A String of Pearls

A String of Pearls –  Illustration

By Hans Christian Andersen (1859)

The railway in Denmark extends as yet only from Copenhagen to Korsör ; it is a string of pearls, such as Europe has abundance of ; the most costly beads there are called Paris, London, Vienna and Naples. Yet many a one does not point to these great cities as his loveliest pearl, but on the contrary to a little, unimportant town ; there is the home of homes, there his dear ones live ! Yes, often it is only a single farm, a little house, hidden amongst green hedges, a mere point which disappears as the train flashes past it.

How many pearls are there on the string from Copenhagen to Korsör ? We will consider six, which most people must take notice of ; old memories and poetry itself give these pearls a lustre, so that they shine in our thoughts.

Close by the hill where the castle of Frederick the Sixth lies, the home of Oehlenschlager’s childhood, one of the pearls glitters in the shelter of Sondermarken’s woods ; it was called The Cottage of Philemon and Baucis,’ that is to say, the home of a lovable old couple. Here lived Rahbek with his wife Emma ; here, under their hospitable roof, for a whole generation several men of genius came together from busy Copenhagen ; here was a home of intellect, and now ! Say not : Alas, how changed ! ‘ no, it is still a home of intellect, a conservatory for pining plants ! The flower-bud which is not strong enough to unfold itself yet contains, concealed, all the germs for leaf and seed. Here the sun of intellect shines into a carefully guarded home of intellect, enlivening and giving life.

The world round about shines through the eyes into the unfathomable depths of the soul. The idiots’ home, encompassed with human love, is a holy place, a conservatory for the pining plants, which shall at some time be transplanted and bloom in the garden of God. Here the weakest in intellect are now assembled, where at one time the greatest and most powerful minds met, exchanged ideas, and were lifted upward and the soul’s flame still mounts upwards in ‘ The Cottage of Philemon and Baucis.’

The town of the royal tombs beside Hroar’s well, the old Roskilde, lies before us ! The slender spires of the cathedral towers soar above the low-built town, and mirror themselves in Isefiord. One grave only will we search for here, and regard it in the sheen of the pearl ; it is not that of the great Queen Margaret no, within the churchyard, close to whose white wall we fly past, is the grave ; a common stone is laid over it ; the master of the organ, the reviver of Danish romance, lies here. The old traditions became melodies in our soul ; we learned that where ‘ The clear waves rolled,’ ‘ there dwelt a king in Leire ! ‘ Roskilde, the burial place of kings ! in thy pearl will we look at the simple grave, where on the stone is carved a lyre and the name of Weyse.

Now we come to Sigersted near the town of Ringsted ; the river-bed lies low ; the golden corn grows where Hagbarth’s boat put in to the bank, not far from the maiden -bower of Signe. Who does not know the story of Hagbarth, who was hanged in the oak, and Little Signe’s bower which stood in flames ; the legend of strong love !

‘ Lovely Sorö surrounded by woods ! ‘ the quiet cloistertown peeps out between the moss-grown trees ; with the glance of youth it looks out from the academy over the lake to the world’s highway, and hears the engine’s dragon puff whilst it flies through the wood. Sorö, thou pearl of poetry, which preserves the dust of Holberg. Like a great white swan beside the deep woodland lake lies thy palace of learning, and near to it shines, like the white star-wort in the woods, a little house to which our eyes turn ; from it pious psalms sound through the land, words are uttered in it, even the peasant listens to them and learns of vanished times in Denmark. The green wood and the song of the birds go together ; so also do the names of Sorö and Ingemann.

On to the town of Slagelse ! what is reflected here in the sheen of the pearl ? Vanished is the cloister of Antvorskov, vanished the rich halls of the castle, and even its solitary deserted wing ; still one old relic remains, renewed and again renewed, a wooden cross on the hill over there, where in legendary times, St. Andrew, the priest of Slagelse, wakened up, borne hither in one night from Jerusalem.

Korsör here wert thou born, who gave us

Jest with earnest blended

In songs of Knud the voyager.

Thou master of words and wit ! the decaying old ramparts of the forsaken fortress are now the last visible witness of the home of thy childhood ; when the sun sets, their shadows point to where thy birthplace stood ; from these ramparts, looking towards the height of Sprogö, thou sawest, when thou wast small, ‘ the moon glide down behind the isle,’ and sang of it in immortal strains, as thou since hast sung of the mountains of Switzerland ; thou, who didst wander about in the labyrinth of the world and found that

Nowhere is the rose so red,

And nowhere are the thorns so few,

And nowhere is the couch so soft

As those our simple childhood knew.

Thou lively singer of wit ! we weave thee a garland of woodruff , and cast it in the lake, and the waves will bear it to Kielerfiord, on whose coast thy dust is laid ; it brings a greeting from the young generation, a greeting from the town of thy birth, Korsör where the string of pearls is broken.

‘ It is indeed a string of pearls from Copenhagen to Korsör,’ said Grandmother, who had heard what we have just read. ‘ It is a string of pearls for me, and it had already come to be that for me more than forty years ago,’ said she. We had no steam-engines then ; we spent days on the way, where you now only spend hours. It was in 1815 ; I was twenty-one then it is a delightful age ! And yet up in the sixties is also a delightful age, so full of blessings ! In my young days it was a greater event than now to get to Copenhagen, the town of all towns., as we considered it. My parents wished, after twenty years, once again to pay a visit to it, and I was to accompany^them. We had talked of the journey for years, and now it was really to take place ; I thought that quite a new life would begin, and, in a way, a new life really began for me.

