooth, and they are often used for paving streets. This book had interested Ole especially. Mellem de Bøger, jeg sidst havde laant Ole, var en Bog om Rullestenene, den, der især havde fornøiet og opfyldt ham.
"They certainly are old Methuselahs, those cobblestones," he began. "Here I have walked on them without ever having given them a thought. On the beaches and in the fields one sees them by the thousands. When one walks along a cobblestoned street, one is walking on our primeval history. From now on, every single cobblestone has my respect! Thank you for lending me the book, it has made me discard many old notions and has given me a different outlook upon the world. I am eager to read more books of that kind. The greatest of an romances is the story of our earth. Too bad that the first volumes are written in a language we have not yet learned. Only after one has read the stones, the layers of earth as they were formed through periods of climatic changes, do the living characters in the romance step forth. Mr. Adam and Mrs. Eve do not appear before the sixth volume. Many readers will find that a little too late, but I don't care. Of all of the romances it is the most marvelous, and we are all in it. We crawl and creep and yet stay in the same place while the great ball rotates, without splashing the oceans all over us. The crust we walk on keeps it all together, and it is so strong we don't fall through it. It is the history of millions of years of constant advancement. Thank you again for that book! Those cobblestones could tell a story if they were able to. "It is wonderful, every once in a while, to become nothing--a zero--especially for someone placed as loftily as I am. It is amusing to think that everyone, even those who have their boots polished with English blacking, are merely ants with a minute of life in their little bodies. True, there are ranks in the anthill, and some wear ribbons and have titles, but ants they are. One feels oneself so small and unimportant compared to these cobblestones, with their millions of years of history behind them. I read the book New Year's Eve and found it so fascinating that I forgot to watch 'the wild crowd rushing to Amager,' as I usually do. I don't suppose you know about that? "Ja, de ere rigtige Jubeloldinge, disse Rullestene!" sagde han, "og dem gaaer man tankeløs forbi! det har jeg selv gjort paa Marken og ved Stranden, hvor de ligge i Mængde. Der træder man paa Brostenene, disse Stumper af de allerældste Oldtids-Levninger! det har jeg selv gjort. Nu har hver Brosteen min Høiagtelse! Tak for den Bog, den har fyldt mig, skudt gamle Tanker og Vaner tilside, gjort mig forhippet paa at læse noget Mere af den Slags. Jordens Roman er dog den mærkeligste af alle Romaner! Skade, at man ikke kan læse de første Dele, da de ere affattede i et Tungemaal, vi ikke have lært; man maa læse i Jordlagene, i Kieselstenene, i alle Jordperioderne, og saa træde de handlende Personer først op i sjette Deel, Hr. Adam og Frit Eva, det er lidt seent for mange Læsere, de ville have dem strax, det er mig det samme. Det er en Roman, høist eventyrlig, og vi ere Allesammen med i den. Vi krible og krable og blive paa det samme Sted, men Kuglen dreier sig, uden at spilde Verdens-Havet over os; Skorpen, vi gaae paa, holder sammen, vi falde ikke igjennem; og saa er det en Historie i Millioner Aar, med bestandig Fremgang. Tak for den Bog om Rullestenene! de ere Karle, de kunne fortælle Noget, naar de kunne det! Er det ikke fornøieligt saadan engang imellem at blive til Nix, naar man sidder saa høit som jeg, og da at huskes paa, at vi Alle, selv med Blanksværte, kun ere Minut-Myrer paa Jordtuen, om vi endogsaa ere Myrer med Ordensbaand, Myrer med Gang og Sæde. Man bliver saa flau ung ved Siden af disse million-aars gamle ærværdige Rullestene. Jeg læste i Bogen Nytaarsaften og var saa henne i den, at jeg glemte min sædvanlige Fornøielse Nytaarsnat, at see paa "den vilde Hær til Amager!" ja, den kjender De nok ikke!
