Who Was the Luckiest?
By Hans Christian Andersen (1872)
‘ What lovely roses ! ‘ said the sunshine. ‘ And every bud will unfold, and be equally beautiful. They are my children ! I have kissed them into life ! ‘
‘ They are my children!’ said the dew. ‘ I have suckled them with my tears.’
I should think that I am their mother ! ‘ said the rosehedge. ‘ You others are only god-parents, who gave christening gifts, according to your means and good will.’
‘ My lovely rose-children ! ‘ said all three of them, and wished every blossom the greatest luck, but only one could be the luckiest, and one must be also the least lucky ; but which of them ? ‘
‘ That I shall find out ! ‘ said the wind. ‘ I travel far and wide, force myself through the narrowest chink ; I know about everything outside and inside.’
Every blossomed rose heard what had been said, every swelling bud caught it.
Then there came through the garden a sorrowful, loving mother, dressed in black ; she plucked one of the roses, which was just half -blown, fresh and full ; it seemed to her to be the most beautiful of them all. She took the blossom into the quiet, silent chamber, where only a few days ago the young, happy daughter had romped about, but now lay there, like a sleeping marble figure, stretched out in the black coffin. The mother kissed the dead child, then kissed the half -blown rose, and laid it on the breast of the young girl, as if it by its freshness and a mother’s kiss could make the heart beat again.
It was as if the rose were swelling ; every leaf quivered with delight at the thought, ‘ What a career of love was granted to me ! I become like a child of man, receive a mother’s kiss and words of blessing, and go into the unknown kingdom, dreaming on the breast of the dead !
Assuredly I am the luckiest among all my sisters ! ‘ In the garden, where the rose-tree stood, walked the old weeding-woman ; she also gazed at the glory of the tree, and fixed her eyes on the biggest full-blown rose. One drop of dew, and one warm day more, and the leaves would fall ; the woman saw that, and thought that as it had fulfilled its mission of beauty, now it should serve its purpose of usefulness. And so she plucked it, and put it in a newspaper ; it was to go home with her to other leafstripped roses, and be preserved with them and become pot-pourri, to be mixed with the little blue boys which are called lavender, and be embalmed with salt. Only roses and kings are embalmed.
‘ I am the most honoured ! ‘ said the rose, as the woman took it. ‘I am the luckiest ! I shall be embalmed ! ‘
There came into the garden two young men, one was a painter, the other a poet ; each of them plucked a rose, beautiful to behold. And the painter made a picture of the rose on canvas, so that it thought it saw itself in a mirror.
‘In that way ‘, said the painter, ‘it shall live for many generations, during which many millions and millions of roses will wither and die ! ‘
‘ I have been the most favoured ! I have won the greatest happiness ! ‘
The poet gazed at his rose, and wrote a poem about it, a whole mystery, all that he read, leaf by leaf, in the rose. ‘ Love’s Picture-book ; ‘ it was an immortal poem.
* I am immortal with that/ said the rose, I am the luckiest ! ‘
There was yet, amongst the display of roses, one which was almost hidden by the others ; accidentally, fortunately perhaps, it had a blemish, it did not sit straight on its stalk, and the leaves on one side did not match those on the other ; and in the middle of the rose itself, grew a little, deformed, green leaf ; that happens with roses !
‘ Poor child ! ‘ said the wind, and kissed it on the cheek.
The rose thought it was a greeting, a homage ; it had a feeling that it was a little differently formed from the other roses, that there grew a green leaf out of its interior, and it looked upon that as a distinction. A butterfly flew down upon it, and kissed its leaves. This was a wooer ; she let him fly away again. There came an immensely big grasshopper ; he sat himself certainly upon another rose, and rubbed his shin-bone in amorous mood that is the sign of love with grasshoppers. The rose he sat qn did not understand it, but the rose with the distinction did, for the grasshopper looked at her with eyes which said, I could eat you up out of sheer love ! ‘ and no farther can love ever go ; then the one is absorbed by the other ! But the rose would not be absorbed by the jumper. The nightingale sang in the clear starry night.
‘ It is for me alone ! ‘ said the rose with the blemish or distinction. ‘ Why should I thus in every respect be distinguished above all my sisters ? Why did I get this peculiarity, which makes me the luckiest ? ‘
Then two gentlemen smoking cigars came into the garden ; they talked about roses and about tobacco ; roses, it was said, could not stand smoke, they lose their colour and become green ; it was worth trying. They had not the heart to take one of the very finest roses, they took the one with the blemish.
‘ What a new distinction ! ‘ it said, ‘ I am exceedingly lucky ! The very luckiest ! ‘
And it became green with self -consciousness and tobacco smoke.
One rose, still half -blown, perhaps the finest on the tree, got the place of honour in the gardener’s tastefully arranged bouquet ; it was brought to the young, lordly master of the house, and drove with him in the carriage ; it sat as a flower of beauty among other flowers and lovely green leaves ; it went to a splendid gathering, where men and women sat in fine attire illuminated by a thousand lamps ; music sounded ; it was in the sea of light which filled the theatre ; and when amidst the storm of applause the celebrated young dancer fluttered forward on the stage,
bouquet after bouquet flew like a rain of flowers before her feet. There fell the bouquet in which the lovely rose sat like a gem. It felt the fullness of its indescribable good fortune, the honour and splendour into which it floated ; and as it touched the floor, it danced too, it sprang, and flew along the boards, breaking its stalk as it fell. It did not come into the hands of the favourite, it rolled behind the scenes, where a scene-shifter took it up, saw how beautiful it was, how full of fragrance it was, but there was no stalk on it. So he put it in his pocket, and when he went home in the evening it was in a dram-glass, and lay there in water the whole night. Early in the morning it was set before the grandmother, who sat in her armchair, old and frail. She looked at the lovely broken rose, and rejoiced in its beauty and its scent.
‘ Yes, you did not go to the rich and fine lady’s table, but to the poor old woman ; but here you are like a whole rose-tree ; how lovely you are ! ‘
And she looked with childlike delight at the flower, and thought, no doubt, of her own long -past youthful days.
‘ There was a hole in the pane,’ said the wind, I easily got in, and saw the old woman’s eyes, youthfully shining, and the lovely, broken rose in the dram-glass. The luckiest of all ! I know it ! I can tell it ! ‘
Each rose on the tree had its story. Each rose believed and thought itself to be the luckiest, and faith makes blessed. The last rose, however, was the luckiest of all, in its own opinion.
‘ I outlived them all ! I am the last, the only one, mother’s dearest child ! ‘
‘ And I am the mother of them ! ‘ said the rose-hedge,
‘ I am that ! ‘ said the sunshine.
‘ And I/ said wind and weather.
* Each has a share in them ! ‘ said the wind, and each shall get a share in them ! ‘ and so the wind strewed the leaves out over the hedge, where the dew-drops lay, where the sun shone. I, also, will get my share/ said the wind. ‘ I got all the stories of all the roses, which I will tell out in the wide world ! Tell me now, which was the luckiest of them all ? Yes, you must say that ; I have said enough ! ‘