Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Little Match Girl

Most terribly cold it was; it snowed, and was nearly quite dark, and evening –– the last evening of the year. In this cold and darkness there went along the street a poor little girl, bareheaded, and with naked feet. When she left home she had slippers on, it is true; but what was the good of that? They were very large slippers, which her mother had hitherto worn; so large were they; and the poor little thing lost them as she scuffled away across the street, because of two carriages that rolled by dreadfully fast.

One slipper was nowhere to be found; the other had been laid hold of by an urchin, and off he ran with it; he thought it would do capitally for a cradle when he some day or other should have children himself. So the little maiden walked on with her tiny naked feet, that were quite red and blue from cold. She carried a quantity of matches in an old apron, and she held a bundle of them in her hand. Nobody had bought anything of her the whole livelong day; no one had given her a single farthing.

She crept along trembling with cold and hunger--a very picture of sorrow, the poor little thing!

The flakes of snow covered her long fair hair, which fell in beautiful curls around her neck; but of that, of course, she never once now thought. From all the windows the candles were gleaming, and it smelt so deliciously of roast goose, for you know it was New Year's Eve; yes, of that she thought.

In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money: from her father she would certainly get blows, and at home it was cold too, for above her she had only the roof, through which the wind whistled, even though the largest cracks were stopped up with straw and rags.

Her little hands were almost numbed with cold. Oh! a match might afford her a world of comfort, if she only dared take a single one out of the bundle, draw it against the wall, and warm her fingers by it. She drew one out. "Rischt!" how it blazed, how it burnt! It was a warm, bright flame, like a candle, as she held her hands over it: it was a wonderful light. It seemed really to the little maiden as though she were sitting before a large iron stove, with burnished brass feet and a brass ornament at top. The fire burned with such blessed influence; it warmed so delightfully. The little girl had already stretched out her feet to warm them too; but--the small flame went out, the stove vanished: she had only the remains of the burnt-out match in her hand.

She rubbed another against the wall: it burned brightly, and where the light fell on the wall, there the wall became transparent like a veil, so that she could see into the room. On the table was spread a snow-white tablecloth; upon it was a splendid porcelain service, and the roast goose was steaming famously with its stuffing of apple and dried plums. And what was still more capital to behold was, the goose hopped down from the dish, reeled about on the floor with knife and fork in its breast, till it came up to the poor little girl; when--the match went out and nothing but the thick, cold, damp wall was left behind. She lighted another match. Now there she was sitting under the most magnificent Christmas tree: it was still larger, and more decorated than the one which she had seen through the glass door in the rich merchant's house.

Thousands of lights were burning on the green branches, and gaily-colored pictures, such as she had seen in the shop-windows, looked down upon her. The little maiden stretched out her hands towards them when--the match went out. The lights of the Christmas tree rose higher and higher, she saw them now as stars in heaven; one fell down and formed a long trail of fire.

"Someone is just dead!" said the little girl; for her old grandmother, the only person who had loved her, and who was now no more, had told her, that when a star falls, a soul ascends to God.

She drew another match against the wall: it was again light, and in the lustre there stood the old grandmother, so bright and radiant, so mild, and with such an expression of love.

"Grandmother!" cried the little one. "Oh, take me with you! You go away when the match burns out; you vanish like the warm stove, like the delicious roast goose, and like the magnificent Christmas tree!" And she rubbed the whole bundle of matches quickly against the wall, for she wanted to be quite sure of keeping her grandmother near her. And the matches gave such a brilliant light that it was brighter than at noon-day: never formerly had the grandmother been so beautiful and so tall. She took the little maiden, on her arm, and both flew in brightness and in joy so high, so very high, and then above was neither cold, nor hunger, nor anxiety –– they were with God.

But in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall--frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. "She wanted to warm herself," people said. No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new year.

~ Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875)


  1. I have always been able to relate to her. Many nights sleeping in the bus station as a child. :) If you look at my dining room you will see what the Little Match Girl saw...I have created my own world here. If you are very quiet and patient, you may see her here. You may brush up against the characters from many a magical story if you were to visit my home...if you were the sensitive sort...which I KNOW you are.