"But you do know about the witches and how they fly to the mountain in Germany called Brocken, on Midsummer night, and there keep a witches' Sabbath. Well, we have a local affair that is something like it. I call it 'the wild crowd rushing to Amager.' It takes place New Year's Eve and all the bad poets and poetesses, journalists, and artists of notoriety and no talent participate. They fly through the air on their pens and brushes out to Amager. It is not so far away, only ten miles or so. They would never have made it to Brocken; a journalists pen is no witch's broom. I watch them every New Year's Eve, and I could mention most of them by name but I won't, they are dangerous people to cross. They don't like the general public to find out about their ride. "I have a sort of niece, who sells fish in the market place and claims to have a job on the side, supplying three of our most respectable newspapers with fresh curses, maledictions, oaths, and generally abusive words and phrases. She was invited to the feast and, since she keeps no pen of her own and can't ride, she was carried out there. Half of what she says is lies, but if half of it is true, then it is much too much! When they all were gathered out on Amager, they started their feast with a song; they had each written one, and naturally, everyone sang his own song, for that was the best. But that didn't matter so much, for they all were sung to the same tune. Then they gathered in groups, according to their interests: those who lived on gossip in one group, those who wrote under pseudonyms in an other--that, by the way, is lard trying to pass itself off as English blacking. "The executioner and his boy were there. The boy was tougher than the master. They stood in the group of literary critics. They were dressed either as schoolteachers or as garbage collectors, and were busy giving everything grades. "In the midst of all this gaiety, an enormous toadstool shot up from the earth and made a roof over the whole gathering. It was created from everything they had written or painted during the preceding year. Great sparks flew from it; they were the thoughts and ideas that had been borrowed. Now they were flying back to their owners; it looked like a fireworks display. After that they played hide-and-seek. But since none of them wanted to hide, though they all had good reason to, and everyone wanted to be found, that was not a success. The lesser poets played 'I love you'; but they couldn't remember the rules, and nobody paid attention to them. The witty made puns and laughed at them themselves. It was all very merry, my niece claimed. She told me a good deal more, all very funny and very malicious. But I think that one should be a good human being and not criticize others. But as you can well imagine, since I know about the feast, I usually do take a look New Year's Eve to see who has been invited. If I miss one in 'the wild crowd rushing to Amager' one year, then I can be sure that six new ones have joined it. But this year I forgot to watch them, I was so busy reading about the cobblestones and following them on their journey. "I saw them loosening themselves way up north, and drifting with the ice south, million of years before Noah built his ark. I saw them sink to the bottom of the sea and then reappear. There they were, sticking up out of the water, saying: 'I am going to be Zealand one day.' Types of birds that disappeared long ago nested among them; and wild chieftains of savage tribes whom we have never heard of built their thrones of them. Not until quite recently, when the ax, for the first time, bit some runic letters into the stones, do we reach historical times, leaving all those millions of years that make me feel like a zero totally unaccounted for." Luckily, just at that moment four shooting stars lighted up the heavens and that turned Ole's thoughts in a different direction. "You know what a shooting star is? Well, the wise men don't know either, really. I have my own idea about them. How often, in the secrecy of their hearts, do people give thanks and bless those who have done something good and beautiful? These silent thanks do not fall forgotten to earth; I think the sun rays catch them and carry them to the person for whom they were meant. Now if lots of people, perhaps even a whole nation, experience such feelings of gratitude, then they fall as a shooting star on their benefactor's grave. I find it very amusing, when I watch the shooting stars, especially on New Year's Eve, to speculate as to whom each tribute is meant for. I saw one falling in the Southwestern corner of the sky; it was particularly bright, I think a good deal of gratitude had gone into producing it. Whom