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Bird of Popular Song by Hans Christian Andersen


IT is winter-time. The earth wears a snowy garmentand looks like marblehewn out of the rock; the air is bright and clear; the wind is sharp as awell-tempered swordand the trees stand like branches of white coral orblooming almond twigsand here it is keen as on the lofty Alps.

The night is splendid in the gleam of the Northern Lightsand in the glitterof innumerable twinkling stars.

But we sit in the warm roomby the hot stoveand talk about the old times.And we listen to this story:

By the open sea was a giant's grave; and on the grave-mound sat at midnightthe spirit of the buried herowho had been a king. The golden circlet gleamedon his browhis hair fluttered in the windand he was clad in steel and iron.He bent his head mournfullyand sighed in deep sorrowas an unquiet spiritmight sigh.

And a ship came sailing by. Presently the sailors lowered the anchor andlanded. Among them was a singerand he approached the royal spiritand said

"Why mournest thouand wherefore dost thou suffer thus?"

And the dead man answered

"No one has sung the deeds of my life; they are dead and forgotten. Songdoth not carry them forth over the landsnor into the hearts of men; thereforeI have no rest and no peace."

And he spoke of his worksand of his warlike deedswhich his contemporarieshad knownbut which had not been sungbecause there was no singer among hiscompanions.

Then the old bard struck the strings of his harpand sang of the youthfulcourage of the heroof the strength of the manand of the greatness of hisgood deeds. Then the face of the dead one gleamed like the margin of the cloudin the moonlight. Gladly and of good couragethe form arose in splendor and inmajestyand vanished like the glancing of the northern light. Nought was to beseen but the green turfy moundwith the stones on which no Runic record hasbeen graven; but at the last sound of the harp there soared over the hillasthough he had fluttered from the harpa little birda charming singing-birdwith ringing voice of the thrushwith the moving voice pathos of the humanheartwith a voice that told of homelike the voice that is heard by the birdof passage. The singing-bird soared awayover mountain and valleyover fieldand wood- he was the Bird of Popular Songwho never dies.

We hear his song- we hear it now in the room while the white bees areswarming withoutand the storm clutches the windows. The bird sings not alonethe requiem of heroes; he sings also sweet gentle songs of loveso many and sowarmof Northern fidelity and truth. He has stories in words and in tones; hehas proverbs and snatches of proverbs; songs whichlike Runes laid under a deadman's tongueforce him to speak; and thus Popular Song tells of the land of hisbirth.

In the old heathen daysin the times of the Vikingsthe popular speech wasenshrined in the harp of the bard.

In the days of knightly castleswhen the strongest fist held the scales ofjusticewhen only might was rightand a peasant and a dog were of equalimportancewhere did the Bird of Song find shelter and protection? Neitherviolence nor stupidity gave him a thought.

But in the gabled window of the knightly castlethe lady of the castle satwith the parchment roll before herand wrote down the old recollections in songand legendwhile near her stood the old woman from the woodand the travellingpeddler who went wandering through the country. As these told their talestherefluttered around themwith twittering and songthe Bird of Popular Songwhonever dies so long as the earth has a hill upon which his foot may rest.

And now he looks in upon us and sings. Without are the night and thesnow-storm. He lays the Runes beneath our tonguesand we know the land of ourhome. Heaven speaks to us in our native tonguein the voice of the Bird ofPopular Song. The old remembrances awakethe faded colors glow with a freshlustreand story and song pour us a blessed draught which lifts up our mindsand our thoughtsso that the evening becomes as a Christmas festival.

The snow-flakes chase each otherthe ice cracksthe storm rules withoutfor he has the mighthe is lord- but not the LORD OF ALL.

It is winter time. The wind is sharp as a two-edged swordthe snow-flakeschase each other; it seems as though it had been snowing for days and weeksandthe snow lies like a great mountain over the whole townlike a heavy dream ofthe winter night. Everything on the earth is hidden awayonly the golden crossof the churchthe symbol of faitharises over the snow graveand gleams inthe blue air and in the bright sunshine.

And over the buried town fly the birds of heaventhe small and the great;they twitter and they sing as best they mayeach bird with his beak.

First comes the band of sparrows: they pipe at every trifle in the streetsand lanesin the nests and the houses; they have stories to tell about thefront buildings and the back buildings.

"We know the buried town" they say; "everything living in itis piep! piep! piep!"

The black ravens and crows flew on over the white snow.

"Grubgrub!" they cried. "There's something to be got downthere; something to swallowand that's most important. That's the opinion ofmost of them down thereand the opinion is goo-goo-good!"

The wild swans come flying on whirring pinionsand sing of the noble and thegreatthat will still sprout in the hearts of mendown in the town which isresting beneath its snowy veil.

No death is there- life reigns yonder; we hear it on the notes that swellonward like the tones of the church organwhich seize us like sounds from theelf-hilllike the songs of Ossianlike the rushing swoop of the wanderingspirits' wings. What harmony! That harmony speaks to our heartsand lifts upour souls! It is the Bird of Popular Song whom we hear.

And at this moment the warm breath of heaven blows down from the sky. Thereare gaps in the snowy mountainsthe sun shines into the clefts; spring iscomingthe birds are returningand new races are coming with the same homesounds in their hearts.

Hear the story of the year: "The night of the snow-stormthe heavydream of the winter nightall shall be dissolvedall shall rise again in thebeauteous notes of the Bird of Popular Songwho never dies!" - -

THE END




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