    I read this story to my beautiful child every Christmas.

    Merry Christmas to YOU, my friend!



  2. Apparemtly "Come on baby light my fire," is gaining endless additional meanings...

    but such is the function of poetry.

    “In science one tries to tell people, in such a way as to be understood by everyone, something that no one ever knew before. But in poetry, it’s the exact opposite.” - Franz Kafka

  3. Nietzsche, "Ariadne's Lament"

    Who will warm me, who loves me still?
    Give warm hands!
    Give the heart's brazier!
    Prone, shuddering
    Like one half dead, whose feet are warmed;
    Shaken, alas! by unknown fevers,
    Trembling at pointed arrows of glacial frost,
    Hunted by you, Thought!
    Nameless! Cloaked! Horrid!
    You hunter behind clouds!
    Struck down by your lightning,
    Your scornful eye, glaring at me out of the dark!
    Thus I lie,
    Writhing, twisted, tormented
    By all the eternal afflictions,
    By you, cruelest hunter,
    You unknown—god ...

    Strike deeper!
    Strike one more time!
    Stab, break this heart!
    Why all this affliction
    With blunt-toothed arrows?
    How can you gaze evermore,
    Unweary of human agony,
    With the spiteful lightning eyes of gods?
    You do not wish to kill,
    Only to torment, torment?
    Why torment—me,
    You spiteful unknown god?

    You creep closer
    Around midnight? ...
    What do you want?
    You push me, press upon me,
    Ah, already much too close!
    You hear me breathing,
    You eavesdrop on my heart,
    Most jealous one! —
    What are you jealous of anyway?
    Away! Away!
    What's the ladder for?
    Do you want inside,
    Would you get into my heart,
    And enter
    My most secret thoughts?
    Shameless one! Unknown! Thief!
    What do you wish to steal for yourself?
    What do you wish to hear for yourself?
    What will you gain by torture,
    You torturer!
    Or am I, like a dog,
    To wallow before you?
    Devoted, eager due to my
    Love for you—fawning over you?
    In vain!
    It stabs again!
    Cruelest sting!
    I am not your dog, only your prey,
    Cruelest hunter!
    Your proudest prisoner,
    You robber behind clouds ...
    Speak finally!
    You, cloaked by lightning! Unknown! Speak!
    What do you want, highwayman, from—me?...

    A ransom?
    What do you want for ransom?
    Demand much—so advises my pride!
    And talk little—my pride advises as well!

    Me?—you want me?
    Me—all of me? ...

    And tormenting me, fool that you are,
    You wrack my pride?
    Give me love—who warms me still?
    Who loves me still?
    Give warm hands,
    Give the heart's brazier,
    Give me, the loneliest one,
    Ice, alas! whom ice sevenfold
    Has taught to yearn for enemies,
    Even for my enemies
    Give, yes, surrender to me,
    Cruelest enemy —
    Yourself! ...

    He has fled,
    My only companion,
    My splendid enemy,
    My unknown,
    My executioner-god! ...

    Come back!
    With all your afflictions!
    All my tears gush forth
    To you they stream
    And the last flames of my heart
    Glow for you.
    Oh, come back,
    My unknown god! my pain!
    My ultimate happiness! ....

    A lightening bolt. Dionysus becomes visible in emerald beauty.

  4. Back when I taught 4th grade in a private Christian school, we had this story in one of our supplementary readers. We read the story every year.

    Do readers in public schools today include such stories as this one by Hans Christian Andersen. I doubt it because stories such as this one have a strong basis in religious faith.

    In my view, children in elementary school need to read stories such as this one -- as children did for about a century when the basal readers were McGuffey Readers.

    Would it surprise you to know that I myself used as my basal readers the McGuffey Readers? My mother insisted -- and she was right. I got a foundation in morals AND some fine literature. I well recall memorizing in 5th grade one of the poems in the McGuffey Reader that we were using that year: "The Village Blacksmith."