could it be for? I felt sure that it had fallen on the banks by Flensborg fjord, where the graves of Schleppegrel, Laessoe, and their comrades are. One fell not too far away, in the middle of Zealand. I am sure it landed in Soro: a bouquet for Holberg's coffin, a thanks from the many who have enjoyed his wonderful comedies. Hexenes Fart paa Kosteskaft er bekjendt nok, den er St. Hans Nat og til Bloksbjerg, men vi have ogsaa den vilde Hær, den er indenlandsk og nutids, den gaaer ad Amager til Nytaarsnat. Alle de daarlige Poeter, Poetinder, Spillemænd, Bladskrivere og kunstneriske Offentligheder, de, som ikke due, ride Nytaarsnat gjennem Luften ud til Amager; de sidde skrævs over deres Pensel eller Pennefjeder, Staalpen kan ikke bære, den er for stiv. Jeg seer det, som sagt, hver Nytaarsnat; de Fleste af dem kunde jeg nævne ved Navn, men det er ikke værd at lægge sig ud med dem; de holde ikke af at Folk skal vide om deres Amagerfart paa Pennefjer. Jeg har et Slags Søskendebarn, som er Fiskerkone og leverer Skjeldsord til tre agtede Blade, siger hun, selv har hun været derude som indbuden Gjest, hun blev baaren derud, hun holder ikke selv Pennefjer og kan ikke ride. Hun har fortalt det. Det Halve er Løgn, hvad hun siger, men det Halve er allerede nok. Da hun var derude, begyndte de med Sang, hver af Gjesterne havde skrevet sin Vise og hver sang sin, for den var den bedste; det var lige eet, det var samme "Melodonte". Saa opmarscherede i smaa Kammeratskaber de, som kun virke med Snakketøiet, der var nu Sangklokkerne, der synge paa Omgang, saa kom de smaa Trommeslagere, som tromme ud i Familier. -Bekjendtskab blev der gjort med dem, der skrive uden at lægge Navn til, det vil her sige, hvor Fedtsværte gaaer for Blanksværte; der var Bødlen og hans Dreng, og Drengen var den Skrappeste, ellers blev han ikke lagt Mærke til; der var den gode Skraldemand, der vender Bøtten og kalder den "god, meget god, udmærket god!" - Midt under al den Fornøielse, som det maatte være, skød frem fra Kulen en Stilk, et Træ, en uhyre Blomst, en stor Paddehat, et heelt Tag, det var den ærede Forsamlings Slaraffenstang, der bar Alt, hvad de i det gamle Aar havde givet Verden; ud fra den foer Gnister, som Ildsluer, det var alle de laante Tanker og Ideer, de havde brugt, som nu løste sig og foer hen, som et heelt Fyrværkeri. Der blev leget "Tampen brænder", og de smaa Poeter legede "Hjertet brænder!"; de Vittige sagde Brandere, ringere taaltes ikke. Vittighederne rungede, som slog man tomme Potter paa Døre, eller Potter med Tørveaske. Det var høist fornøieligt! sagde Søskendebarn; egentligt sagde hun en heel Deel endnu, som var meget malitiøsk, men morsomt! jeg siger det ikke, man skal være gode Mennesker og ikke Raisonneurer. De indseer imidlertid, at naar man, som jeg, saaledes veed Besked om Festen derude, er det saa rimeligt, at jeg hver Nytaarsnat passer paa for at see den vilde Hær flyve afsted; savner jeg et Aar Enkelte, saa er der kommet nye til, men iaar forsømte jeg at see paa Gjesterne, jeg rullede derfra paa Rullestenene, rullede gjennem Millioner Aar, og saae Stenene ramle løse oppe i Nordlandene, saae dem drive paa Iisstykker længe før Noahs Ark blev tømret, saae dem synke til Bunds og komme op igjen paa en Sandrevle, den, der pegede op af Vandet og sagde: "dette skal være Sjælland!" jeg saae dem blive Sæde for Fuglearter vi ikke kjende, Sæde for vilde Høvdinger vi heller ikke kjende, indtil Øxen bed Runemærke ind i et Par, som da kunde komme ind i Tidsregning, men jeg var kommen aldeles ud af den, bleven til Nix. Da faldt tre, fire deilige Stjerneskud, de lyste op, Tankerne fik et andet Sving: - De veed da hvad et Stjerneskud er? det vide de Lærde ellers ikke! - Jeg har nu mine Tanker om dem, og jeg gaaer ud fra det: Hvor tidt i Løndom bliver ikke udtalt Tak og Velsignelse over hver, som har udrettet noget Skjønt og Godt, tidt er Takken lydløs, men den falder ikke til Jorden! jeg tænker mig, den opfanges af Solskinnet, og Solstraalen bringer den stillefølte lønlige Tak ned over Velgjørerens Hoved, er det et heelt Folk, der gjennem Tider sender sin Tak, ja, da kommer Takken som en Bouquet, falder som et Stjerneskud paa Velgjørerens Grav. Det er mig ordenlig saadan en Fornøielse, naar jeg seer Stjerneskud, især Nytaarsnat, at udfinde, hvem den Taksigelses-Bouquet nu kan gjælde. Der faldt sidst et lysende Stjerneskud i Sydvest: en Velsignelses Tak for Mange, Mange! hvem kunde det gjælde! det faldt bestemt, tænkte jeg, paa Skrenten ved Flensborg Fjord, hvor Dannebroget vaier over Schleppegrells, Læssøes og Kammeraternes Grave. Der faldt eet midt i Landet, det faldt ned i Sorø, en Bouquet paa Holbergs Kiste, en Tak i Aaret fra saa Mange, Tak for de herlige Komedier!
