THE FLAX





Hans Christian Andersen





The Flax was in full bloom. Its pretty blue blossoms were as soft

as the wings of a moth, and still more delicate. And the sun shone

on the flax field, and the rain watered it; and that was as good for

the flax flowers as it is for little children to be washed and kissed

by their mother,--they look so much fresher and prettier afterwards.

Thus it was with the Flax flowers.



"People say I am so fine and flourishing," observed the Flax;

"and that I am growing so charmingly tall, a splendid piece of

linen will be got from me. Oh, how happy I am! how can any one

be happier? Everything around me is so pleasant, and I shall be

of use for something or other. How the sun cheers one up, and how

fresh and sweet the rain tastes! I am incomparably happy; I am

the happiest vegetable in the world!"



"Ah, ah, ah!" jeered the Stakes in the hedge; "you don't know

the world, not you, but we know it, there are knots in us!" and then

they cracked so dolefully:



"Snip, snap, snurre,

Bassilurre,

And so the song is en-ded-ded-ded."



"No, it is not ended," replied the Flax; "the sun shines every

morning, the rain does me so much good, I can see myself grow;

I can feel that I am in blossom--who so happy as I?"



However, one day people came, took hold of the Flax, and pulled

it up, root and all; that was exceedingly uncomfortable; and then it

was thrown into water, as though intended to be drowned, and, after

that, put before the fire, as though to be roasted. That was most

cruel!



"One cannot always have what one wishes!" sighed the Flax;

"it is well to suffer sometimes, it gives one experience."



But matters seemed to get worse and worse. The Flax was bruised

and broken, hacked and hackled, and at last put on the wheel--

snurre rur! snurre rur!--it was not possible to keep one's thoughts

collected in such a situation as this.



"I have been exceedingly fortunate," thought the Flax, amid all

these tortures. "One ought to be thankful for the happiness one

has enjoyed in times past. Thankful, thankful, oh, yes!" and still

the Flax said the same when taken to the loom. And here it was

made into a large, handsome piece of linen; all the Flax of that

one field was made into a single piece.



"Well, but this is charming! Never should I have expected it.

What unexampled good fortune I have carried through the world

with me! What arrant nonsense the Stakes in the hedge used to

talk with their



"'Snip, snap, snurre,

Bassilurre.'



The song is not ended at all! Life is but just beginning. It is a

very pleasant thing, too, is life; to be sure I have suffered, but that is

past now, and I have become something through suffering. I am

so strong, and yet so soft! so white and so long! this is far better

than being a vegetable; even during blossom-time nobody attends

to one, and one only gets water when it is raining. Now, I am well

taken care of--the girl turns me over every morning, and I have a

shower bath from the water tub every evening; nay, the parson's wife

herself came and looked at me, and said I was the finest piece of

linen in the parish. No one can possibly be happier than I am!"



The Linen was taken into the house, and cut up with scissors. Oh,

how it was cut and clipped, how it was pierced and stuck through

with needles! that was certainly no pleasure at all. It was at last

made up into twelve articles of attire, such articles as are not often

mentioned, but which people can hardly do without; there were just

twelve of them.



"So this, then, was my destiny. Well, it is very delightful; now

I shall be of use in the world, and there is really no pleasure like

that of being useful. We are now twelve pieces, but we are still one

and the same--we are a dozen! Certainly, this is being extremely

fortunate!"



Years passed away,--at last the Linen could endure no longer.



"All things must pass away some time or other," remarked each

piece. "I should like very much to last a little while longer, but

one ought not to wish for impossibilities." And so the Linen was

rent into shreds and remnants numberless; they believed all was over

with them, for they were hacked, and mashed, and boiled, and they

knew not what else--and thus they became beautiful, fine, white

paper!



"Now, upon my word, this is a surprise! And a most delightful

surprise too!" declared the Paper. "Why, now I am finer than

ever, and I shall be written upon! I wonder what will be written

upon me. Was there ever such famous good fortune as mine!"