    Another poem that I memorized from the McGuffey Reader: "Abou Ben Adhem."

    We also memorized from our reader various soliloquies that Shakespeare penned: "To be or not to be," for example.

    I don't recall the "The Little Match Girl" was in any of my McGuffey Reader, but it might have been. In any case, the teacher made sure that we knew the story as we always had a time of day for the teacher to read aloud to us -- all the way through 6th grade.

  5. ... the light extinguishing at the Solstice and restored/reborn at the Equinox..

    The pattern and symmetry continues... ;)

  6. A careless perusal could well interpret that as a paean of hate towards a God seen only as an aloof, scornful, Almighty torturer and murderer. The final stanza redeems the piece from being naught but a beautifully phrased rejection of Divinity -- merely another moaning, whining, outraged Ego condemning all Existence for being imperfect -- for not, as Shaw said so well, "devoting itself to make [the snivelling whiner] happy," as though all that mattered in the Universe was bringing satisfaction to his supreme Ego.

    I just wrote this to you on the previous thread. It applies here equally well, if not better:

    "Redemption may come only to those whose hearts have melted. It could come only to those who love sincerely, unstintingly with no thought of benefit to the Self.

    Redemption has nothing whatsoever to do with changing the world to suit our peculiar notions of right and wrong. Instead, it has everything to do with transforming our vanity, anxiety, captiousness, cupidity, cynicism, and self-righteousness to unreserved empathy for the plight of others.

    Only in completely losing our sense of Self in a creative project, a worthy cause, or simple, wholehearted devotion to Duty might we find out who we really are and thus find Fulfillment.

    The Little Match Girl was not written to condemn the harshness and cruelty found everywhere in this world, but rather to kindle a spark of empathy, which hopefully would ignite the fire in the heart your poet referred to to bring a measure of warmth, comfort, cheer and possible healing to others.

    Reducing profound truths to slogans does seem to trivialize them, but when all is said and done, it truly is better to light just one little candle than to stumble in the dark.

    Just the memory of her grandmother's love was enough to take the horror, the terror, and even the pathos of the poor little child's last hours and transform her hideous experience into the beauty and joy this blessed author describes in his last paragraph.

    Whatever else it might be, this poignant little tale is not a recommendation that society turn itself into a Socialist Worker's Paradise -- as every leftist pervert on the planet would doubtless have us believe.


  7. and, of course, the implication that grandmother and little girl are in God's arms in heaven is a pretty reassuring way of showing God's love!
    Merry Christmas, FT.

  8. Perhaps a "crown of thorns" is more appropriate subject matter for Easter. For the Dionysian "wreath" is perhaps not sufficiently "veiled".

  9. Z has the perfect graphic for what was meant by the Nietzsche poem.

  10. ' ... in the corner, at the cold hour of dawn, sat the poor girl, with rosy cheeks and with a smiling mouth, leaning against the wall--frozen to death on the last evening of the old year. Stiff and stark sat the child there with her matches, of which one bundle had been burnt. "She wanted to warm herself," people said.

    No one had the slightest suspicion of what beautiful things she had seen; no one even dreamed of the splendor in which, with her grandmother she had entered on the joys of a new year.'

    I can never read that last sentence without getting a lump in my throat.

    Take every dear, helpless creature you can find in your arms, and love and care for them as well as you possibly can. That's our only hope.

    ~ FreeThinke



We welcome Conversation
But without Vituperation.
If your aim is Vilification ––
Other forms of Denigration ––
Unfounded Accusation --
Determined Obfuscation ––
Alienation with Self-Justification ––


Gratuitous Displays of Extraneous Knowledge Offered Not To Shed Light Or Enhance the Discussion, But For The Primary Purpose Of Giving An Impression Of Superiority are obnoxiously SELF-AGGRANDIZING, and therefore, Subject to Removal at the Discretion of the Censor-in-Residence.

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.