"It is an awesome thought, but at the same time a happy one, to know that shooting stars may fall on our graves. There won't be any falling on mine, I know that; there won't even be a sun ray giving thanks. That is because there is nothing to be thankful for. I will never receive English blacking," sighed Ole. "Lard is my fate!" Det er en stor Tanke, en glad Tanke at vide, at der falder et Stjerneskud paa vor Grav, det gjør der nu ikke paa min, ikke en Solstraale bringer mig Tak, for her er ikke Noget at takke for! jeg opnaaer ikke Blanksværte," sagde Ole, "min Lod i Verden er at faae Fedtsværte."
It was on a New Year's Day that I visited Ole last. He talked about all the toasts that had been made from the "old drop" to the "new drop." He referred to the years as "drops," and I suppose that, when you live in a tower so far above it all, each year may seem like a drop in the ocean. He made a whole speech about glasses, and there was a lot of sense in it. Here it is: Det var Nytaarsdag jeg kom op paa Taarnet, Ole talte om Skaalerne, der blev tømt ved Overgangen fra det gamle Dryp i det nye Dryp, som han kaldte Aaret. Saa fik jeg hans Historie om Glassene, og der var Tanke i den.
"When the bells on New Year's Eve strike twelve, people rise and, glass in hand, toast the New Year. One begins the year with a glass in one's hand, a fine beginning for a drunkard. Now some start the year asleep in bed; that is a good start, too, for a lazy person. Both sleep and glasses will play their part in the year that comes. Do you know what can be found in a glass?" asked Ole. "Health, happiness, and joy! But it can also contain harm and bitter misery. As one counts the glasses, of course, one has to take into account what's in them and who is drinking them. "Naar Klokken Nytaarsnat er slaaet tolv, reise Folk sig ved Bordet med det fulde Glas og drikke det nye Aars Skaal. Man begynder Aaret med Glasset i Haanden, det er en god Begyndelse for Drankere! man begynder Aaret med at gaae tilsengs, det er en god Begyndelse for Dovenskaben! Søvnen skal i Aarets Løb nok spille en stor Rolle, Glassene med. Veed De, hvad der boer i Glassene?" spurgte han. "Ja, der boer Sundhed, Glæde og Ellevildhed! der boer Fortræd og den bittre Ulykke! Naar jeg tæller op Glassene, tæller jeg naturligviis Graderne i Glasset for de forskjellige Mennesker.
"The first glass contains health. It has a healing power, an herb, within it. Pick it and it will grow. Seer Du, det første Glas, det er nu Sundhedens Glas! i det voxer Sundhedens Urt, stik den ind i Bjælken og ved Aarets Ende kan Du da sidde i Sundhedens Løvhytte.
