Hans Christian Andersen

It was glorious out in the country. It was summer, and the cornfields

were yellow, and the oats were green; the hay had been put

up in stacks in the green meadows, and the stork went about on his

long red legs, and chattered Egyptian, for this was the language he

had learned from his good mother. All around the fields and

meadows were great forests, and in the midst of these forests lay

deep lakes. Yes, it was really glorious out in the country. In the

midst of the sunshine there lay an old farm, surrounded by deep

canals, and from the wall down to the water grew great burdocks,

so high that the children could stand upright under the loftiest of

them. It was just as wild there as in the deepest wood. Here sat

a Duck upon her nest, for she had to hatch her young ones; but she

was almost tired out before the little ones came; and then she so

seldom had visitors. The other Ducks liked better to swim about in

the canals than to run up to sit down under a burdock and cackle

with her.

At last one eggshell after another burst open. "Piep! piep!" it

cried, and in all the eggs there were little creatures that stuck out

their heads.

"Rap! rap!" they said; and they all came rapping out as fast as

they could, looking all round them under the green leaves; and the

mother let them look as much as they chose, for green is good for

the eyes. "How wide the world is!" said the young ones, for they

certainly had much more room now than when they were in the eggs.

"Do you think this is all the world!" asked the mother. "That

extends far across the other side of the garden, quite into the parson's

field, but I have never been there yet. I hope you are all together,"

she continued, and stood up." No, I have not all. The largest egg

still lies there. How long is that to last? I am really tired of it."

And she sat down again.

"Well, how goes it?" asked an old Duck who had come to pay

her a visit.

"It lasts a long time with that one egg," said the Duck who sat

there. "It will not burst. Now, only look at the others; are they

not the prettiest ducks one could possibly see? They are all like

their father; the bad fellow never comes to see me."

"Let me see the egg which will not burst," said the old visitor.

"Believe me, it is a turkey's egg. I was once cheated in that way,

and had much anxiety and trouble with the young ones, for they

are afraid of the water. I could not get them to venture in. I

quacked and clucked, but it was of no use. Let me see the egg.

Yes, that's a turkey's egg. Let it lie there, and you teach the other

children to swim."

"I think I will sit on it a little longer," said the Duck. "I've sat

so long now that I can sit a few days more."

"Just as you please," said the old Duck; and she went away.

At last the great egg burst. "Piep! piep!" said the little one,

and crept forth. It was very large and very ugly. The Duck

looked at it.

"It's a very large duckling," said she; "none of the others look

like that; can it really be a turkey chick? Now we shall soon find

out. It must go into the water, even if I have to thrust it in myself."

The next day the weather was splendidly bright, and the sun

shone on all the green trees. The Mother Duck went down to the

water with all her little ones. Splash! she jumped into the water.

"Quack! quack!" she said, and then one duckling after another

plunged in. The water closed over their heads, but they came up

in an instant and swam capitally; their legs went of themselves, and

there they were, all in the water. The ugly gray Duckling swam

with them.

"No, it's not a turkey," said she; "look how well it can use its

legs, and how upright it holds itself. It is my own child! On the

whole it's quite pretty, if one looks at it rightly. Quack! quack!

come with me, and I'll lead you out into the great world, and

present you in the poultry yard; but keep close to me, so that no

one may tread on you; and take care of the cats!"

And so they came into the poultry yard. There was a terrible

riot going on there, for two families were quarreling about an eel's

head, and the cat got it after all.

"See, that's how it goes in the world!" said the Mother Duck;

and she whetted her beak, for she, too, wanted the eel's head. "Only

use your legs," she said. "See that you bustle about, and bow your

heads before the old Duck yonder. She's the grandest of all here;

she's of Spanish blood--that's why she's so fat; and do you see,

she has a red rag round her leg; that's something particularly

fine, and the greatest distinction a duck can enjoy; it signifies that

one does not want to lose her, and that she's to be recognized by

man and beast. Shake yourselves--don't turn in your toes: a well-brought-up

Duck turns its toes quite out, just like father and mother,

so! Now bend your necks and say 'Rap!'"

