Soup From A Sausage Skewer by Hans Christian Andersen
WE HAD such an excellent dinner yesterday, said an old lady-mouse
to another who had not been present at the feast. I sat number
twenty-one below the mouse-king, which was not a bad place. Shall I
tell you what we had? Everything was excellentmoldy bread, tallow
candle, and sausage.
Then, when we had finished that course, the same came on all over
again; it was as good as two feasts. We were very sociable, and there
was as much joking and fun as if we had been all of one family circle.
Nothing was left but the sausage skewers, and this formed a subject of
conversation till at last some one used the expression, 'Soup from
sausage sticks'; or, as the people in the neighboring country call it,
'Soup from a sausage skewer.'
Every one had heard the expression, but no one had ever tasted the
soup, much less prepared it. A capital toast was drunk to the inventor
of the soup, and some one said he ought to be made a relieving officer
to the poor. Was not that witty?
Then the old mouse-king rose and promised that the young lady-mouse
who should learn how best to prepare this much-admired and savory soup
should be his queen, and a year and a day should be allowed for the
That was not at all a bad proposal, said the other mouse; but how
is the soup made?
Ah, that is more than I can tell you. All the young lady-mice were
asking the same question. They wish very much to be the queen, but they
do not want to take the trouble to go out into the world to learn how
to make soup, which it is absolutely necessary to do first.
It is not every one who would care to leave her family or her happy
corner by the fireside at home, even to be made queen. It is not always
easy in foreign lands to find bacon and cheese rind every day, and,
after all, it is not pleasant to endure hunger and perhaps be eaten
alive by the cat.
Probably some such thoughts as these discouraged the majority from
going out into the world to collect the required information. Only four
mice gave notice that they were ready to set out on the journey.
They were young and sprightly, but poor. Each of them wished to
visit one of the four divisions of the world, to see which of them
would be most favored by fortune. Each took a sausage skewer as a
traveler's staff and to remind her of the object of her journey.
They left home early in May, and none of them returned till the
first of May in the following year, and then only three of them.
Nothing was seen or heard of the fourth, although the day of decision
was close at hand. Ah, yes, there is always some trouble mingled with
the greatest pleasure, said the mouse-king. But he gave orders that
all the mice within a circle of many miles should be invited at once.
They were to assemble in the kitchen, and the three travelers were
to stand in a row before them, and a sausage skewer covered with crape
was to stand in the place of the missing mouse. No one dared express an
opinion until the king spoke and desired one of them to proceed with
her story. And now we shall hear what she said.
WHAT THE FIRST LITTLE MOUSE SAW AND HEARD ON HER TRAVELS
When I first went out into the world, said the little mouse, I
fancied, as so many of my age do, that I already knew everythingbut
it was not so. It takes years to acquire great knowledge.
I went at once to sea, in a ship bound for the north. I had been
told that the ship's cook must know how to prepare every dish at sea,
and it is easy enough to do that with plenty of sides of bacon, and
large tubs of salt meat and musty flour. There I found plenty of
delicate food but no opportunity to learn how to make soup from a
We sailed on for many days and nights; the ship rocked fearfully,
and we did not escape without a wetting. As soon as we arrived at the
port to which the ship was bound, I left it and went on shore at a
place far towards the north. It is a wonderful thing to leave your own
little corner at home, to hide yourself in a ship where there are sure
to be some nice snug corners for shelter, then suddenly to find
yourself thousands of miles away in a foreign land.
I saw large, pathless forests of pine and birch trees, which smelt
so strong that I sneezed and thought of sausage. There were great lakes
also, which looked as black as ink at a distance but were quite clear
when I came close to them. Large swans were floating upon them, and I
thought at first they were only foam, they lay so still; but when I saw
them walk and fly, I knew directly what they were. They belonged to the
goose species. One could see that by their walk, for no one can
successfully disguise his family descent.
I kept with my own kind and associated with the forest and field
mice, who, however, knew very littleespecially about what I wanted to
know and what had actually made me travel abroad.
