: Hans Andersens Fairy Tales
IF YOU should chance, after a tempest, to cross a field where buckwheat
is growing, you may observe that it looks black and singed, as if a
flame of fire had passed over it. And should you ask the reason, a
farmer will tell you, "The lightning did that."
But how is it that the lightning did it?
I will tell you what the sparrow told me, and the sparrow heard it from
an aged willow which stood
-and still stands for that matter--close to
the field of buckwheat.
This willow is tall and venerable, though old and crippled. Its trunk is
split clear through the middle, and grass and blackberry tendrils creep
out through the cleft. The tree bends forward, and its branches droop
like long, green hair.
In the fields around the willow grew rye, wheat, and oats--beautiful
oats that, when ripe, looked like little yellow canary birds sitting on
a branch. The harvest had been blessed, and the fuller the ears of grain
the lower they bowed their heads in reverent humility.
There was also a field of buckwheat lying just in front of the old
willow. The buckwheat did not bow its head, like the rest of the grain,
but stood erect in stiff-necked pride.
"I am quite as rich as the oats," it said; "and, moreover, I am much
more sightly. My flowers are as pretty as apple blossoms. It is a treat
to look at me and my companions. Old willow, do you know anything more
beautiful than we?"
The willow nodded his head, as much as to say, "Indeed I do!" But the
buckwheat was so puffed with pride that it only said: "The stupid tree!
He is so old that grass is growing out of his body."
Now there came on a dreadful storm, and the flowers of the field folded
their leaves or bent their heads as it passed over them. The buckwheat
flower alone stood erect in all its pride.
"Bow your heads, as we do," called the flowers.
"There is no need for me to do that," answered the buckwheat.
"Bow your head as we do," said the grain. "The angel of storms comes
flying hither. He has wings that reach from the clouds to the earth; he
will smite you before you have time to beg for mercy."
"But I do not choose to bow down," said the buckwheat.
"Close your flowers and fold your leaves," said the old willow. "Do not
look at the lightning when the cloud breaks. Even human beings dare not
do that, for in the midst of the lightning one may look straight into
God's heaven. The sight strikes human beings blind, so dazzling is it.
What would not happen to us, mere plants of the field, who are so much
humbler, if we should dare do so?"
"So much humbler! Indeed! If there is a chance, I shall look right into
God's heaven." And in its pride and haughtiness it did so. The flashes
of lightning were so awful that it seemed as if the whole world were in
When the tempest was over, both the grain and the flowers, greatly
refreshed by the rain, again stood erect in the pure, quiet air. But the
buckwheat had been burned as black as a cinder by the lightning and
stood in the field like a dead, useless weed.
The old willow waved his branches to and fro in the wind, and large
drops of water fell from his green leaves, as if he were shedding tears.
The sparrows asked: "Why are you weeping when all around seems blest? Do
you not smell the sweet perfume of flowers and bushes? The sun shines,
and the clouds have passed from the sky. Why do you weep, old tree?"
Then the willow told them of the buckwheat's stubborn pride and of the
punishment which followed.
I, who tell this tale, heard it from the sparrows. They told it to me
one evening when I had asked them for a story.