Print this Page

The Bird of Folklore

Hans Christian Andersen

The A-B-C Book The Angel Anne Lisbeth At the Uttermost Parts of the Sea Aunty Aunty Toothache "Beautiful" The Beetle The Bell The Bell Deep The Bird of Folklore The Bishop of Börglum and his Men The Bond of Friendship The Bottle Neck The Brave Tin Soldier The Buckwheat Butterfly The Candles Chicken Grethe's Family The Child in the Grave Children's Prattle Clumsy Hans The Comet The Court Cards The Cripple Croak! The Daisy Dance, Dance, Doll of Mine! Danish Popular Legends The Darning Needle The Days of the Week The Drop of Water The Dryad The Elder-Tree Mother The Elf Mound The Emperor's New Clothes Everything in its Proper Place Danish Popular Legends The Farmyard Cock and the Weathercock The Fir Tree Five Peas from a Pod The Flax The Flea and the Professor The Flying Trunk Folks Say - The Galoshes of Fortune The Gardener and the Noble Family The Garden of Paradise The Gate Key The Girl Who Trod on the Loaf The Goblin and the Grocer The Goblin and the Woman God Can Never Die Godfather's Picture Book Golden Treasure A Good Humor Grandmother Great-Grandfather The Great Sea Serpent The Happy Family Heartache Holger Danske Ib and Little Christine The Ice Maiden In the Children's Room In the Duck Yard It's Quite True! Jack the Dullard The Jewish Girl The Jumpers Kept Secret but not Forgotten The Last Pearl A Leaf from Heaven Little Claus and Big Claus The Little Green Ones Little Ida's Flowers The Little Match Seller The Little Mermaid Little Tuck Luck May Lie in a Pin Lucky Peer The Marsh King's Daughter The Metal Pig The Money Pig The Most Incredible Thing Moving Day The Naughty Boy The Neighboring Families The New Century's Goddess The Nightcap of the "Pebersvend" The Nightingale The Old Church Bell The Old House The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream The Old Street Lamp The Old Tombstone Ole Lukoie Ole, the Tower Keeper On Judgment Day Peiter, Peter, and Peer Pen and Inkstand The Penman The Phoenix Bird Picturebook Without Pictures A Picture from the Ramparts The Pigs The Poor Woman and the Little Canary Bird The Porter's Son The Princess and the Pea The Psyche The Puppet-show Man The Racers The Rags The Red Shoes The Rose Elf A Rose from Homer's Grave The Shadow The Shepherdess and the Chimney-Sweep She Was Good for Nothing The Shirt Collar The Silent Book The Silver Shilling The Snail and the Rosebush The Snowdrop The Snow Man The Snow Queen Something Soup on a Sausage Peg The Stone of the Wise Man The Storks The Storm Shifts the Signboards A Story A Story from the Sand Dunes The Story of a Mother The Story of the Year A String of Pearls Sunshine Stories The Swan's Nest The Sweethearts; or, The Top and the Ball The Swineherd The Talisman The Teapot There is a Difference This Fable is Intended for You The Thorny Road of Honor Thousands of Years from Now Thumbelina The Tinder Box The Toad The Traveling Companion Twelve by the Mail Two Brothers Two Maidens The Ugly Duckling Under The Willow Tree Urbanus A View from Vartou's Window Vänö and Glänö What Happened to the Thistle What Old Johanne Told What One Can Invent What the Old Man Does is Always Right What the Whole Family Said Which Was the Happiest? The Wicked Prince The Wild Swans The Will-o'-the-Wisps Are in Town The Windmill The Wind Tells about Valdemar Daae and His Daughters The World's Fairest Rose

It is wintertime, and the earth is covered with a layer of snow, as smooth as if it were marble cut from a mountain. The sky is high and clear, and the wind as sharp as an elfin-forged sword; the trees stand like white coral, or resemble blooming almond branches, and the air is as fresh as it is in the high Alps. The night is beautiful with streaming northern lights and countless twinkling stars.

Storms are coming; the clouds rise and scatter swan feathers; the snowflakes drift down, covering the hollow lane, the houses, the open fields, and the quiet streets. But we are sitting in a cozy room, before a glowing fire, and tales of olden days are being told. We hear a legend.

"By the open sea there lay a viking's grave, and on it at midnight sat the ghost of that buried hero. He had been a king, the golden crown encircling his brow. His hair fluttered in the wind, and he was clad in iron and steel. He bowed his head sorrowfully and sighed in deep grief, like an unblessed spirit.

"Then a ship came near. The men cast anchor and went on land. Among them was a scald, and he stepped forth toward the kingly form and asked, 'Why do you grieve and suffer?'