The idea that soup could be made from a sausage skewer was so
startling to them that it was repeated from one to another through the
whole forest. They declared that the problem would never be
solvedthat the thing was an impossibility. How little I thought that
in this place, on the very first night, I should be initiated into the
manner of its preparation!
It was the height of summer, which the mice told me was the reason
that the forest smelt so strong, and that the herbs were so fragrant,
and that the lakes with the white, swimming swans were so dark and yet
On the margin of the wood, near several houses, a pole as large as
the mainmast of a ship had been erected, and from the summit hung
wreaths of flowers and fluttering ribbons. It was the Maypole. Lads and
lasses danced round it and tried to outdo the violins of the musicians
with their singing. They were as gay as ever at sunset and in the
moonlight, but I took no part in the merrymaking. What has a little
mouse to do with a Maypole dance? I sat in the soft moss and held my
sausage skewer tight. The moon shone particularly bright on one spot
where stood a tree covered with very fine moss. I may almost venture to
say that it was as fine and soft as the fur of the mouse-king, but it
was green, which is a color very agreeable to the eye.
All at once I saw the most charming little people marching towards
me. They did not reach higher than my knee, although they looked like
human beings but were better proportioned. They called themselves
elves, and wore clothes that were very delicate and fine, for they were
made of the leaves of flowers, trimmed with the wings of flies and
gnats. The effect was by no means bad.
They seemed to be seeking somethingI knew not what, till at last
one of them espied me. They came towards me, and the foremost pointed
to my sausage skewer, saying: 'There, that is just what we want. See,
it is pointed at the top; is it not capital?' The longer he looked at
my pilgrim's staff the more delighted he became.
'I will lend it to you,' said I, 'but not to keep.'
'Oh, no, we won't keep it!' they all cried. Then they seized the
skewer, which I gave up to them, and dancing with it to the tree
covered with delicate moss, set it up in the middle of the green. They
wanted a Maypole, and the one they now had seemed made especially for
them. This they decorated so beautifully that it was quite dazzling to
look at. Little spiders spun golden threads around it, and it was hung
with fluttering veils and flags, as delicately white as snow glittering
in the moonlight. Then they took colors from the butterfly's wing,
sprinkling them over the white drapery until it gleamed as if covered
with flowers and diamonds, and I could no longer recognize my sausage
skewer. Such a Maypole as this has never been seen in all the world.
Then came a great company of real elves. Nothing could be finer
than their clothes. They invited me to be present at the feast, but I
was to keep at a certain distance because I was too large for them.
Then began music that sounded like a thousand glass bells, and was so
full and strong that I thought it must be the song of the swans. I
fancied also that I heard the voices of the cuckoo and the blackbird,
and it seemed at last as if the whole forest sent forth glorious
melodiesthe voices of children, the tinkling of bells, and the songs
of the birds. And all this wonderful melody came from the elfin
Maypole. My sausage peg was a complete peal of bells. I could scarcely
believe that so much could have been produced from it, till I
remembered into what hands it had fallen. I was so much affected that I
wept tears such as a little mouse can weep, but they were tears of joy.
The night was far too short for me; there are no long nights there
in summer, as we often have in this part of the world. When the morning
dawned and the gentle breeze rippled the glassy mirror of the forest
lake, all the delicate veils and flags fluttered away into thin air.
The waving garlands of the spider's web, the hanging bridges and
galleries, or whatever else they may be called, vanished away as if
they had never been. Six elves brought me back my sausage skewer and at
the same time asked me to make any request, which they would grant if
it lay in their power. So I begged them, if they could, to tell me how
to make soup from a sausage skewer.
'How do we make it?' asked the chief of the elves, with a smile.
'Why, you have just seen us. You scarcely knew your sausage skewer
again, I am sure.'
'They think themselves very wise,' thought I to myself. Then I told
them all about it, and why I had traveled so far, and also what promise
had been made at home to the one who should discover the method of
preparing this soup.
'What good will it do the mouse-king or our whole mighty kingdom,'
I asked, 'for me to have seen all these beautiful things? I cannot
shake the sausage peg and say, Look, here is the skewer, and now the
soup will come. That would only produce a dish to be served when
people were keeping a fast.'
