Last Dream of the Old Oak Tree
By Hans Christian Andersen
In the forest, high up on the steep shore,
hard by the open sea coast, stood a very old
Oak Tree. It was exactly three hundred and
sixty-five years old, but that long time was
not more for the Tree than just as many days
would be to us men. We wake by day and sleep
night, and then we have our dreams : it is
different with the Tree, which keeps awake
through three seasons of the year, and does
not get its sleep till winter comes. Winter
is its time for rest, its night after the
long day which is called spring, summer, and
On many a warm summer day the Ephemera, the
fly that lives but for a day, had danced
around his crown had lived, enjoyed, and
felt happy ; and then the tiny creature had
rested for a moment in quiet bliss on one of
the great fresh Oak leaves ; and then the
Tree always said,
' Poor little thing ! Your whole life is but
a single day ! How very short ! It 's quite
' Melancholy ! Why do you say that ? ' the
Ephemera would then alwa}^ reply. ' It 's
wonderfully bright, warm, and beautiful all
around me, and that makes me rejoice.'
But only one day, and then it 's all done !
' Done ! ' repeated the Ephemera. ' What 's
the meaning of done ? Are you done, too ? '
' No ; I shall perhaps live for thousands of
your days, and my day is whole seasons long
! It 's something so long, that you can't at
all manage to reckon it out.'
' No ? then I don't understand you. You say
you have thousands of my days ; but I have
thousands of moments, in which I can be
merry and happy. Does all the beauty of this
world cease when you die ? '
'No,' replied the Tree ; ' it will certainly
last much longer far longer than I can
' Well, then, we have the same time, only
that we reckon differently.'
And the Ephemera danced and floated in the
air, and rejoiced in her delicate wings of
gauze and velvet, and rejoiced in the balmy
breezes laden with the fragrance of the
meadows and of wild roses and elder flowers,
of the garden hedges, wild thyme, and mint,
and daisies ; the scent of these was all so
strong that the Ephemera was almost
intoxicated. The day was long and beautiful,
full of joy and of sweet feeling, and when
the sun sank low the little fly felt very
agreeably tired of all its happiness and
enjoyment. The delicate wings would not
carry it any
more, and quietly and slowly it glided down
upon the soft grass-blade, nodded its head
as well as it could nod, and went quietly to
sleep and was dead.
Poor little Ephemera ! ' said the Oak. That
was a terribly short life ! '
And on every summer day the same dance was
repeated, the same question and answer, and
the same sleep. The same thing was repeated
through whole generations of Ephemerae, and
all of them felt equally merry and equally
The Oak stood there awake through the spring
morning, the noon of summer, and the evening
of autumn ; and its time of rest, its night,
was coming on apace. Winter was approaching.
Already the storms were singing their ' good
night ! good night ! ' Here fell a leaf, and
there fell a leaf.
' We pull ! See if you can sleep ! We sing
you to sleep, we shake you to sleep, but it
does you good in your old twigs, does it not
? They seem to crack for very joy. Sleep
sweetly ! sleep sweetly ! It 's your three
hundred and sixty-fifth night. Properly
speaking, you're only a year
old yet ! Sleep sweetly ! The clouds strew
down snow, there will be quite a coverlet,
warm and protecting, around your feet. Sweet
sleep to you, and pleasant dreams ! '
And the old Oak Tree stood there, stripped
of all its leaves, to sleep through the long
winter, and to dream many a dream, always
about something that had happened to it,
just as in the dreams of men.
The great Oak Tree had once been small
indeed, an acorn had been its cradle.
According to human computation, it was now
in its fourth century. It was the greatest
and best tree in the forest ; its crown
towered far above all the other trees, and
could be descried from afar across
the sea, so that it served as a landmark to
the sailors : the Tree had no idea how many
eyes were in the habit of seeking it. High
up in its green summit the wood-pigeon built
her nest, and the cuckoo sat in its boughs
and sang his song ; and in autumn, when the
leaves looked like thin plates of copper,
the birds of passage came and rested there,
before they flew away across the sea ; but
now it was winter, and the Tree stood there
leafless, so that every one could see how
gnarled and crooked the branches were that
shot forth from its trunk. Crows and rooks
came and took their seat by turns in the
boughs, and spoke of the hard times which
were beginning, and of the difficulty of
getting a living in winter.
It was just at the holy Christmas-time, when
the Tree dreamed its most glorious dream.
The Tree had a distinct feeling of the
festive time, and fancied he heard the bells
ringing from the churches all around ; and
yet it seemed as if it were a fine summer's
day, mild and warm. Fresh and green he
spread out his mighty crown ; the sunbeams
played among the twigs and the leaves ; the
air was full of the fragrance of herbs and
blossoms ; gay butterflies chased each other
to and fro. The ephemeral insects danced as
if all the world were created merely for
them to dance and be merry in. All that the
Tree had experienced for years and years,
and that had happened around him, seemed to
pass by him again, as in a festive pageant.
He saw the knights of ancient days ride by
with their noble dames on gallant steeds,
with plumes waving in their bonnets and
falcons on their wrists. The hunting horn
sounded, and the dogs barked. He saw hostile
warriors in coloured jerkins and with
shining weapons, with spear and halberd,
pitching their tents and striking them again.
