Hans Christian Andersen

The Rags

A Fairy Tale1

Outside the paper-mill stood heaped-up stacks of rags, gathered from far and wide; every single piece had its story to tell and was busy telling it, but one simply can’t listen to all of them. Some rags were from Denmark, others from foreign parts. Here a Danish rag lay right next to one from Norway, one was pure Danish, the other broad Norwegian, and that was the amusing thing about them, every sensible Norwegian and Dane would say.

They recognised each other from their languages, even though they were as different, the Norwegian claimed, as French from Hebrew. ‘We go to the hills to get it rough-hewn and straight from the shoulder, whereas the Dane concocts his own sugary, insipid clattering.’

The rags talked away, and rags are merely rags in every country, they only count for something in a heap of rags.

‘I’m Norwegian!’ the Norwegian one said, ‘and when I say I’m Norwegian I think I’ve said sufficient! I am tight knit as the ancient mountains of old Norway, the country that has a constitution like that of free America! it stirs my fibres to think of what I am and causes my thoughts to ring out in words like granite!’

‘But we have a literature!’ the Danish rag said. ‘Do you understand what that is?’

‘Understand!’ the Norwegian rag repeated, ‘Maybe I should lift this lowlander mountain-wards and illuminate him with northern lights, rag that he is! When the ice thaws under the Norwegian sun, Danish flat-bottomed barges come up to us with butter and cheese, very fine commodities! and Danish literature is what they use as ballast. We don’t need it! one prefers to do without flat beer where fresh springs gush, and here we have a well that is still untapped, not popularised throughout Europe through newspapers, cameraderie and writers’ trips abroad. I don’t mince my words, and a Dane must accustom himself to the untrammelled sound, and this he will someday through his Scandinavian clinging to our proud rocky landscape, the ancient knoll of the world!’

‘A Danish rag would never think of talking like that!’ the Danish rag said. ‘It is not our nature. I know myself, and I am like all our rags, we are so good-natured, so modest, we think so little of ourselves, and one does not gain anything from that, but I like it so much, I find it so delightful! Besides, but I can assure you, I am completely aware of my own good nature, but I don’t talk about it, that mistake no one could accuse me of. I am soft and pliable, can put up with anything, speak well of everyone, even if there is not much good to be said of most others, but that’s their business! I always make fun of it, for I’m so bright!’

‘Don’t talk to me in that soft, pasty lowland language of yours, I find it quite nauseating!’ the Norwegian rag said and let a gust of wind loosen it from the pile and transport it to another one.

Both of them eventually became paper, and it so happened that the Norwegian rag became paper on which a Norwegian wrote a loyal love-letter to a Danish girl, and the Danish rag became a manuscript for a Danish ode in praise of Norway’s might and glory.

So something good can also come out of the rags, once they have left the rag-pile and been transformed into truth and beauty, they gleam in fine mutual understanding, and that’s certainly a blessing.

That’s the story, it is quite entertaining and does not offend anyone except – the rags.

Written several years ago in Silkeborg.


Written several years ago in Silkeborg.



Henvis til værket

Hans Christian Andersen: The Rags. Translated by John Irons, edited by , published by The Hans Christian Andersen Centre, University of Southern Denmark, Odense. Version 1.0. Published 2024-04-01[INFO OM 18-binds-udgaven 2003-2009...] for Det Danske Sprog- og Litteraturselskab. Digitaliseret af Holger Berg til sitet hcandersen.dk

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