Then the elf dipped his finger into the cup of a violet and said,
'Look, I will anoint your pilgrim's staff, so that when you return to
your home and enter the king's castle, you have only to touch the king
with your staff and violets will spring forth, even in the coldest
winter time. I think I have given you something worth carrying home,
and a little more than something.'
Before the little mouse explained what this something more was, she
stretched her staff toward the king, and as it touched him the most
beautiful bunch of violets sprang forth and filled the place with their
perfume. The smell was so powerful that the mouse-king ordered the mice
who stood nearest the chimney to thrust their tails into the fire that
there might be a smell of burning, for the perfume of the violets was
overpowering and not the sort of scent that every one liked.
But what was the something more, of which you spoke just now?
asked the mouse-king.
Why, answered the little mouse, I think it is what they call
'effect.' Thereupon she turned the staff round, and behold, not a
single flower was to be seen on it! She now held only the naked skewer,
and lifted it up as a conductor lifts his baton at a concert.
Violets, the elf told me, continued the mouse, are for the sight,
the smell, and the touch; so we have only to produce the effect of
hearing and tasting. Then, as the little mouse beat time with her
staff, there came sounds of music; not such music as was heard in the
forest, at the elfin feast, but such as is often heard in the
kitchenthe sounds of boiling and roasting. It came quite suddenly,
like wind rushing through the chimneys, and it seemed as if every pot
and kettle were boiling over.
The fire shovel clattered down on the brass fender, and then, quite
as suddenly, all was still,nothing could be heard but the light,
vapory song of the teakettle, which was quite wonderful to hear, for no
one could rightly distinguish whether the kettle was just beginning to
boil or just going to stop. And the little pot steamed, and the great
pot simmered, but without any regard for each other; indeed, there
seemed no sense in the pots at all. As the little mouse waved her baton
still more wildly, the pots foamed and threw up bubbles and boiled
over, while again the wind roared and whistled through the chimney, and
at last there was such a terrible hubbub that the little mouse let her
That is a strange sort of soup, said the mouse-king. Shall we not
now hear about the preparation?
That is all, answered the little mouse, with a bow.
That all! said the mouse-king; then we shall be glad to hear what
information the next may have to give us.
WHAT THE SECOND MOUSE HAD TO TELL
I was born in the library, at a castle, said the second mouse.
Very few members of our family ever had the good fortune to get into
the dining room, much less into the storeroom. To-day and while on my
journey are the only times I have ever seen a kitchen. We were often
obliged to suffer hunger in the library, but we gained a great deal of
knowledge. The rumor reached us of the royal prize offered to those who
should be able to make soup from a sausage skewer.
Then my old grandmother sought out a manuscript,which she herself
could not read, to be sure, but she had heard it read,and in it were
written these words, 'Those who are poets can make soup of sausage
skewers.' She asked me if I was a poet. I told her I felt myself quite
innocent of any such pretensions. Then she said I must go out and make
myself a poet. I asked again what I should be required to do, for it
seemed to me quite as difficult as to find out how to make soup of a
sausage skewer. My grandmother had heard a great deal of reading in her
day, and she told me that three principal qualifications were
necessaryunderstanding, imagination, and feeling. 'If you can manage
to acquire these three, you will be a poet, and the sausage-skewer soup
will seem quite simple to you.'
So I went forth into the world and turned my steps toward the west,
that I might become a poet. Understanding is the most important matter
of all. I was sure of that, for the other two qualifications are not
thought much of; so I went first to seek understanding. Where was I to
'Go to the ant and learn wisdom,' said the great Jewish king. I
learned this from living in a library. So I went straight on till I
came to the first great ant hill. There I set myself to watch, that I
might become wise. The ants are a very respectable people; they are
wisdom itself. All they do is like the working of a sum in arithmetic,
which comes right. 'To work, and to lay eggs,' say they, 'and to
provide for posterity, is to live out your time properly.' This they
truly do. They are divided into clean and dirty ants, and their rank is
indicated by a number. The ant-queen is number ONE. Her opinion is the
only correct one on everything, and she seems to have in her the wisdom
of the whole world. This was just what I wished to acquire. She said a
great deal that was no doubt very cleveryet it sounded like nonsense
to me. She said the ant hill was the loftiest thing in the world,
although close to the mound stood a tall tree which no one could deny
was loftier, much loftier. Yet she made no mention of the tree.
