The Pen And The Inkstand

: Hans Andersens Fairy Tales

IN A POET'S room, where his inkstand stood on the table, the remark was

once made: "It is wonderful what can be brought out of an inkstand. What

will come next? It is indeed wonderful."

"Yes, certainly," said the inkstand to the pen and to the other articles

that stood on the table; "that's what I always say. It is wonderful and

extraordinary what a number of things come out of me. It's quite

nd I really never know what is coming next when that man

dips his pen into me. One drop out of me is enough for half a page of

paper--and what cannot half a page contain?

"From me all the works of the poet are produced--all those imaginary

characters whom people fancy they have known or met, and all the deep

feeling, the humor, and the vivid pictures of nature. I myself don't

understand how it is, for I am not acquainted with nature, but it is

certainly in me. From me have gone forth to the world those wonderful

descriptions of charming maidens, and of brave knights on prancing

steeds; of the halt and the blind--and I know not what more, for I

assure you I never think of these things."

"There you are right," said the pen, "for you don't think at all. If you

did, you would see that you can only provide the means. You give the

fluid, that I may place upon the paper what dwells in me and what I wish

to bring to light. It is the pen that writes. No man doubts that; and

indeed most people understand as much about poetry as an old inkstand."

"You have had very little experience," replied the inkstand. "You have

hardly been in service a week and are already half worn out. Do you

imagine you are a poet? You are only a servant, and before you came I

had many like you, some of the goose family and others of English

manufacture. I know a quill pen as well as I know a steel one. I have

had both sorts in my service, and I shall have many more as long as he

comes--the man who performs the mechanical part--and writes down what he

obtains from me. I should like to know what will be the next thing he

gets out of me."

"Inkpot!" retorted the pen, contemptuously.

Late in the evening the poet returned home from a concert, where he had

been quite enchanted by the admirable performance of a famous violin


The player had produced from his instrument a richness of tone that

sometimes sounded like tinkling water drops or rolling pearls, sometimes

like the birds twittering in chorus, and then again, rising and swelling

like the wind through the fir trees. The poet felt as if his own heart

were weeping, but in tones of melody, like the sound of a woman's voice.

These sounds seemed to come not only from the strings but from every

part of the instrument. It was a wonderful performance and a difficult

piece, and yet the bow seemed to glide across the strings so easily

that one would think any one could do it. The violin and the bow seemed

independent of their master who guided them. It was as if soul and

spirit had been breathed into the instrument. And the audience forgot

the performer in the beautiful sounds he produced.

Not so the poet; he remembered him and wrote down his thoughts on the

subject: "How foolish it would be for the violin and the bow to boast of

their performance, and yet we men often commit that folly. The poet, the

artist, the man of science in his laboratory, the general--we all do it,

and yet we are only the instruments which the Almighty uses. To Him

alone the honor is due. We have nothing in ourselves of which we should

be proud." Yes, this is what the poet wrote. He wrote it in the form of

a parable and called it "The Master and the Instruments."

"That is what you get, madam," said the pen to the inkstand when the two

were alone again. "Did you hear him read aloud what I had written down?"

"Yes, what I gave you to write," retorted the inkstand. "That was a cut

at you, because of your conceit. To think that you could not understand

that you were being quizzed! I gave you a cut from within me. Surely I

must know my own satire."

"Ink pitcher!" cried the pen.

"Writing stick!" retorted the inkstand. And each of them felt satisfied

that he had given a good answer. It is pleasing to be convinced that you

have settled a matter by your reply; it is something to make you sleep

well. And they both slept well over it.

But the poet did not sleep. Thoughts rose within him, like the tones of

the violin, falling like pearls or rushing like the strong wind through

the forest. He understood his own heart in these thoughts; they were as

a ray from the mind of the Great Master of all minds.

"To Him be all the honor."