The Flax by 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.