One evening an ant lost herself on this tree. She had crept up the
stem, not nearly to the top but higher than any ant had ever ventured,
and when at last she returned home she said that she had found
something in her travels much higher than the ant hill. The rest of the
ants considered this an insult to the whole community, and condemned
her to wear a muzzle and live in perpetual solitude.
A short time afterwards another ant got on the tree and made the
same journey and the same discovery. But she spoke of it cautiously and
indefinitely, and as she was one of the superior ants and very much
respected, they believed her. And when she died they erected an
egg-shell as a monument to her memory, for they cultivated a great
respect for science.
I saw, said the little mouse, that the ants were always running
to and fro with their burdens on their backs. Once I saw one of them,
who had dropped her load, try very hard to raise it again, but she did
not succeed. Two others came up and tried with all their strength to
help her, till they nearly dropped their own burdens. Then they were
obliged to stop a moment, for every one must think of himself first.
The ant-queen remarked that their conduct that day showed that they
possessed kind hearts and good understanding. 'These two qualities,'
she continued, 'place us ants in the highest degree above all other
reasonable beings. Understanding must therefore stand out prominently
among us, and my wisdom is greatest.' So saying, she raised herself on
her two hind legs, that no one else might be mistaken for her. I could
not, therefore, have made a mistake, so I ate her up. We are to go to
the ants to learn wisdom, and I had secured the queen.
I now turned and went nearer to the lofty tree already mentioned,
which was an oak. It had a tall trunk, with a wide-spreading top, and
was very old. I knew that a living being dwelt here, a dryad, as she is
called, who is born with the tree and dies with it. I had heard this in
the library, and here was just such a tree and in it an oak maiden. She
uttered a terrible scream when she caught sight of me so near to her.
Like women, she was very much afraid of mice, and she had more real
cause for fear than they have, for I might have gnawed through the tree
on which her life depended.
I spoke to her in a friendly manner and begged her to take courage.
At last she took me up in her delicate hand, and I told her what had
brought me out into the world. She told me that perhaps on that very
evening she would be able to obtain for me one of the two treasures for
which I was seeking. She told me that Phantæsus, the genius of the
imagination, was her very dear friend; that he was as beautiful as the
god of love; that he rested many an hour with her under the leafy
boughs of the tree, which then rustled and waved more than ever. He
called her his dryad, she said, and the tree his tree, for the grand
old oak with its gnarled trunk was just to his taste. The root, which
spread deep into the earth, and the top, which rose high in the fresh
air, knew the value of the drifting snow, the keen wind, and the warm
sunshine, as it ought to be known. 'Yes,' continued the dryad, 'the
birds sing up above in the branches and talk to each other about the
beautiful fields they have visited in foreign lands. On one of the
withered boughs a stork has built his nestit is beautifully arranged,
and, besides, it is pleasant to hear a little about the land of the
pyramids. All this pleases Phantæsus, but it is not enough for him. I
am obliged to relate to him of my life in the woods and to go back to
my childhood, when I was little and the tree so small and delicate that
a stinging nettle could overshadow it, and I have to tell everything
that has happened since then until now, when the tree is so large and
strong. Sit you down now under the green bindwood and pay attention.
When Phantæsus comes I will find an opportunity to lay hold of his wing
and to pull out one of the little feathers. That feather you shall
have. A better was never given to any poet, and it will be quite enough
And when Phantæsus came the feather was plucked, said the little
mouse, and I seized and put it in water and kept it there till it was
quite soft. It was very heavy and indigestible, but I managed to nibble
it up at last. It is not so easy to nibble oneself into a poet, there
are so many things to get through. Now, however, I had two of them,
understanding and imagination, and through these I knew that the third
was to be found in the library.
