The Snail and the Rose Tree
By Hans Christian Andersen (1862)
Around the garden ran a hedge of hazels ; beyond this hedge lay fields and meadows, with cows and sheep ; but in the midst of the garden stood a blooming Rose Tree ; and under it lived a Snail, who had a good deal in his shell namely, himself.
‘ Wait till my time comes ! ‘ he said : ‘ I shall do something more than produce roses and bear nuts ; or give milk, like the cows and the sheep ! ‘
‘ I expect a great deal of you,’ said the Rose Tree. ; But may I ask when it will appear ? ‘
‘ I take my time,’ replied the Snail. ‘ the’re always in such a hurry. You don’t rouse people’s interest by suspense.’
Next year the Snail lay almost in the same spot, in the sunshine under the Rose Tree, which again bore buds that bloomed into roses, always fresh, always new. And the Snail crept half-way out, put out its horns and then drew them in again.
‘ Everything looks just like last year. There has been no progress. The Rose Tree sticks to roses ; it gets no farther.’
The summer passed, the autumn came ; the Rose Tree had always flowers and buds, until the snow fell and the weather became raw and cold ; then the Rose Tree bowed its head and the Snail crept into the ground.
A new year began ; and the roses came out, and the Snail came out also.
‘ You’re an old Rose Tree now ! ‘ said the Snail. ‘ You must make haste and come to an end, for you have given the world all that was in you : whether it was of any use is a question that I have had no time to consider ; but so much is clear and plain, that you have done nothing at all for your own development, or you would have produced something else. How can you answer for that ? In a little time you will be nothing at all but a stick. Do you understand what I say ? ‘
‘ You alarm me ! ‘ replied the Rose Tree. ‘ I never thought of that at all.’
‘ No, you have not taken the trouble to consider anything.
Have you ever given an account to yourself, why you bloomed, and how it is that your blooming comes about why it is thus, and not otherwise ? ‘
‘No, answered the Rose Tree. ‘ I bloomed in gladness, because I could not do anything else. The sun was so warm, and the air so refreshing. I drank the pure dew and the fresh rain, and I lived, I breathed. Out of the earth there arose a power within me, from above there came down a strength : I perceived a new ever-increasing happiness, and consequently I was obliged to bloom over and over again ; that was my life ; I could not do otherwise.’
‘ You have led a very pleasant life,’ observed the Snail.
‘ Certainly. Everything was given to me,’ said the Rose Tree. ‘ But more still was given to you. You are one of those deep thoughtful characters, one of those highly gifted spirits, which will cause the world to marvel.’
‘ I’ve no intention of doing anything of the kind,’ cried the Snail. ‘ The world is nothing to me. What have I to do with the world ? I have enough of myself and in myself.’
‘ But must we not all, here on earth, give to others the best that we have, and offer what lies in our power ? Certainly I have only given roses. But you you who have been so richly gifted what have you given to the world ? what do you intend to give ? ‘
1 What have I given what do I intend to give ? I spit at it. It ‘s worth nothing. It ‘s no business of mine. Continue to give your roses, if you like : you can’t do anything better. Let the hazel bush bear nuts, and the cows and ewes give milk : they have their public ; but I have mine within myself I retire within myself, and there I remain. The world is nothing to me.’
And so the Snail retired into his house, and closed up the entrance after him.
‘ That is very sad ! ‘ said the Rose Tree. ‘ I cannot creep into myself, even if I wish it I must continue to produce roses. They drop their leaves, and are blown away by the wind. But I saw how a rose was laid in the matron’s hymn-book, and one of my roses had a place on the bosom of a fair young girl, and another was kissed by the lips of a child in the full joy of life. That did me good ; it was a real blessing. That ‘s my remembrance my life ! ‘
And the Rose Tree went on blooming in innocence, while the Snail lay idly in his house the world did not concern him.
And years rolled by.
The Snail had become dust in the dust, and the Rose Tree was earth in the earth ; the rose of remembrance in the hymn-book was faded, but in the garden bloomed fresh rose trees, in the garden grew new snails ; and these still crept into their houses, and spat at the world, for it did not concern them.
Suppose we begin the story again, and read it right through. It will never alter.