The watchfires flamed up anew, and men sang
and slept under the branches of the Tree. He
saw loving couples meeting near his trunk,
happily, in the moonshine ; and they cut the
initials of their names in the grey-green
bark of his stem. Once but long years had
rolled by since then citherns and Eolian
harps had been hung up on his boughs by
merry wanderers ; now they hung there again,
and once again they sounded in tones of
marvellous sweetness. The wood- pigeons
cooed, as if they were telling what the Tree
felt in all this, and the cuckoo called out
to tell him how many summer days he had yet
Then it appeared to him as if new life were
rippling down into the remotest fibre of his
root, and mounting up into his highest
branches, to the tops of the leaves. The
Tree felt that he was stretching and
spreading himself, and through his root he
felt that there was life and warmth
even in the ground itself. He felt his
strength increase, he grew higher, his stem
shot up unceasingly, and he grew more and
more, his crown became fuller and spread out
; and in proportion as the Tree grew, he
felt his happiness increase, and his joyous
hope that he should reach even higher quite
up to the warm brilliant sun.
Already had he grown high up above the
clouds, which floated past beneath his crown
like dark troops of passagebirds, or like
great white swans. And every leaf of the
Tree had the gift of sight, as if it had
eyes wherewith to see : the stars became
visible in broad daylight, great and
sparkling ; each of them sparkled like a
pair of eyes, mild and clear. They recalled
to his memory well-known gentle eyes, eyes
of children, eyes of lovers, who had met
beneath his boughs.
It was a marvellous spectacle, and one full
of happiness and joy ! And yet amid all this
happiness the Tree felt a longing, a
yearning desire that all other trees of the
wood beneath him, and all the bushes, and
herbs, and flowers, might be able to rise
with him, that they too might see this
splendour and experience this joy. The great
majestic Oak was not quite happy in his
happiness, while he had not them all, great
and little, about him ; and this feeling of
yearning trembled through his every twig,
through his every leaf, warmly and fervently
as through a human heart.
The crown of the Tree waved to and fro, as
if he sought something in his silent longing,
and he looked down. Then he felt the
fragrance of woodruff, and soon afterwards
the more powerful scent of honeysuckle and
violets ; and he fancied he heard the cuckoo
Yes, through the clouds the green summits of
the forest came peering up, and under
himself the Oak saw the other trees, as they
grew and raised themselves aloft. Bushes and
herbs shot up high, and some tore themselves
up bodily by the roots to rise the quicker.
The birch was the quickest of all. Like a
white streak of lightning, its slender stem
shot upwards in a zigzag line, and the
branches spread around it like green gauze
and like banners ; the whole woodland
natives, even to the brown-plumed rushes,
grew up with the rest, and the birds came
too, and sang ;
and on the grass -blade that fluttered aloft
like a long silken ribbon into the air, sat
the grasshopper cleaning his wings with his
leg ; the May beetles hummed, and the bees
murmured, and every bird sang in his
appointed manner ; all was song and sound of
gladness up into the high heaven.
But the little blue flower by the water-side,
where is that ? ' said the Oak ; and the
purple bell-flower and the daisy ? ' for,
you see, the old Oak Tree wanted to have
them all about him.
' We are here ! we are here ! ' was shouted
and sung in reply.
' But the beautiful woodruff of last summer
and in the last year there was certainly a
place here covered with lilies of the valley
! and the wild apple tree that blossomed so
splendidly ! and all the glory of the wood
that came year by year if that had only
lived and remained till now, then it might
have been here now ! '
' We are here ! we are here ! ' replied
voices still higher in the air.
It seemed as if they had flown on before.
' Why, that is beautiful, indescribably
beautiful ! ' exclaimed the old Oak Tree,
rejoicingly. ' I have them all around me,
great and small ; not one has been forgotten
! How can so much happiness be imagined ?
How can it be possible ? '
' In heaven it can be imagined, and it is
possible ! ' the reply sounded through the
And the old Tree, who grew on and on, felt
how his roots were tearing themselves free
from the ground.
' That 's best of all ! ' said the Tree. '
Now no fetters hold me ! I can fly up now,
to the very highest, in glory and in light !
And all my beloved ones are with me, great
and small all of them, all ! '
That was the dream of the old Oak Tree ; and
while he dreamed thus a mighty storm came
rushing over land and sea at the holy
Christmastide. The sea rolled great billows
towards the shore, and there was a cracking
and crashing in the tree his root was torn
out of the ground in the very moment while
he was dreaming that his root freed itself
from the earth. He fell. His three hundred
and sixty -five years were now as the single
day of the Ephemera.
On the morning of the Christmas festival,
when the sun rose, the storm had subsided.
From all the churches sounded the festive
bells, and from every hearth, even from the
smallest hut, arose the smoke in blue clouds,
like the smoke from the altars of the Druids
of old at the feast
of thank-offerings. The sea became gradually
calm, and on board a great ship in the
offing, that had fought successfully with
the tempest, all the flags were displayed,
as a token of joy suitable to the festive
1 The Tree is down the old Oak Tree, our
landmark on the coast ! ' said the sailors.
' It fell in the storm of last night. Who
can replace it ? No one can.'
This was the funeral oration, short but well
meant, that was given to the Tree, which lay
stretched on the snowy covering on the
sea-shore ; and over its prostrate form
sounded the notes of a song from the ship, a
carol of the joys of Christmas, and of the
redemption of the soul of
man by the blood of Christ, and of eternal
Sing, sing aloud, this blessed morn It is
fulfilled and He is born, Oh, joy without
Hallelujah ! Hallelujah !
Thus sounded the old psalm tune, and every
one on board the ship felt lifted up in his
own way, through the song and the prayer,
just as the old Tree had felt lifted up in
its last, its most beauteous, dream in the