A great man has said and written that there are novels whose sole
and only use appears to be to attempt to relieve mankind of overflowing
tearsa kind of sponge, in fact, for sucking up feelings and emotions.
I remembered a few of these books. They had always appeared tempting to
the appetite, for they had been much read and were so greasy that they
must have absorbed no end of emotions in themselves.
I retraced my steps to the library and literally devoured a whole
novelthat is, properly speaking, the interior, or soft part of it.
The crust, or binding, I left. When I had digested not only this, but a
second, I felt a stirring within me. I then ate a small piece of a
third romance and felt myself a poet. I said it to myself and told
others the same. I had headache and backache and I cannot tell what
aches besides. I thought over all the stories that may be said to be
connected with sausage pegs; and all that has ever been written about
skewers, and sticks, and staves, and splinters came to my thoughtsthe
ant-queen must have had a wonderfully clear understanding. I remembered
the man who placed in his mouth a white stick, by which he could make
himself and the stick invisible. I thought of sticks as hobbyhorses,
staves of music or rime, of breaking a stick over a man's back, and of
Heaven knows how many more phrases of the same sort, relating to
sticks, staves, and skewers. All my thoughts ran on skewers, sticks of
wood, and staves. As I am at last a poet and have worked terribly hard
to make myself one, I can of course make poetry on anything. I shall
therefore be able to wait upon you every day in the week with a
poetical history of a skewer. And that is my soup.
In that case, said the mouse-king, we will hear what the third
mouse has to say.
Squeak, squeak, cried a little mouse at the kitchen door. It was
the fourth, and not the third, of the four who were contending for the
prize, the one whom the rest supposed to be dead. She shot in like an
arrow and overturned the sausage peg that had been covered with crape.
She had been running day and night, for although she had traveled in a
baggage train, by railway, yet she had arrived almost too late. She
pressed forward, looking very much ruffled.
She had lost her sausage skewer but not her voice, and she began to
speak at once, as if they waited only for her and would hear her
onlyas if nothing else in the world were of the least consequence.
She spoke out so clearly and plainly, and she had come in so suddenly,
that no one had time to stop her or to say a word while she was
speaking. This is what she said.
WHAT THE FOURTH MOUSE, WHO SPOKE BEFORE THE THIRD, HAD TO TELL
I started off at once to the largest town, said she, but the name
of it has escaped me. I have a very bad memory for names. I was carried
from the railway, with some goods on which duties had not been paid, to
the jail, and on arriving I made my escape, running into the house of
the keeper. He was speaking of his prisoners, especially of one who had
uttered thoughtless words. These words had given rise to other words,
and at length they were written down and registered. 'The whole affair
is like making soup of sausage skewers,' said he, 'but the soup may
cost him his neck.'
Now this raised in me an interest for the prisoner, continued the
little mouse, and I watched my opportunity and slipped into his
apartment, for there is a mousehole to be found behind every closed
The prisoner, who had a great beard and large, sparkling eyes,
looked pale. There was a lamp burning, but the walls were so black that
they only looked the blacker for it. The prisoner scratched pictures
and verses with white chalk on the black walls, but I did not read the
verses. I think he found his confinement wearisome, so that I was a
welcome guest. He enticed me with bread crumbs, with whistling, and
with gentle words, and seemed so friendly towards me that by degrees I
gained confidence in him and we became friends. He divided his bread
and water with me and gave me cheese and sausage, and I began to love
him. Altogether, I must own that it was a very pleasant intimacy. He
let me run about on his hand, on his arm, into his sleeve, and even
into his beard. He called me his little friend, and I forgot for what I
had come out into the world; forgot my sausage skewer, which I had laid
in a crack in the floor, where it is still lying. I wished to stay with
him always, for I knew that if I went away, the poor prisoner would
have no one to be his friend, which is a sad thing.
I stayed, but he did not. He spoke to me so mournfully for the last
time, gave me double as much bread and cheese as usual, and kissed his
hand to me. Then he went away and never came back. I know nothing more
of his history.
