The Thistle’s Experiences

The Thistle’s Experiences –  Illustration

By Hans Christian Andersen (1870)

Beside the lordly manor-house lay a lovely, well-kept garden with rare trees and flowers ; the guests of the house expressed their admiration of it ; the people of the district, from town and country, came on Sundays and holidays and begged permission to see the garden, even whole schools came to visit it.

Outside the garden, close to the palings beside the fieldpath, stood a huge thistle ; it was very big and spread from the root in several branches, so that it might be called a thistle-bush. No one looked at it except the old ass which drew the milk-cart. It stretched out its neck to the thistle, and said, ‘ You are lovely ! I could eat you ! ‘ but the halter was not long enough for the ass to get near enough to eat it.

There was a great deal of company at the manor-house- some very noble people from the capital, young pretty girls, and amongst them a young lady who came from a distance ; she came from Scotland, was of high birth, rich in lands and gold, a bride worth winning, more than one young gentleman said, and their mothers said the same thing.

The young people amused themselves on the lawn and played croquet ; they walked about amongst the flowers, and each of the young girls picked a flower and put it in the button-hole of one of the young gentlemen. But the young Scottish lady looked round for a long time, rejecting one after the other ; none of the flowers seemed to please her ; then she looked over the paling, outside stood the great thistle -bush with its strong, purple flowers ; she saw it, she smiled and begged the son of the house to pick one of them for her.

‘ It is the flower of Scotland ! ‘ said she, ‘ it blooms in the scutcheon of the country, give it to me ! ‘

And he brought her the most beautiful of the thistles, and pricked his fingers, as if it were the most prickly rosebush that it grew on.

She fastened the thistle-flower in the button-hole of the young man, and he felt himself highly honoured. Each of the other young men would willingly have given his own beautiful flower to have worn the one given by the Scottish girl’s fair hand. And if the son of the house felt himself honoured, what did not the thistle-bush feel ? It seemed as if the dew and the sunshine were going through it.

‘ I am something more than I thought ! ‘ it said to itself. ‘ I really belong inside the paling and not outside ! One is strangely placed in the world ! but now I have one of mine over the paling, and even in a button-hole ! ‘

Every bud which came forth and unfolded was told of this event, and not many days went past before the thistlebush heard, not from people, nor from the twittering of the birds, but from the air itself, which preserves and carries sound, from the most retired walks of the garden and the rooms of the house, where the doors and windows stood open, that the young gentleman who got the thistle-flower from the fair Scottish girl’s hand, had now got her hand and heart as well. They were a handsome pair it was a good match.

I have brought that about ! ‘ thought the thistle -bush, and thought of the flower it had given for a button-hole. Each flower that opened heard of this occurrence.

I shall certainly be planted in the garden ! ‘ thought the thistle ; ‘ perhaps put in a pot which pinches : that is the greatest honour of all ! ‘

And the thistle thought of this so strongly that it said with full conviction, I shall be put in a pot ! ‘

It promised every little thistle -flower which opened that it also should be put in a pot, perhaps in a button-hole the highest honour that was to be attained ; but none of them was put in a pot, to say nothing of a button -hole ; they drank in the air and the light, licked the sunshine by day and the dew by night, bloomed, were visited by bees and hornets which searched for the dowry, the honey in the flowers, and they took the honey and left the flower standing. ‘ The thieving pack ! ‘ said the thistle, ‘ if I could only stab them ! But I cannot ! ‘

The flowers hung their heads and faded, but new ones came again.

‘ You come in good time ! ‘ said the thistle, ; every minute I expect to get across the fence.’

A few innocent daisies and narrow-leaved plantains stood and listened with deep admiration, and believed everything that was said.

The old ass of the milk-cart looked along from the wayside to the thistle-bush, but the halter was too short to reach it.

And the thistle thought so long of the Scottish thistle to whose family it thought it belonged, that at last it believed it came from Scotland and that its parents had been put into the national scutcheon. It was a great thought, but great thistles can have great thoughts !

‘ One is often of such a noble family, that one dare not know it ! ‘ said the nettle, which grew close by ; it also had an idea that it might turn into nettle -cloth if it were properly handled. And the summer passed and the autumn passed ; the leaves fell off the trees, the flowers got strong colours and less scent. The gardener’s apprentice sang in the garden, across the fence :

Up the hill and down the hill,

That is all the story still.’

The young fir-trees in the wood began to long for Christmas, but it was a long time to Christmas.

‘ Here I stand still ! ‘ said the thistle. It seems as if no one thought about me, and yet / have made the match ; they were betrothed, and they held their wedding eight days ago. I won’t take a step, for I cannot.’

Some more weeks went past ; the thistle stood with its last single flower, big and full, it had shot up close by the root. The wind blew cold over it, the colours went, the splendour vanished, the calyx of the flower, big as that of an artichoke bloom, looked like a silver sunflower. Then the young couple, now man and wife, came into the garden ; they went along by the paling, and the young wife looked across it.

‘ There stands the big thistle yet ! ‘ said she ; now it has no more flowers !

‘ Yes, there is the ghost of the last one ! ‘ said he, and pointed to the silvery remains of the flower, itself a flower.

‘ It is lovely ! ‘ said she, ‘ such a one must be carved round about the frame of our picture ! ‘

And the young man had to climb the paling again to break off the calyx of the thistle. It pricked him in the fingers, he had called it a ghost ‘. And it came into the garden, into the house, and into the drawing-room ; there stood a picture ‘ the young couple ‘. In the bridegroom’s button-hole was painted a thistle. They talked about this and about the thistle-flower they brought, the last thistle- flower now gleaming like silver, a copy of which was to be carved on the frame.

And the breeze carried what was said, away, far away.

‘ What one can experience ! ‘ said the thistle-bush. ‘ My firstborn was put in a button-hole, my last in a frame ! Where shall / go ? ‘

And the ass stood by the road-side and looked long at the thistle.

‘ Come to me, my kitchen-love ! I cannot come to you, the halter is not long enough ! ‘

But the thistle did not answer ; it became more and more thoughtful ; it thought, and it thought, right up to Christmas-time, and then the thought came into flower:

‘ If one’s children have got inside, a mother can be content to stand outside the fence ! ‘

That is an honourable thought ! ‘ said the sunbeam.

‘ You shall also get a good place ! ‘

‘ In a pot or in a frame ? ‘ asked the thistle.

‘ In a story ! ‘ said the sunbeam. And here it is !

  Indeks over H.C. Andersens eventyr — Index of Hans Christian Andersen Fairy tales