Bird of Popular Song
By Hans Christian Andersen
It is winter-time. The earth wears a snowy
garment, and looks like marble hewn out of
the rock ; the air is bright and clear ; the
wind is sharp as a well-tempered sword, and
the trees stand like branches of white coral
or blooming almond twigs, and here it is
keen as on the lofty Alps.
The night is splendid with the gleam of the
Northern Lights, and with the glitter of
innumerable twinkling stars.
The storms come ; the clouds arise and shake
out their swan's-down ; the snow-flakes fly
; they cover road and house, open fields and
closed-in streets. But we sit in the warm
room, by the hot stove, and talk about the
old times. And we listen to this story :
By the open sea was a grave-mound ; and on
it sat at midnight the spirit of the buried
hero, who had been a king. The golden
circlet gleamed on his brow, his hair
fluttered in the wind, and he was clad in
steel and iron. He bent his head mournfully,
and sighed in deep sorrow, as an unquiet
spirit might sigh.
And a ship came sailing by. The sailors
lowered the anchor, and landed. Among them
was a singer, and he approached the royal
spirit, and said, Why mournest thou, and
wherefore dost thou suffer thus ? '
And the dead man answered, ' No one hath
sung the deeds of my life, ; they are dead
and forgotten : song doth not carry them
forth over the lands, nor into the hearts of
men ; therefore I have no rest and no peace.'
And he spoke of his works, and of his
warlike deeds, which his contemporaries had
known, but which had not been sung, because
there was no singer among his companions.
Then the old bard struck the strings of his
harp, and sang of the youthful courage of
the hero, of the strength of the man, and of
the greatness of his good deeds. Then the
face of the dead gleamed like the margin of
the cloud in the moonlight. Gladly and of
good courage, the form
arose in splendour and in majesty, and
vanished like the glancing of the Northern
Lights. Naught was to be seen but the green
turfy mound, with the stones on which no
Runic record has been graven ; but at the
last sound of the harp there soared over the
hill, as though he had fluttered from the
harp, a little bird, a charming singing-bird,
with the ringing voice of the thrush, with
the moving pathos of the human heart, with a
voice that told of home, like the voice that
is heard by the bird of passage. The
singing-bird soared away, over mountain and
valley, over field and
wood he was the Bird of Popular Song, who
We hear his song we hear it now in the room
on a winter's evening while the ' white bees
' are swarming without, and the storm takes
firm hold. The bird sings not alone the
praise of heroes ; he sings also sweet
gentle songs of love, so many and so warm,
of Northern fidelity and truth. He has
stories in words and in tones ; he has
proverbs and snatches of proverb ; songs
which, like Runes laid under a dead man's
tongue, force him to speak ; and thus
Popular Song tells of the land of his birth.
In the old
heathen days, in the times of the Vikings,
ts nest was in the harp of the bard.
In the days of knightly castles, when the
strong fist held the scales of justice, when
only might was right, and a peasant and a
dog were of equal importance, where did the
Bird of Song find shelter and protection ?
Neither violence nor stupidity gave him a
But in the gabled window of the knightly
castle, the lady of the castle sat with the
parchment roll before her, and wrote down
the old recollections in song and legend,
while near her stood the old woman from the
wood, and the travelling pedlar who went
wandering through the country. As these told
their tales, there fluttered around them,
with twittering and song, the Bird of
Popular Song, who never dies so long as the
earth has a hillock upon which his foot may
And now he looks in upon us and sings.
Without are the night and the snow-storm :
he lays the Runes beneath our tongues, and
we know the land of our home. Heaven speaks
to us in our native tongue, in the voice of
the Bird of Popular Song : the old
remembrances awake, the faded
colours glow with a fresh lustre, and story
and song pour us a blessed draught which
lifts up our minds and our thoughts, so that
the evening becomes as a Christmas festival.
The snow-flakes chase each other, the ice
cracks, the storm rules without, for he has
the might, he is lord but not the LORD OF
It is winter-time. The wind is sharp as a
two-edged sword, the snow-flakes chase each
other : it seemed as though it had been
snowing for days and weeks, and the snow
lies like a great mountain over the whole
town, like a heavy dream of the winter night.
Everything on the earth is
hidden away, only the golden cross of the
church, the symbol of faith, arises over the
snow grave, and gleams in the blue air and
in the bright sunshine.
And over the buried town fly the birds of
heaven, the small and the great ; they
twitter and they sing as best they may, each
bird with his own beak.
First comes the band of sparrows : they pipe
at every trifle in the streets and lanes, in
the nests and the houses ; they have stories
to tell about the front buildings and the
' We know the buried town,' they say ; '
everything living in it is piep ! piep !
piep ! '
The black ravens and crows flew on over the
' Grub, grub ! ' they cried. ' There 's
something to be got down there; something to
swallow, and that's most important. That's
the opinion of most of them down there and
the opinion is goo goo good !
The wild swans come flying on whirring
pinions, and sing of the noble and the great,
that will still sprout in the hearts of men,
down in the town which is resting beneath
its snowy veil.
No death is there life reigns yonder ; we
hear it on the notes that swell onward like
the tones of the church organ, which seize
us like sounds from the elf-hill, like the
songs of Ossian,like the rushing swoop of
the War-maidens' wings. What harmony ! That
harmony speaks to our hearts, and lifts up
our souls ! It is the Bird of Popular Song
whom we hear.
And at this moment the warm breath of heaven
blows down from the sky. There are gaps in
the snowy mountains, the sun shines into the
clefts ; spring is coming, the birds are
returning, and new races are coming with the
same home sounds in their hearts.
Hear the story of the year : ' The might of
the snowstorm, the heavy dream of the winter
night, all shall be dissolved, all shall
rise again in the beauteous notes of the
Bird of Popular Song who never dies! '