And the Paper was written upon; the most charming stories in the

world were written on it, and they were read aloud! and people declared

that these stories were very beautiful and very instructive;

that to read them would make mankind both wiser and better.

Truly, a great blessing was given to the world in the words written

upon that same Paper.



"Certainly, this is more than I could ever have dreamt of, when

I was a wee little blue flower of the field! How could I then have

looked forward to becoming a messenger destined to bring knowledge

and pleasure among men? I can hardly understand it even

now. Yet, so it is, actually. And, for my own part, I have never

done anything, beyond the little that in me lay, to strive to exist,

and yet I am carried on from one state of honor and happiness to

another; and every time that I think within myself, 'Now, surely, the

song is en-ded-ded-ded,' I am converted into something new, something

far higher and better. Now, I suppose I shall be sent on my

travels, shall be sent round the wide world, so that all men may read

me. I should think that would be the wisest plan. Formerly I had

blue blossoms, now for every single blossom I have some beautiful

thought, or pleasant fancy--who so happy as I?"



But the Paper was not sent on its travels, it went to the printer's

instead, and there all that was written upon it was printed in a

book; nay, in many hundred books: and in this way an infinitely

greater number of people received pleasure and profit therefrom

than if the written Paper itself had been sent round the world, and

perhaps got torn and worn to pieces before it had gone halfway.



"Yes, to be sure, this is much more sensible," thought the Paper.

"It had never occurred to me, though. I am to stay at home and

be held in as great honor as if I were an old grandfather. The

book was written on me first, the ink flowed in upon me from the pen

and formed the words. I shall stay at home, while the books go

about the world, to and fro--that is much better. How glad I am!

how fortunate I am!"



So the Paper was rolled up and laid on one side. "It is good to

repose after labor," said the Paper. "It is quite right to collect

oneself, and quietly think over all that dwelleth within one. Now,

first, do I rightly know myself. And to know oneself, I have heard,

is the best knowledge, the truest progress. And come what will,

this I am sure of, all will end in progress--always is there

progress!"



One day the roll of Paper was thrown upon the stove to be burnt

--it must not be sold to the grocer to wrap round pounds of butter

and sugar. And all the children in the house flocked round; they

wanted to see the blaze, they wanted to count the multitude of tiny

red sparks which seem to dart to and fro among the ashes, dying out,

one after another, so quickly--they call them "the children going

out of school," and the last spark of all is the schoolmaster; they

often fancy he is gone out, but another and another spark flies up

unexpectedly, and the schoolmaster always tarries a little behind the

rest.



And now all the Paper lay heaped up on the stove. "Ugh!" it

cried, and all at once it burst into a flame. So high did it rise into

the air, never had the Flax been able to rear its tiny blue blossoms

so high, and it shone as never the white Linen had shone; all the letters

written on it became fiery red in an instant, and all the words

and thoughts of the writer were surrounded with a glory.



"Now, then, I go straight up into the sun!" said something within

the flames. It was as though a thousand voices at once had spoken

thus; and the Flame burst through the chimney, and rose high above

it; and brighter than the Flame, yet invisible to mortal eyes, hovered

little tiny beings, as many as there had been blossoms on the

Flax. They were lighter and of more subtle essence than even the

Flame that bore them; and when that Flame had quite died away,

and nothing remained of the Paper but the black ashes, they once

again danced over them, and wherever their feet touched the ashes,

their footprints, the fiery red sparks, were seen. Thus "the children

went out of school, and the schoolmaster came last"; it was a pleasure

to see the pretty sight, and the children of the house stood looking

at the black ashes and singing---



"Snip, snap, snurre,

Bassilurre,

And now the song is en-ded-ded-ded."



But the tiny invisible beings replied every one, "The song is never

ended; that is the best of it! We know that, and therefore none are

so happy as we are!"



However, the children could neither hear nor understand the reply;

nor would it be well that they should, for children must not

know everything.





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