The jailer took possession of me now. He said something about soup
from a sausage skewer, but I could not trust him. He took me in his
hand, certainly, but it was to place me in a cage like a treadmill. Oh,
how dreadful it was! I had to run round and round without getting any
farther, and only to make everybody laugh.
The jailer's granddaughter was a charming little thing. She had
merry eyes, curly hair like the brightest gold, and such a smiling
'You poor little mouse,' said she one day, as she peeped into my
cage, 'I will set you free.' She then drew forth the iron fastening,
and I sprang out on the window-sill, and from thence to the roof. Free!
free! that was all I could think of, and not of the object of my
It grew dark, and as night was coming on I found a lodging in an
old tower, where dwelt a watchman and an owl. I had no confidence in
either of them, least of all in the owl, which is like a cat and has a
great failing, for she eats mice. One may, however, be mistaken
sometimes, and I was now, for this was a respectable and well-educated
old owl, who knew more than the watchman and even as much as I did
myself. The young owls made a great fuss about everything, but the only
rough words she would say to them were, 'You had better go and try to
make some soup from sausage skewers.' She was very indulgent and loving
to her own children. Her conduct gave me such confidence in her that
from the crack where I sat I called out 'Squeak.'
This confidence pleased her so much that she assured me she would
take me under her own protection and that not a creature should do me
harm. The fact was, she wickedly meant to keep me in reserve for her
own eating in the winter, when food would be scarce. Yet she was a very
clever lady-owl. She explained to me that the watchman could only hoot
with the horn that hung loose at his side and that he was so terribly
proud of it that he imagined himself an owl in the tower, wanted to do
great things, but only succeeded in smallsoup from a sausage skewer.
Then I begged the owl to give me the recipe for this soup. 'Soup
from a sausage skewer,' said she, 'is only a proverb amongst mankind
and may be understood in many ways. Each believes his own way the best,
and, after all, the proverb signifies nothing.' 'Nothing!' I exclaimed.
I was quite struck. Truth is not always agreeable, but truth is above
everything else, as the old owl said. I thought over all this and saw
quite plainly that if truth was really so far above everything else, it
must be much more valuable than soup from a sausage skewer. So I
hastened to get away, that I might be in time and bring what was
highest and best and above everythingnamely, the truth.
The mice are enlightened people, and the mouse-king is above them
all. He is therefore capable of making me queen for the sake of truth.
Your truth is a falsehood, said the mouse who had not yet spoken.
I can prepare the soup, and I mean to do so.
HOW IT WAS PREPARED
I did not travel, said the third mouse, I stayed in this country;
that was the right way. One gains nothing by traveling. Everything can
be acquired here quite as easily, so I stayed at home. I have not
obtained what I know from supernatural beings; I have neither swallowed
it nor learned it from conversing with owls. I have gained it all from
my own reflections and thoughts. Will you now set the kettle on the
fireso? Now pour the water in, quite full up to the brim; place it on
the fire; make up a good blaze; keep it burning, that the water may
boil, for it must boil over and over. There, now I throw in the skewer.
Will the mouse-king be pleased now to dip his tail into the boiling
water and stir it round with the tail? The longer the king stirs it the
stronger the soup will become. Nothing more is necessary, only to stir
Can no one else do this? asked the king.
No, said the mouse; only in the tail of the mouse-king is this
And the water boiled and bubbled, as the mouse-king stood close
beside the kettle. It seemed rather a dangerous performance, but he
turned round and put out his tail, as mice do in a dairy when they wish
to skim the cream from a pan of milk with their tails and afterwards
lick it off. But the mouse-king's tail had only just touched the hot
steam when he sprang away from the chimney in a great hurry,
Oh, certainly, by all means, you must be my queen. We will let the
soup question rest till our golden wedding, fifty years hence, so that
the poor in my kingdom who are then to have plenty of food will have
something to look forward to for a long time, with great joy.
And very soon the wedding took place. Many of the mice, however, as
they were returning home, said that the soup could not be properly
called soup from a sausage skewer, but soup from a mouse's tail.
They acknowledged that some of the stories were very well told, but
thought that the whole might have been managed differently.