Buckwheat by Hans Christian Andersen
IF YOU should chance, after a tempest, to cross a field where
buckwheat is growing, you may observe that it looks black and singed,
as if a flame of fire had passed over it. And should you ask the
reason, a farmer will tell you, The lightning did that.
But how is it that the lightning did it?
I will tell you what the sparrow told me, and the sparrow heard it
from an aged willow which stoodand still stands for that
matterclose to the field of buckwheat.
This willow is tall and venerable, though old and crippled. Its
trunk is split clear through the middle, and grass and blackberry
tendrils creep out through the cleft. The tree bends forward, and its
branches droop like long, green hair.
In the fields around the willow grew rye, wheat, and oatsbeautiful
oats that, when ripe, looked like little yellow canary birds sitting on
a branch. The harvest had been blessed, and the fuller the ears of
grain the lower they bowed their heads in reverent humility.
There was also a field of buckwheat lying just in front of the old
willow. The buckwheat did not bow its head, like the rest of the grain,
but stood erect in stiff-necked pride.
I am quite as rich as the oats, it said; and, moreover, I am much
more sightly. My flowers are as pretty as apple blossoms. It is a treat
to look at me and my companions. Old willow, do you know anything more
beautiful than we?
The willow nodded his head, as much as to say, Indeed I do! But
the buckwheat was so puffed with pride that it only said: The stupid
tree! He is so old that grass is growing out of his body.
Now there came on a dreadful storm, and the flowers of the field
folded their leaves or bent their heads as it passed over them. The
buckwheat flower alone stood erect in all its pride.
Bow your heads, as we do, called the flowers.
There is no need for me to do that, answered the buckwheat.
Bow your head as we do, said the grain. The angel of storms comes
flying hither. He has wings that reach from the clouds to the earth; he
will smite you before you have time to beg for mercy.
But I do not choose to bow down, said the buckwheat.
Close your flowers and fold your leaves, said the old willow. Do
not look at the lightning when the cloud breaks. Even human beings dare
not do that, for in the midst of the lightning one may look straight
into God's heaven. The sight strikes human beings blind, so dazzling is
it. What would not happen to us, mere plants of the field, who are so
much humbler, if we should dare do so?
So much humbler! Indeed! If there is a chance, I shall look right
into God's heaven. And in its pride and haughtiness it did so. The
flashes of lightning were so awful that it seemed as if the whole world
were in flames.
When the tempest was over, both the grain and the flowers, greatly
refreshed by the rain, again stood erect in the pure, quiet air. But
the buckwheat had been burned as black as a cinder by the lightning and
stood in the field like a dead, useless weed.
The old willow waved his branches to and fro in the wind, and large
drops of water fell from his green leaves, as if he were shedding
tears. The sparrows asked: Why are you weeping when all around seems
blest? Do you not smell the sweet perfume of flowers and bushes? The
sun shines, and the clouds have passed from the sky. Why do you weep,
Then the willow told them of the buckwheat's stubborn pride and of
the punishment which followed.
I, who tell this tale, heard it from the sparrows. They told it to
me one evening when I had asked them for a story.