The Tales of Hans Christian Andersen

From a Window in Vartov - Fra et Vindue i Vartou

1855

Right next to the green embankment that surrounds Copenhagen and once was part of its defenses stands a large building with many windows; in each is a potted plant. Poverty has stamped its mark both on the outside and the inside of the building; this is Vartov, a home for the aged poor. Ud til den grønne Vold, der gaaer rundt om Kjøbenhavn, ligger en stor, rød Gaard med mange Vinduer, i dem voxer Balsaminen og Ambratræet; fattigt seer der ud derindenfor, og fattige gamle Folk boe der. Det er Vartou.
An old maid is leaning out of the window; she picks a dead leaf from the balsam plant that stands on the window sill, and looks out at the children who are playing on the embankment. What is she thinking about? She is reliving the drama of a life. See! op til Vindueskarmen læner sig en gammel Pige, hun plukker det visne Blad af Balsaminen og seer ud paa den grønne Vold, hvor lystige Børn tumle sig; hvad tænker hun paa? Et Livs Drama ruller op for Tanken.
How happily the poor children are playing. They have healthy red cheeks and shiny eyes but are wearing neither stockings nor shoes. They are dancing on the green grass, at the very place where, according to an old legend, a child was offered. In ancient times, when the first embankment was being built here, for the defense of the city, the ramparts sank as fast as they were constructed. An innocent child was lured with flowers, cakes, and toys into an open tomb; and while the little one ate and played, he was sealed in. From then on the ramparts stood on solid ground and the embankment was soon covered by grass. The little children playing there now do not know the legend; if they did they would be able to hear the little child crying from under the ground, and the dew in the morning would seem to them like tears. They do not even know the story of the King of Denmark who rode on that very embankment when the enemy had surrounded the city and swore that he would die in his nest. It was the dead of winter when the enemy attacked, and the foreign soldiers put white shirts over their uniforms. The men and women of the city poured boiling water down over them, as they crawled over the snow-covered ramparts. De fattige Smaa, hvor lykkeligt de lege! hvilke røde Kinder, hvilke velsignede Øine, men hverken Skoe eller Strømper have de paa! de dandse paa den grønne Vold der, hvor Sagnet fortæller at for mange Aar tilbage, da Jorden der altid sank, blev et uskyldigt Barn lokket med Blomster og Legetøi ind i den aabne Grav, som de murede til medens den Lille legede og spiste. Da laae Volden fast og bar snart et deiligt Grønsvær. De Smaa kjende ikke Sagnet, ellers vilde de høre Barnet græde endnu dernede under Jorden, og Duggen paa Græsset vilde synes dem de brændende Taarer. De kjende ikke Historien om Danmarks Konge, der da Fjenden laae udenfor, red her forbi, og svor, han vilde døe i sin Rede; da kom Qvinder og Mænd, de gjøde kogende Vand ned over de hvidklædte Fjender, som i Sneen kravlede op ad den ydre Voldside.
Gaily do the children of the poor play. Lystigt lege de fattige Smaa.
Play, little girl, play, the years will pass: the blessed years. Soon you will be fourteen and confirmed; then you will walk, hand in hand, with the other little girls, here on the green embankment. Your white dress will have cost your mother more than she can spare; and that even though it will be made out of an old dress she has bought cheaply. You will be given a red shawl which, like your other clothes, will be too big. It will hang almost to the ground. But then people can see that it is a proper grown-up shawl. You will be thinking about your pretty dress and about God, and what happened in church. It is lovely to walk here on the ramparts. The years will pass with many unhappy days to darken even a youthful heart. At last you will have a friend; you will meet a young man. Together you now walk on the embankment in the green grass. It is early in the year; the violets are not blooming yet, but down at Rosenborg, the royal castle, you stop to admire a young tree that already has large buds. Yes, every year the trees have new, fresh leaves; but that is not true of the human heart. Through the hearts of men, more dark clouds drift than the sky of the north will ever know. Poor young girl, your bridegroom's bridal chamber was a coffin and you became an old maid. From your little room in Vartov with the green balsam plant on the window sill, you look out at the playing children and imagine that you see your own story repeated. Leg, du lille Pige! snart komme Aarene - ja, de velsignede Aar: Confirmanterne spadsere Haand i Haand, Du gaaer i hvid Kjole, den har kostet din Moder nok, og dog er den syet om af en større, gammel! Du faaer et rødt Shawl, det hænger Dig forlangt ned, men saa kan man see, hvor stort det er, hvor altfor stort! Du tænker paa din Stads og paa den gode Gud. Deilig er en Vandring paa Volden! Og Aarene gaae med mange mørke Dage, men med Ungdomssind, og Du faaer en Ven, Du veed det ikke! I mødes; I vandre paa Volden i det tidlige Foraar, naar alle Kirkeklokker ringe paa store Bededag. Der er endnu ikke Violer at finde, men udfor Rosenborg staaer der et Træ med de første grønne Knopper, der standse I. Hvert Aar skyder Træet grønne Grene, det gjør ikke Hjertet i Menneskets Bryst, gjennem dette glide flere mørke Skyer, end Norden kjender. Stakkels Barn, din Brudgoms Brudekammer bliver Liigkisten, og Du bliver en gammel Pige; fra Vartou seer Du bag Balsaminen ud paa de legende Børn, seer din Historie gjentages.
This was the life story that the old maid relived as she looked at the sun-filled ramparts where the red-cheeked, barefoot children shouted with joy, like all the other little birds of the heavens. Og det er just det Livs-Drama, der ruller op for den gamle Pige, der seer ud paa Volden, hvor Solen skinner, hvor Børnene med røde Kinder og uden Strømper og Skoe juble, som alle de andre Himlens Fugle.

Copyright Anchor Books Doubleday
Hans Christian Andersen:
The Complete Fairy Tales and Stories

Translated from Danish by Erik Christian Haugaard

Copyright:
The Hans Christian Andersen Project