There was such sewing and packing, and when it was time to depart, how many good friends came to bid us good-bye ! It was a big journey we had before us ! It was in the forenoon that we drove out of Odense in my parents’ carriage ; acquaintances nodded from the windows all the way up the street, almost until we were out of St. George’s Gate. The weather was lovely, the birds sang, all was delightful ; one forgot that it was a long, difficult road to Nyborg. Towards evening we came there. The post did not arrive until late in the night, and the boat did not leave before that, but we went on board. The great water lay before us, as far as we could see, so smooth and still. We lay down in our clothes and slept. When I wakened and came on deck in the morning, nothing could be seen on either side, there was such a fog. I heard the cocks crowing, observed that the sun had risen, and heard the bells ringing. Where could we be ? The fog lifted, and we actually were still lying just out from Nyborg. During the day a slight wind blew, but dead against us ; we tacked and tacked, and finally we were fortunate enough to get to Korsör a little after eleven in the evening, after we had spent twenty-two hours in traversing the eighteen miles.

‘ It was nice to get on land, but it was dark ; the lamps burned badly, and everything was so perfectly strange to me, who had never been in any town except Odense.

” Look,” said my father, ” here Baggesen was born, and here Birckner lived.” Then it seemed to me that the old town with the little houses grew at once brighter and larger ; we also felt so glad to have firm land under us. I could not sleep that night for thinking of all that I had already seen and experienced since I left home the day before last.

‘ We had to rise early next morning, as we had before us a bad road with very steep hills and many holes, until we came to Slagelse, and beyond, on the other side of Slagelse, it was not much better, and we wished to arrive early at the ” Crab “, so that we might walk into Sorö by daylight and visit the miller’s Emil, as we called him ; yes, it was your grandfather, my late husband, the dean ; he was a student at Sorö, and had just passed his second examination.

‘We came to the “Crab” in the afternoon; it was a fashionable place at that time, the best inn on the whole of the journey, and the most charming district ; yes, you must all allow it is still that. She was an active hostess, Mrs. Plambek ; everything in the house was like a wellscoured table. On the wall hung Baggesen’s letter to her, framed and under glass, and well worth seeing ; to me it was something very notable. Then we went up to Sorö, and there met Emil. You may suppose that he was glad to see us, and we to see him, and he was so good and attentive. With him we saw the church with Absalon’s grave and Holberg’s coffin ; we saw the old monkish inscriptions,

and we sailed over the lake to ” Parnassus ” ; the most beautiful evening I can remember ! It seemed to me that if one could make poetry anywhere in the world, it must be at Sorö, in this peace and beauty of nature. Then in the moonlight we went along the ” Philosopher’s Walk “,

as they call it, the lovely, lonely path by the lake and the stream, out towards the high-road leading to the “Crab”. Emil stayed to supper with us; Father and Mother thought he had grown so sensible and looked so well. He promised us that he would be in Copenhagen in five days, at his own home and together with us, for Whitsuntide. These hours in Sorö and the ” Crab ” belong to my life’s loveliest pearls.

‘ Next morning we set out very early, for we had a long way to go before we reached Roskilde, and we must get there betimes, so that the cathedral might be seen, and in the evening father could have time to visit an old school friend. This was duly carried out, and then we spent

the night in Roskilde, and next day, but only by dinnertime, for it was the worst and most cut-up road that we had yet to travel, we arrived in Copenhagen. We had spent about three days from Korsör to Copenhagen ; now the same distance is done in three hours. The beads have not become more precious, they could not be that ; but the string is new and marvellous. I stayed with my parents in Copenhagen for three weeks. Emil was with us the whole time, and when we travelled back to Fyen, he accompanied us all the way from Copenhagen to Korsör ; there we became engaged before we parted ! So now you can understand that I also call from Copenhagen to Korsör a string of pearls.

‘ Afterwards, when Emil was called to Assens, we were married. We often talked of the journey to Copenhagen, and about doing it once again, but then first came your mother, and after that she got brothers and sisters, and there was much to look after and to take care of, and when father was promoted and became dean, of course everything was a pleasure and a joy, but to Copenhagen we never got. I never was there again, however often we thought and talked about it, and now I am too old, I have not the strength to travel on the railway ; but I am glad of the railways. It is a blessing that we have them ! With them you come all the quicker to me ! Now Odense is not much farther from Copenhagen than it was from Nyborg in my young days. You can now fly to Italy as quickly as we travelled to Copenhagen ! Yes, that is something ! all the same I shall sit still, and let others travel, let them come to me ! But you ought not to laugh either, because I sit so still ! I have a great journey before me quite different from yours, one that is much quicker than by the railway. When our Father wills it, I shall go to join your grandfather, and when you have completed your work, and enjoyed yourselves here in this dear world, I know that you will come up to us, and if we talk there about our earthly days, believe me, children, I shall also say there as now, ” from Copenhagen to Korsör is indeed a string of pearls ! ” ‘

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