"Take the second glass. In that is hidden a little bird that sings an innocent song, and man listens to it and agrees: life is beautiful! Let us not be downhearted, but live! Tager Du det andet Glas -! ja, fra det flyver ud en lille Fugl, den qviddrer uskyldig glad, saa Mennesket lytter og synger maaskee med: Livet er smukt! vi ville ikke hænge med Hovedet! freidig frem!
"The third glass contains a little winged child, half angel, half pixy. He does not tease maliciously but is filled with fun. He climbs into our ears and whispers amusing thoughts and warms our hearts so that we feel young and gay and become witty and amusing, even according to the judgment of our friends at the party. Fra det tredie Glas løfter sig en lille vinget Fyr, Englebarn kan han vel ikke kaldes, for han har Nisseblod og Nissesind, ikke til at drille, men til at gjøre Løier! han sætter sig bag vort Øre og hvisker os et muntert Indfald! han lægger sig i vor Hjertekule og varmer der, saa at man bliver overgiven, bliver det gode Hoved efter de andre Hoveders Dømmekraft!
"The fourth glass has only an exclamation point in it, or maybe a question mark. This is the point which sense and intelligence never go beyond. I det fjerde Glas er hverken Urt, Fugl eller Fyr, der er Forstandens Tankestreg og over den Streg skal man aldrig gaae!
"After you have drunk the fifth glass, then you either weep over yourself or you become sentimental. Prince Carnival jumps from the glass and draws you into a dance, and you forget your own dignity; that is, if you ever had any. You forget more than you should, more than it is good for you to forget. All is song, music, and noise. The masked ones whirl you along; the Devil's daughters in silk dresses, with their long hair and their beautiful legs, join the dance. And you, can you tear yourself away? Tages det femte Glas, saa græder Du over Dig selv, bliver saa inderlig fornøielig rørt, eller det knalder anderledes af! fra Glasset springer med Knald Prinds Carneval, mundkaad og ellevild; han trækker Dig med, Du glemmer din Værdighed, hvis Du har nogen! Du glemmer meer, end Du skal glemme og tør glemme. Alt er Dands, Sang og Klang; Maskerne rive Dig med, Fandens Døttre, i Flor og i Silke, komme med løste Haar og deilige Lemmer, - riv Dig løs om Du kan!
"In the sixth glass sits the Devil himself; he is a little well-dressed man, most charming and pleasant. He understands you and agrees with everything you say. He even brings a lamp to light your way--not to your home, but to his. There is an old legend about a saint who was ordered to experience one of the seven deadly sins. He decided that drunkenness was the least of them. But as soon as he got drunk, then he committed the other six sins. In the sixth glass the Devil and man mix blood; in that thrives everything evil within us, and it grows like the grain of mustard in the Bible until it becomes a tree so large that it shades our whole world. Then we are fit for nothing but to be melted down again. Det sjette Glas! - Ja, i det sidder Satan selv, en lille velklædt, veltalende, indtagende, høist behagelig Mand, som aldeles forstaaer Dig, giver Dig Ret i Alt, er dit hele Jeg! Han kommer med Lygte for at følge Dig hjem til Sit. Der er en gammel Legende om Helgenen, som skulde vælge een af de syv Dødssynder og han valgte, som han syntes, den ringeste, Drukkenskab, og i den begik han alle de andre sex Synder. Mennesket og Djævlen blande Blod, det er det sjette Glas, og da trives alle onde Spirer inde i os; hver af dem løfter sig med en Kraft, som det bibelske Sennepskorn, voxer til Træ ud over den hele Verden, og de Fleste have da kun for sig at komme i Smelteovnen og støbes om.
"That is the story of the glasses," said Ole, the watchman of the tower. "It can be told both with English blacking and with lard. I have used both." Det er Glassenes Historie!" sagde Taarnvægteren Ole, "og den kan gives baade med Blanksværte og med Fedtsværte! jeg giver den med begge Dele!"
  Det var det andet Besøg hos Ole, vil Du høre om flere, saa maae Besøgene fortsættes.

Copyright Anchor Books Doubleday
Hans Christian Andersen:
The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories

Translated from Danish by Erik Christian Haugaard

The Hans Christian Andersen Project