And they did so; but the other Ducks round about looked at them

and said quite boldly:

"Look there! now we're to have these hanging on, as if there were

not enough of us already! And--fie--! how that Duckling yonder

looks; we won't stand that!" And one Duck flew up immediately,

and bit it in the neck.

"Let it alone," said the mother; "it does no harm to any one."

"Yes, but it's too large and peculiar," said the Duck who had

bitten it; "and therefore it must be buffeted."

"Those are pretty children that the mother has there," said the

old Duck with the rag round her leg. "They're all pretty but that

one; that was a failure. I wish she could alter it."

"That cannot be done, my Lady," replied the Mother Duck. "It

is not pretty, but it has a really good disposition, and swims as well

as any other; I may even say it swims better. I think it will grow

up pretty, and become smaller in time; it has lain too long in the

egg, and therefore is not properly shaped." And then she pinched

it in the neck and smoothed its feathers. "Moreover, it is a drake,"

she said, "and therefore it is not of so much consequence. I think

he will be very strong; he makes his way already."

"The other ducklings are graceful enough," said the old Duck.

"Make yourself at home; and if you find an eel's head, you may

bring it me."

And now they were at home. But the poor Duckling which had

crept last out of the egg, and looked so ugly, was bitten and pushed

and jeered, as much by the Ducks as by the chickens.

"It is too big!" they all said. And the turkey-cock, who had

been born with spurs and therefore thought himself an emperor,

blew himself up like a ship in full sail and bore straight down upon

it; then he gobbled and grew quite red in the face. The poor

Duckling did not know where it should stand or walk; it was quite

melancholy, because it looked ugly and was scoffed at by the whole


So it went on the first day, and afterward it became worse and

worse. The poor Duckling was hunted about by every one; even

its brothers and sisters were quite angry with it, and said, "If the

cat would only catch you, you ugly creature!" And the mother

said, "If you were only far away!" And the Ducks bit it and the

chickens beat it, and the girl who had to feed the poultry kicked

at it with her foot.

Then it ran and flew over the fence, and the little birds in the

bushes flew up in fear.

"That is because I am so ugly!" thought the Duckling; and it

shut its eyes, but flew no further; thus it came out into the great

moor, where the Wild Ducks lived. Here it lay the whole night

long; and it was weary and downcast.

Toward morning the Wild Ducks flew up and looked at their new


"What sort of a one are you?" they asked; and the Duckling

turned in every direction, and bowed as well as it could. "You are

remarkably ugly!" said the Wild Ducks. "But that is very indifferent

to us, so long as you do not marry into our family."

Poor thing! It certainly did not think of marrying, and only

hoped to obtain leave to lie among the reeds and drink some of the

swamp water.

Thus it lay two whole days; then came thither two Wild Geese,

or, properly speaking, two wild ganders. It was not long since each

had crept out of an egg, and that's why they were so saucy.

"Listen, comrade," said one of them. "You're so ugly that I

like you. Will you go with us and become a bird of passage?

Near here, in another moor, there are a few sweet lovely wild geese,

all unmarried and all able to say 'Rap!' You've a chance of

making your fortune, ugly as you are!"

"Piff! paff!" resounded through the air; and the two ganders

fell down dead in the swamp, and the water became blood-red.

"Piff! paff!" it sounded again, and the whole flock of wild geese

rose up from the reeds. And then there was another report. A

great hunt was going on. The hunters were lying in wait all round

the moor and some were even sitting up in the branches of the

trees, which spread far over the reeds. The blue smoke rose up like

clouds among the dark trees, and was wafted far away across the

water; and the hunting dogs came--splash, splash!--into the

swamp, and the rushes and reeds bent down on every side. That

was a fright for the poor Duckling! It turned its head and put it

under its wing; but at that moment a frightful great dog stood close

by the Duckling. His tongue hung far out of his mouth and his

eyes gleamed horrible and ugly; he thrust out his nose close against

the Duckling, showed his sharp teeth, and--splash, splash!--on

he went without seizing it.

"Oh, heaven be thanked!" sighed the Duckling. "I am so ugly

that even the dog does not like to bite me!"

