Fifteenth Evening

“I sailed over Lüneburg Heath,” the Moon said. “A lonely hut stood there by the roadside. Around it grew a few withered bushes where a nightingale, which had lost its way, was singing. It would surely die during that cold night; it was its swan’s song that I heard.

“Morning dawned, and along came a group of emigrant peasant families who wanted to go to Bremen or Hamburg to take a ship for America, where they hoped to see their dreams of good fortune come true. The youngest children were carried on the backs of the women, while the bigger ones skipped along beside them. A wretched horse was dragging a cart that bore the few household effects they possessed.

“The cold wind blew, causing a little girl to nestle more closely to her mother, who looked up at my round, decreasing orb, and thought of the cruel hardships she had suffered in her home, of the heavy taxes they had not been able to pay. Her thoughts were those of the whole group. Hence the rosy glimmer of the rising dawn seemed to them like a ray of promise, the forerunner of the sun of happiness that would rise again. They heard the song of the dying nightingale, and to them it seemed no false prophet, but the herald of good fortune.

“The wind whistled, but they could not understand its song: ‘Sail over the ocean! You have paid for the long passage with all your possessions. Poor and helpless shall you set foot on the promised land. You may sell yourselves, your wives, and your children. Yet you shall not suffer long, for behind the broad, fragrant leaf sits the angel of death. Her welcome kiss breathes the deadly fever into your blood! Sail on, sail on over the swelling waves!’

“And the group listened happily to the song of the nightingale, for it surely seemed to promise good fortune.

“The day broke through the light clouds. The peasants were crossing the heath on their way to church. In their black gowns, and with the strip of white linen bound closely around their heads, the women looked as if they had stepped out of the old paintings in the church. Around them lay a vast, dead scene – the withered, brown heath, dark, scorched plains between white sand dunes. The women were carrying their prayer books as they made their way to the church. Oh pray! Pray for those who go forth to their graves, beyond the swelling waves!”



Original Danish title: “Femtende Aften” translated by Jean Hersholt.