The Little Green Ones
By Hans Christian Andersen (1868)
In the window stood a rose-tree, lately blooming with youth, but now it looked sickly ; something ailed it. It had got a company quartered on it which ate it up : otherwise, a very respectable company in green uniform. I spoke with one of them, he was only three days old, and already a great-grandfather. Do you know what he said ? It was true what he said ; he spoke of himself and the whole company.
‘ We are the most remarkable regiment among all the creatures of earth. In the warm season, we bear living young ones ; the weather is good then, and we betroth ourselves at once, and celebrate the wedding. Towards the cold season, we lay eggs and the little ones lie snug in them. That wisest of animals, the ant we have a great respect for it studies us and values us. It does not eat us at once, it takes our eggs, lays them in the common ant-hill of the family, on the ground floor, lays us marked and numbered, side by side, layer on layer, so that every day a fresh one can spring out of the egg ; then they set us in stalls, stroke us over the hind legs and milk us, so that we die. That is extremely comfortable ! Among them we have the most charming name, ” Sweet little milk cow ! ” All the animals with the understanding of the ant call us so ; only human beings and it is a great insult to us, it is enough to lose one’s sweetness over, can you not write against it, can you not reprimand them, these human beings ? they look at us so stupidly, look sullen because we eat a rose-leaf, while they themselves eat all living things, everything which is green and grows. They call us the most contemptuous name, the most disgusting name ; I will not name it, ugh ! it turns me sick ! I cannot say it, at least in uniform, and I am always in uniform.
I was born on a rose-tree leaf ; I and the whole regiment live on the rose-tree, but it lives again in us, who belong to the higher order of creation. Men cannot tolerate us ; they come and murder us with soap-suds ; it is a nasty drink ! I think I smell it ! It is frightful to be washed, when one is born not to be washed.
Man ! thou who lookest upon me with severe, soap-suddy eyes ; think of our place in nature, our ingenious equipment for laying eggs and producing young! We received the blessing, ” Increase and multiply ! ” We are born in roses, we die in roses ; the whole of our life is poetry. Fix not upon us the name thou deemest most horrid and ugly, the name, I cannot say it, cannot name it ; call us the milk-cow of the ants, the regiment of the rose-tree, the little green ones.’
And I, the human being, stood and looked at the tree, and at the little green ones, whose name I shall not name, nor offend a rose-citizen, a great family with eggs and living young. The soap-suds I meant to wash them with (for I had come with soap-suds, and wicked intentions), I will now whip up and blow into froth, blow soap-bubbles and gaze on their beauty. Perhaps a story lies in every one of them. And the bubble grew so big with glittering colours, and in it there lay, as it were, a silver pearl at the bottom. The bubble floated and soared, flew against the the door and burst ; but the door flew open, and there stood Mother Fairy Tale herself.
‘ Yes, now she can tell better than I can about I will not say the name ! the little green ones.’ ‘ Plant-lice,’ said Mother Fairy Tale. ‘ One should call everything by its right name ; and if one dares not do it as a usual thing, one can do it in a fairy tale.’