The Pen and the Inkstand by Hans Christian Andersen
IN A POET'S room, where his inkstand stood on the table, the remark
was once made: It is wonderful what can be brought out of an inkstand.
What will come next? It is indeed wonderful.
Yes, certainly, said the inkstand to the pen and to the other
articles that stood on the table; that's what I always say. It is
wonderful and extraordinary what a number of things come out of me.
It's quite incredible, and I really never know what is coming next when
that man dips his pen into me. One drop out of me is enough for half a
page of paperand what cannot half a page contain?
From me all the works of the poet are producedall those imaginary
characters whom people fancy they have known or met, and all the deep
feeling, the humor, and the vivid pictures of nature. I myself don't
understand how it is, for I am not acquainted with nature, but it is
certainly in me. From me have gone forth to the world those wonderful
descriptions of charming maidens, and of brave knights on prancing
steeds; of the halt and the blindand I know not what more, for I
assure you I never think of these things.
There you are right, said the pen, for you don't think at all. If
you did, you would see that you can only provide the means. You give
the fluid, that I may place upon the paper what dwells in me and what I
wish to bring to light. It is the pen that writes. No man doubts that;
and indeed most people understand as much about poetry as an old
You have had very little experience, replied the inkstand. You
have hardly been in service a week and are already half worn out. Do
you imagine you are a poet? You are only a servant, and before you came
I had many like you, some of the goose family and others of English
manufacture. I know a quill pen as well as I know a steel one. I have
had both sorts in my service, and I shall have many more as long as
he comesthe man who performs the mechanical partand writes down
what he obtains from me. I should like to know what will be the next
thing he gets out of me.
Inkpot! retorted the pen, contemptuously.
Late in the evening the poet returned home from a concert, where he
had been quite enchanted by the admirable performance of a famous
The player had produced from his instrument a richness of tone that
sometimes sounded like tinkling water drops or rolling pearls,
sometimes like the birds twittering in chorus, and then again, rising
and swelling like the wind through the fir trees. The poet felt as if
his own heart were weeping, but in tones of melody, like the sound of a
woman's voice. These sounds seemed to come not only from the strings
but from every part of the instrument. It was a wonderful performance
and a difficult piece, and yet the bow seemed to glide across the
strings so easily that one would think any one could do it. The violin
and the bow seemed independent of their master who guided them. It was
as if soul and spirit had been breathed into the instrument. And the
audience forgot the performer in the beautiful sounds he produced.
Not so the poet; he remembered him and wrote down his thoughts on
the subject: How foolish it would be for the violin and the bow to
boast of their performance, and yet we men often commit that folly. The
poet, the artist, the man of science in his laboratory, the generalwe
all do it, and yet we are only the instruments which the Almighty uses.
To Him alone the honor is due. We have nothing in ourselves of which we
should be proud. Yes, this is what the poet wrote. He wrote it in the
form of a parable and called it The Master and the Instruments.
That is what you get, madam, said the pen to the inkstand when the
two were alone again. Did you hear him read aloud what I had written
Yes, what I gave you to write, retorted the inkstand. That was a
cut at you, because of your conceit. To think that you could not
understand that you were being quizzed! I gave you a cut from within
me. Surely I must know my own satire.
Ink pitcher! cried the pen.
Writing stick! retorted the inkstand. And each of them felt
satisfied that he had given a good answer. It is pleasing to be
convinced that you have settled a matter by your reply; it is something
to make you sleep well. And they both slept well over it.
But the poet did not sleep. Thoughts rose within him, like the tones
of the violin, falling like pearls or rushing like the strong wind
through the forest. He understood his own heart in these thoughts; they
were as a ray from the mind of the Great Master of all minds.
To Him be all the honor.