And so it lay quiet, while the shots rattled through the reeds and

gun after gun was fired. At last, late in the day, silence; but the

poor Duckling did not dare to rise up; it waited several hours before

it looked round, and then hastened away out of the moor as fast as it

could. It ran on over field and meadow; there was such a storm

raging that it was difficult to get from one place to another.

Toward evening the Duck came to a little miserable peasant's hut.

This hut was so dilapidated that it did not know on which side it

should fall; and that's why it remained standing. The storm whistled

round the Duckling in such a way that the poor creature was

obliged to sit down, to stand against it; and the tempest grew worse

and worse. Then the Duckling noticed that one of the hinges of the

door had given way, and the door hung so slanting that the Duckling

could slip through the crack into the room; and it did so.

Here lived an old woman, with her Tom Cat and her Hen. And the

Tom Cat, whom she called Sonnie, could arch his back and purr, he

could even give out sparks; but for that one had to stroke his fur

the wrong way. The Hen had quite little legs, and therefore she

was called Chickabiddy-short-shanks; she laid good eggs, and the

woman loved her as her own child.

In the morning the strange Duckling was at once noticed, and

the Tom Cat began to purr and the Hen to cluck.

"What's this?" said the woman, and looked all round; but she

could not see well, and therefore she thought the Duckling was a

fat duck that had strayed. "This is a rare prize," she said. "Now

I shall have duck's eggs. I hope it is not a drake. We must try


And so the Duckling was admitted on trial for three weeks; but

no eggs came. And the Tom Cat was master of the house, and the

Hen was the lady, and they always said "We and the world!" for

they thought they were half the world, and by far the better half.

The Duckling thought one might have a different opinion, but the

Hen would not allow it.

"Can you lay eggs?" she asked.


"Then you'll have the goodness to hold your tongue."

And the Tom Cat said, "Can you curve your back, and purr, and

give out sparks?


"Then you cannot have any opinion of your own when sensible

people are speaking."

And the Duckling sat in a corner and was melancholy; then the

fresh air and the sunshine streamed in; and it was seized with such

a strange longing to swim on the water that it could not help telling

the Hen of it.

"What are you thinking of?" cried the Hen. "You have nothing

to do, that's why you have these fancies. Purr or lay eggs, and

they will pass over."

"But it is so charming to swim on the water!" said the Duckling,

"so refreshing to let it close above one's head, and to dive down

to the bottom."

"Yes, that must be a mighty pleasure truly," quoth the Hen. "I

fancy you must have gone crazy. Ask the Cat about it--he's the

cleverest animal I know--ask him if he likes to swim on the water,

or to dive down: I won't speak about myself. Ask our mistress,

the old woman; no one in the world's cleverer than she. Do you

think she has any desire to swim, and to let the water close above

her head?"

"You don't understand me," said the Duckling.

"We don't understand you? Then pray who is to understand

you? You surely don't pretend to be cleverer than the Tom Cat and

the old woman--I won't say anything of myself. Don't be conceited,

child, and be grateful for all the kindness you have received.

Did you not get into a warm room, and have you not fallen into

company from which you may learn something? But you are a

chatterer, and it is not pleasant to associate with you. You may

believe me, I speak for your good. I tell you disagreeable things,

and by that one may always know one's friends. Only take care

that you learn to lay eggs, or to purr and give out sparks!"

"I think I will go out into the wide world," said the Duckling.

"Yes, do go," replied the Hen.

And the Duckling went away. It swam on the water, and dived,

but it was slighted by every creature because of its ugliness.

Now came the autumn. The leaves in the forest turned yellow

and brown; the wind caught them so that they danced about, and up

in the air it was very cold. The clouds hung low, heavy with hail

and snowflakes, and on the fence stood the raven, crying, "Croak!

croak!" for mere cold; yes, it was enough to make one feel cold

to think of this. The poor little Duckling certainly had not a good

time. One evening--the sun was just setting in his beauty--there

came a whole flock of great handsome birds out of the bushes; they

were dazzlingly white, with long, flexible necks; they were swans.