"Thereupon the dead man answered, 'No man has sung of my deeds; they are dead and gone. Song has never carried them over the lands and into the hearts of men; therefore I have no rest, no peace.'

"And he told of his work and his mighty deeds; the men of his time had known them, but not sung of them, for then there were no scalds.

"Then the old scald plucked the strings of his harp and sang of the hero - of his daring as a youth, his strength in manhood, and his great and noble deeds. At that the dead one's face brightened, like the edge of a cloud touched with moonlight; happy and blessed, the form arose in beams of glory and vanished like a trail of the northern lights. Only the green mound of turf with the stone devoid of runes remained to be seen; but over it, at the last sound of the chords, and as if it had come from the harp itself, there flew a tiny bird. It was a most beautiful songbird, with the tuneful melodies of the thrush, the throbbing melodies of the human heart, songs of home, as the bird of passage hears them. The bird flew over hill, over valley, and over forest and meadow. It was the Bird of Folklore, which never dies."

We hear the song; we hear it now here in our room, in the winter evening, while the white bees swarm outside and the tempest tightens its strong grip. The Bird sings not only heroic songs; it sings soft, sweet love songs, rich and many; it sings of faithfulness in the North; it gives us fairy tales in melodies and words; it has proverbs and a language in song, and thereby, as if runes were laid on a dead man's tongue, it can speak to us of ancient times, and thus we know the homeland of the Bird of Folklore.

In ancient heathen days, in the times of the vikings, its nest was in the harp of the bard. In the days of knighthood, when iron fists held the scales of justice, and only might was right, when the peasant and the dog were of equal value, where then did the Bird find shelter? Brutality and narrow-mindedness alike had no thought for it. But over the balcony of the castle, where the lady sat before her parchment and wrote down the old records in song and story; in the humble green-turf hut, where the wandering peddler sat on the bench beside the good woman, telling her tales - there, above them, fluttered and flew, twittered and sang, the Bird that never dies so long as earth is green under the foot of man - the Bird of Folklore.

Now it sings for us in here. Outside are the snowstorm and the night. The Bird lays runes on our tongue; we know again our homeland, as God speaks to us in our mother tongue in the melodies of the Bird of Folklore, and the old memories rise within us; faded colors are bright again; song and tale give the joy of a blessed drink, lifting mind and soul until the evening seems like a Christmas festivity. The snow is drifting, and the ice is crackling; the storm reigns; it has great power; it is the lord, but not our Lord!

It is wintertime, the wind still as sharp as an elfin-forged sword; the snow is drifting - it has been drifting, it seems to us, for days and weeks - and it lies like a monstrous snow mountain over the big town; it is like a weighty dream in the winter night. All beneath it is hidden and seemingly nonexistent; only the golden cross on the church, the symbol of faith, rises above the snow grave and glitters against the blue sky in the clear sunshine.

And away over the snow-covered town fly the birds of heaven, the large and the small; they chirp and they sing, each in its own tongue.

First is the flock of sparrows; they chirp about all the little things in street and lane, in nest and house; they know tales of the kitchen and the parlor. "We know that buried town," they say. "Every living soul there has cheep, cheep, cheep!"

Then the black ravens and crows fly over the white snow. "Dig! Dig!" they scream. "There's still something to get down there, something for the belly - that's the most important thing. That's the opinion of most people down below there, and that opinion is caw, caw, caw!"

The wild swans come with whizzing wings and sing of the greatness and glory that still live in the thoughts and hearts of the men in the snow-covered slumber of the town. It is not the sleep of death, for evidence of life comes forth; we hear it in tones of music; they swell and sound as if they are coming from the church organ, they are gripping as a strain from an elfin mound, as Ossianic songs, as the winged rush of the Valkyries. What harmony! It speaks to our inmost heart, uplifts our thoughts; we hear the Bird of Folklore! And now the warm breath of God breathes down from above; the snow mountain breaks open, and the sun shines in through it. The spring is coming, and the birds are coming, a new generation, with the same familiar tones. Hearken to the drama of the year - the mighty snowstorm - the weighty dream of a winter night! All fetters shall be broken here, and everything shall rise again at the beautiful song of the Bird of Folklore - the Bird that never dies.

The End

Fables & Tales Nonfiction Poetry Short Stories

Aesop Andersen, H.C. Dickinson, Emily Frost, Robert Grimm Henry, O Kipling, Rudyard Longfellow, Henry Poe, Edgar Allan Shakespeare, William Thoreau, Henry Twain, Mark Wilde, Oscar