Poets do themselves a grave injustice if they never read the work of other poets. Thing about creativity–we all talk about being original, but nothing in the creative world is actually original. I am saying that to say that we all inspire each other, and every idea anyone ever came up with was inspired by somebody else’s idea. If you are so wrapped up in your own work, you will never be inspired to create new work.
That said, this morning when I woke up I grabbed a random book off my bookshelf to have something to read while out and about with the children. I didn’t even look at what I had until I was in the car, and my daughter read the cover: It was a 40-something year old copy of a copy of a collection of poems by Hans Christian Andersen. He holds a special place in my heart for several reasons:
- He authored one of my favorite short stories, “The Little Match Girl”, which I read as a boy around 11 or 12 years old. When I was an English major at the University of DC, I wrote a criticism of this story. Although I was barely a teen when I read the story for the first time, I was forever changed by it (more to come)
- He wrote another short story that my daughter, and perhaps your daughter (or YOU) hold dear: “The Little Mermaid”. I sure hope you didn’t think Disney created this story? I also read it while in school, and years later when the movie came out (I didn’t actually see the movie until I had a daughter of my own) my baby cousin who loved the movie so much charmed me into wanting a little girl–I wanted no parts of a daughter in those days. But my cousin was so cute I needed someone to spoil… and a conversation about Ariel started it.
- He was a contemporary of two other favorites of mine: Lewis Carroll (Through the Looking Glass, and What Alice Found There… aka “Alice in Wonderland”) and the great Charles Dickens. His writings paralleled Dickens, who wrote works that entranced me and influenced my feelings about the poor and the battle of the classes.
- Others, such as a poem I will post at the end of this article. More on this later.
So The Little Match Girl.
She was a poor little girl selling matches on the street to help take care of her father. She is treated poorly by everyone but her grandmother. It is New Year’s Eve, and she is having a difficult time selling the matches, but does not want to go home empty handed. She takes shelter in an enclosure, and lights matches to stay warm.
Each time she strikes a match, she hallucinates and sees visions: A holiday feast, a warm, comfortable home with a stove, a Christmas tree. She looks up in the sky and sees a shooting star–and is reminded that her grandmother once told her, that when you see a shooting star, someone has died and gone to heaven.
Freezing, but entertained, the little girl continues lighting matches, alternating between warmth and cold. Then she sees her grandmother, “the only person who had loved her, but is no more”.
She lights the whole pack to keep her grandmother present, but she is just a vision. Her grandmother is dead.
And now out of matches, the little girl freezes to death.
A passerby finds her the next morning, unaware that of the visions the little girl saw the night before, sad for the little girl who died such a happy and comforted child… unaware that her grandmother carried her to heaven the night before. Surely, the stranger felt an intense pity for this child–who was as rich as anyone else with the presence of her grandmother’s image.
And you see how Andersen’s work could engage the reader and penetrate your soul… No more needs to be said.
In case you were wondering what my favorite Andersen poem might be, it is a piece entitled–never mind. Just read it. Thanks for visiting my blog.
mother, i am tired. I’ll drowse away
by your heart, I’ll find my deepest place
promise me you’ll weep no more today
for your salt tears burn my face
here, it is cold, the outside wind is wild
but in dreams the wildest wonders fly
and I see a smiling angel-child
when tonight, I close my weary eye
do you see the angel all in light?
hear his music flowing from above?
look–he has two wings, so fair and white
which our Lord has given him in love
green and gold and red the angel brings
they are flowers gliding past my eye
will I–while I live–be given wings?
or fly with them, Mother, when I die?
Mother, why do you press my hand?
and why do you press your cheek to mine?
it is wet, but burns me like a brand
i will always be yours, true and good
but no longer, Mother, shall you sigh such sighs
if you cry, I’ll cry
Oh, I am so tired! Come, shut my eyes!
The angel is kissing me…
Hans Christian Andersen