They uttered a very peculiar cry, spread forth their glorious great

wings, and flew away from that cold region to warmer lands, to fair

open lakes. They mounted so high, so high! and the ugly little

Duckling felt quite strangely as it watched them. It turned round

and round in the water like a wheel, stretched out its neck toward

them, and uttered such a strange loud cry as frightened itself. Oh!

it could not forget those beautiful, happy birds; and as soon as it

could see them no longer, it dived down to the very bottom, and when

it came up again, it was quite beside itself. It knew not the name of

those birds, and knew not whither they were flying; but it loved them

more than it had ever loved any one. It was not at all envious of

them. How could it think of wishing to possess such loveliness as

they had? It would have been glad if only the ducks would have

endured its company--the poor ugly creature!

And the winter grew cold, very cold! The Duckling was forced

to swim about in the water, to prevent the surface from freezing

entirely; but every night the hole in which it swam about became

smaller and smaller. It froze so hard that the icy covering crackled

again; and the Duckling was obliged to use its legs continually to

prevent the hole from freezing up. At last it became exhausted,

and lay quite still, and thus froze fast into the ice.

Early in the morning a peasant came by, and when he saw what

had happened, he took his wooden shoe, broke the ice crust to pieces,

and carried the Duckling home to his wife. Then it came to itself

again. The children wanted to play with it; but the Duckling

thought they would do it an injury, and in its terror fluttered up

into the milk pan, so that the milk spurted down into the room. The

woman clasped her hands, at which the Duckling flew down into the

butter tub, and then into the meal barrel and out again. How it

looked then! The woman screamed, and struck at it with the fire

tongs; the children tumbled over one another, in their efforts to

catch the Duckling; and they laughed and screamed finely! Happily

the door stood open, and the poor creature was able to slip out

between the shrubs into the newly fallen snow; and there it lay quite


But it would be too melancholy if I were to tell all the misery

and care which the Duckling had to endure in the hard winter. It

lay out on the moor among the reeds, when the sun began to shine

again and the larks to sing; it was a beautiful spring.

Then all at once the Duckling could flap its wings; they beat the

air more strongly than before, and bore it strongly away; and before

it well knew how all this had happened, it found itself in a great

garden, where the elder trees smelt sweet, and bent their long green

branches down to the canal that wound through the region. Oh, here

it was so beautiful, such a gladness of spring! and from the thicket

came three glorious white swans; they rustled their wings, and swam

lightly on the water. The Duckling knew the splendid creatures,

and felt oppressed by a peculiar sadness.

"I will fly away to them, to the royal birds! and they will kill

me, because I, that am so ugly, dare to approach them. But it is of

no consequence! Better to be killed by _them_ than to be pursued

by ducks, and beaten by fowls, and pushed about by the girl who takes

care of the poultry yard, and to suffer hunger in winter!" And it

flew out into the water, and swam toward the beautiful swans: these

looked at it, and came sailing down upon it with outspread wings.

"Kill me!" said the poor creature, and bent its head down upon

the water, expecting nothing but death. But what was this that it

saw in the clear water? It beheld its own image--and, lo! it was

no longer a clumsy dark-gray bird, ugly and hateful to look at, but

--a swan.

It matters nothing if one was born in a duck yard, if one has only

lain in a swan's egg.

It felt quite glad at all the need and misfortune it had suffered,

now it realized its happiness in all the splendor that surrounded it.

And the great swans swam round it, and stroked it with their beaks.

Into the garden came little children, who threw bread and corn

into the water; the youngest cried, "There is a new one!" and the

other children shouted joyously, "Yes, a new one has arrived!"

And they clapped their hands and danced about, and ran to their

father and mother; and bread and cake were thrown into the water;

and they all said, "The new one is the most beautiful of all! so

young and handsome!" and the old swans bowed their heads before


Then he felt quite ashamed, and hid his head under his wing, for

he did not know what to do; he was so happy, and yet not at all

proud. He thought how he had been persecuted and despised; and

now he heard them saying that he was the most beautiful of all the

birds. Even the elder tree bent its branches straight down into the

water before him, and the sun shone warm and mild. Then his

wings rustled, he lifted his slender neck, and cried rejoicingly from

the depths of his heart:

"I never dreamed of so much happiness when I was still the

Ugly Duckling!"

The Two Travelers and the Axe The Ugly Duckling facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail