The last dream of the old oak


Det gamle egetræs sidste drøm

In the forest, high up on the steep shore, and not far from the open seacoast, stood a very old oak-tree. It was just three hundred and sixty-five years old, but that long time was to the tree as the same number of days might be to us; we wake by day and sleep by night, and then we have our dreams. It is different with the tree; it is obliged to keep awake through three seasons of the year, and does not get any sleep till winter comes. Winter is its time for rest; its night after the long day of spring, summer, and autumn. On many a warm summer, the Ephemera, the flies that exist for only a day, had fluttered about the old oak, enjoyed life and felt happy and if, for a moment, one of the tiny creatures rested on one of his large fresh leaves, the tree would always say, "Poor little creature! your whole life consists only of a single day. How very short. It must be quite melancholy."

"Melancholy! what do you mean?" the little creature would always reply. "Everything around me is so wonderfully bright and warm, and beautiful, that it makes me joyous."

"But only for one day, and then it is all over."

"Over!" repeated the fly; "what is the meaning of all over? Are you all over too?"

"No; I shall very likely live for thousands of your days, and my day is whole seasons long; indeed it is so long that you could never reckon it out."

"No? then I don't understand you. You may have thousands of my days, but I have thousands of moments in which I can be merry and happy. Does all the beauty of the world cease when you die?"

"No," replied the tree; "it will certainly last much longer,– infinitely longer than I can even think of." - "Well, then," said the little fly, "we have the same time to live; only we reckon differently." And the little creature danced and floated in the air, rejoicing in her delicate wings of gauze and velvet, rejoicing in the balmy breezes, laden with the fragrance of clover-fields and wild roses, elder-blossoms and honeysuckle, from the garden hedges, wild thyme, primroses, and mint, and the scent of all these was so strong that the perfume almost intoxicated the little fly. The long and beautiful day had been so full of joy and sweet delights, that when the sun sank low it felt tired of all its happiness and enjoyment. Its wings could sustain it no longer, and gently and slowly it glided down upon the soft waving blades of grass, nodded its little head as well as it could nod, and slept peacefully and sweetly. The fly was dead.

"Poor little Ephemera!" said the oak; "what a terribly short life!" And so, on every summer day the dance was repeated, the same questions asked, and the same answers given. The same thing was continued through many generations of Ephemera; all of them felt equally merry and equally happy.

The oak remained awake through the morning of spring, the noon of summer, and the evening of autumn; its time of rest, its night drew nigh– winter was coming. Already the storms were singing, "Good-night, good-night." Here fell a leaf and there fell a leaf. "We will rock you and lull you. Go to sleep, go to sleep. We will sing you to sleep, and shake you to sleep, and it will do your old twigs good; they will even crackle with pleasure. Sleep sweetly, sleep sweetly, it is your three-hundred-and-sixty-fifth night. Correctly speaking, you are but a youngster in the world. Sleep sweetly, the clouds will drop snow upon you, which will be quite a cover-lid, warm and sheltering to your feet. Sweet sleep to you, and pleasant dreams." And there stood the oak, stripped of all its leaves, left to rest during the whole of a long winter, and to dream many dreams of events that had happened in its life, as in the dreams of men. The great tree had once been small; indeed, in its cradle it had been an acorn. According to human computation, it was now in the fourth century of its existence. It was the largest and best tree in the forest. Its summit towered above all the other trees, and could be seen far out at sea, so that it served as a landmark to the sailors. It had no idea how many eyes looked eagerly for it. In its topmost branches the wood-pigeon built her nest, and the cuckoo carried out his usual vocal performances, and his well-known notes echoed amid the boughs; and in autumn, when the leaves looked like beaten copper plates, the birds of passage would come and rest upon the branches before taking their flight across the sea. But now it was winter, the tree stood leafless, so that every one could see how crooked and bent were the branches that sprang forth from the trunk. Crows and rooks came by turns and sat on them, and talked of the hard times which were beginning, and how difficult it was in winter to obtain food.

It was just about holy Christmas time that the tree dreamed a dream. The tree had, doubtless, a kind of feeling that the festive time had arrived, and in his dream fancied he heard the bells ringing from all the churches round, and yet it seemed to him to be a beautiful summer's day, mild and warm. His mighty summits was crowned with spreading fresh green foliage; the sunbeams played among the leaves and branches, and the air was full of fragrance from herb and blossom; painted butterflies chased each other; the summer flies danced around him, as if the world had been created merely for them to dance and be merry in. All that had happened to the tree during every year of his life seemed to pass before him, as in a festive procession. He saw the knights of olden times and noble ladies ride by through the wood on their gallant steeds, with plumes waving in their hats, and falcons on their wrists. The hunting horn sounded, and the dogs barked. He saw hostile warriors, in colored dresses and glittering armor, with spear and halberd, pitching their tents, and anon striking them. The watchfires again blazed, and men sang and slept under the hospitable shelter of the tree. He saw lovers meet in quiet happiness near him in the moonshine, and carve the initials of their names in the grayish-green bark on his trunk. Once, but long years had intervened since then, guitars and Eolian harps had been hung on his boughs by merry travellers; now they seemed to hang there again, and he could hear their marvellous tones. The wood-pigeons cooed as if to explain the feelings of the tree, and the cuckoo called out to tell him how many summer days he had yet to live. Then it seemed as if new life was thrilling through every fibre of root and stem and leaf, rising even to the highest branches. The tree felt itself stretching and spreading out, while through the root beneath the earth ran the warm vigor of life. As he grew higher and still higher, with increased strength, his topmost boughs became broader and fuller; and in proportion to his growth, so was his self-satisfaction increased, and with it arose a joyous longing to grow higher and higher, to reach even to the warm, bright sun itself. Already had his topmost branches pierced the clouds, which floated beneath them like troops of birds of passage, or large white swans; every leaf seemed gifted with sight, as if it possessed eyes to see. The stars became visible in broad daylight, large and sparkling, like clear and gentle eyes. They recalled to the memory the well-known look in the eyes of a child, or in the eyes of lovers who had once met beneath the branches of the old oak. These were wonderful and happy moments for the old tree, full of peace and joy; and yet, amidst all this happiness, the tree felt a yearning, longing desire that all the other trees, bushes, herbs, and flowers beneath him, might be able also to rise higher, as he had done, and to see all this splendor, and experience the same happiness. The grand, majestic oak could not be quite happy in the midst of his enjoyment, while all the rest, both great and small, were not with him. And this feeling of yearning trembled through every branch, through every leaf, as warmly and fervently as if they had been the fibres of a human heart. The summit of the tree waved to and fro, and bent downwards as if in his silent longing he sought for something. Then there came to him the fragrance of thyme, followed by the more powerful scent of honeysuckle and violets; and he fancied he heard the note of the cuckoo. At length his longing was satisfied. Up through the clouds came the green summits of the forest trees, and beneath him, the oak saw them rising, and growing higher and higher. Bush and herb shot upward, and some even tore themselves up by the roots to rise more quickly. The birch-tree was the quickest of all. Like a lightning flash the slender stem shot upwards in a zigzag line, the branches spreading around it like green gauze and banners. Every native of the wood, even to the brown and feathery rushes, grew with the rest, while the birds ascended with the melody of song. On a blade of grass, that fluttered in the air like a long, green ribbon, sat a grasshopper, cleaning his wings with his legs. May beetles hummed, the bees murmured, the birds sang, each in his own way; the air was filled with the sounds of song and gladness.

"But where is the little blue flower that grows by the water?" asked the oak, "and the purple bell-flower, and the daisy?" You see the oak wanted to have them all with him.

"Here we are, we are here," sounded in voice and song.

"But the beautiful thyme of last summer, where is that? and the lilies-of-the-valley, which last year covered the earth with their bloom? and the wild apple-tree with its lovely blossoms, and all the glory of the wood, which has flourished year after year? even what may have but now sprouted forth could be with us here."

"We are here, we are here," sounded voices higher in the air, as if they had flown there beforehand.

"Why this is beautiful, too beautiful to be believed," said the oak in a joyful tone. "I have them all here, both great and small; not one has been forgotten. Can such happiness be imagined?" It seemed almost impossible.

"In heaven with the Eternal God, it can be imagined, and it is possible," sounded the reply through the air.

And the old tree, as it still grew upwards and onwards, felt that his roots were loosening themselves from the earth.

"It is right so, it is best," said the tree, "no fetters hold me now. I can fly up to the very highest point in light and glory. And all I love are with me, both small and great. All– all are here."

Such was the dream of the old oak: and while he dreamed, a mighty storm came rushing over land and sea, at the holy Christmas time. The sea rolled in great billows towards the shore. There was a cracking and crushing heard in the tree. The root was torn from the ground just at the moment when in his dream he fancied it was being loosened from the earth. He fell– his three hundred and sixty-five years were passed as the single day of the Ephemera. On the morning of Christmas-day, when the sun rose, the storm had ceased. From all the churches sounded the festive bells, and from every hearth, even of the smallest hut, rose the smoke into the blue sky, like the smoke from the festive thank-offerings on the Druids' altars. The sea gradually became calm, and on board a great ship that had withstood the tempest during the night, all the flags were displayed, as a token of joy and festivity. "The tree is down! The old oak,– our landmark on the coast!" exclaimed the sailors. "It must have fallen in the storm of last night. Who can replace it? Alas! no one." This was a funeral oration over the old tree; short, but well-meant. There it lay stretched on the snow-covered shore, and over it sounded the notes of a song from the ship– a song of Christmas joy, and of the redemption of the soul of man, and of eternal life through Christ's atoning blood.

"Sing aloud on the happy morn,
All is fulfilled, for Christ is born;
With songs of joy let us loudly sing,
'Hallelujahs to Christ our King.'"

Thus sounded the old Christmas carol, and every one on board the ship felt his thoughts elevated, through the song and the prayer, even as the old tree had felt lifted up in its last, its beautiful dream on that Christmas morn.
Der stod i skoven, højt på skrænten, ved den åbne strand, sådan et rigtig gammelt egetræ, det var netop tre hundrede og femogtresindstyve år, men den lange tid var for træet ikke mere end lige så mange døgn for os mennesker; vi våger om dagen, sover om natten, og har da vore drømme; med træet er det anderledes, træet er vågent i de tre årstider, først mod vinteren har det sin søvn, vinteren er dets sovetid, den er dets nat efter den lange dag, som kaldes forår, sommer og høst.

Mangen varm sommerdag havde døgnfluen danset rundt om dets krone, levet, svævet og følt sig lykkelig, og hvilede da, et øjeblik i stille lyksalighed, den lille skabning på et af de store friske egeblade, så sagde træet altid: "Lille stakkel! kun en eneste dag er hele dit liv! hvor kort dog! det er så sørgeligt!"

"Sørgeligt!" svarede da altid døgnfluen, "hvad mener du dermed? Alt er jo så mageløst lyst, så varmt og dejligt, og jeg er så glad!"

"Men kun én dag, og så er alt forbi!"

"Forbi!" sagde døgnfluen. "Hvad er forbi! er også du forbi?"

"Nej, jeg lever måske tusinder af dine dage, og min dag er hele årstider! Det er noget så langt, du slet ikke kan udregne det!"

"Nej, for jeg forstår dig ikke! Du har tusinder af mine dage, men jeg har tusinder af øjeblikke til at være glad og lykkelig i! Holder al denne verdens dejlighed op, når du dør?"

"Nej," sagde træet, "den bliver vist ved længere, uendeligt længere, end jeg kan tænke det!"

"Men så har vi jo lige meget, kun at vi regner forskelligt!"

Og døgnfluen dansede og svang sig i luften, glædede sig ved sine fine, kostlige vinger, deres flor og fløjl, glædede sig i den varme luft, der var så krydret med duft fra kløvermarken og fra gærdets vilde roser, hyld og kaprifolier, ikke at tale om skovmærker, kodriver og vilde krusemynter; der var en duft så stærk, at døgnfluen troede at have en lille rus af den. Dagen var lang og dejlig, fuld af glæde og sød fornemmelse, og når så solen sank, følte altid den lille flue sig så behagelig træt af al den lystighed. Vingen ville ikke længere bære den og ganske sagte gled den ned på det bløde, gyngende græsstrå, nikkede med hovedet, som den kan nikke, og sov ind så gladelig, det var døden.

"Stakkels lille døgnflue!" sagde egetræet, "det var dog alt for kort et liv!"

Og hver sommerdag gentog sig samme dans, samme tale, svar og hensoven; det gentog sig i hele slægter af døgnfluer, og alle var de lige lykkelige, lige glade. Egetræet stod vågen sin forårsmorgen, sommermiddag og efterårsaften, nu var det snart mod sovetid, dets nat, vinteren ville komme.

Allerede sang stormene: "God nat, god nat! der faldt et blad, der faldt et blad! vi plukker, vi plukker! se til at du kan sove! vi synger dig i søvn, vi rusker dig i søvn, men ikke sandt, det gør godt i de gamle grene! de knager derved af bare fornøjelse! sov sødt, sov sødt! det er din tre hundrede og femogtresindstyvende nat, egentligt er du kun en årsunge! sov sødt! skyen drysser sne, det bliver et helt lagen, et lunt sengetæppe om dine fødder! sov sødt og drøm behageligt!"

Og egetræet stod afklædt alt sin løv for at gå til ro hele den lange vinter og i den at drømme mangen drøm, altid noget oplevet, ligesom i menneskenes drømme.

Det havde også engang været lille, ja, et agern havde været dets vugge; efter menneskeregning levede det nu i et fjerde århundrede; det var det største og ypperste træ i skoven, med sin krone ragede det højt over alle de andre træer og blev set langt ude fra søen, var skibsmærke; det tænkte slet ikke på, hvor mange øjne, der søgte det. Højt oppe i dets grønne krone byggede skovduerne, og gøgen kukkede der, og i efteråret, når bladene så ud som hamrede kobberplader, kom trækfuglene og hvilede der, før de fløj hen over søen; men nu var det vinter, træet stod bladløs, man kunne ret se, hvor bugtede og krogede grenene strakte sig; krager og alliker kom og satte sig skiftevis der og talte om de strenge tider, som begyndte, og hvor svært det var at få føden om vinteren.

Det var just den hellige juletid, da drømte træet sin dejligste drøm; den skal vi høre.

Træet havde tydeligt en fornemmelse af at det var en festlig tid, det syntes at høre rundt om alle kirkeklokker ringe, og dertil var det som på en dejlig sommerdag, mildt og varmt; det bredte ud så frisk og grøn sin mægtige krone, solstrålerne spillede mellem blade og grene, luften var fyldt med duft af urter og buske; brogede sommerfugle legede "tagfat" og døgnfluerne dansede, som var alt kun til for at de skulle danse og fornøje sig. Alt, hvad træet igennem åringer havde oplevet og set omkring sig, drog forbi, som i et helt festoptog. Det så fra gammel tid riddere og fruer til hest, med fjer i hatten og med falk på hånd, ride gennem skoven; jagthornet lød og hundene halsede; det så fjendtlige soldater i blanke våben og brogede klæder, med spyd og hellebarder, slå telt op og atter tage det ned; vagtilden blussede og der blev sunget og sovet under træets udstrakte grene; det så kærestefolk i stille lykke mødes her i måneskin og skære deres navne, det første bogstav, ind i den grågrønne bark. Citer og æolsharpe var engang, ja der lå åringer imellem, hængte op i egens grene af rejsende, muntre svende, nu hang de der igen, nu klang de der igen så yndeligt. Skovduerne kurrede, som ville de fortælle, hvad træet følte derved, og gøgen kukkede, hvor mangen sommerdag det skulle leve.

Da var det, som om en ny livsstrømning rislede det lige ned i de mindste rødder og op i de højestragende grene, lige ud i bladene; træet følte at det strakte sig derved, ja det fornam med rødderne, hvorledes der også nede i jorden var liv og varme; det fornam sin styrke tage til, det voksede højere og højere; stammen skød op, der var ingen stilleståen, den voksede mere og altid mere, kronen blev fyldigere, bredte sig, løftede sig, – og alt som træet voksede, voksede også dets velværen, dets lyksaliggørende længsel efter altid at nå højere, lige op til den lysende, varme sol.

Allerede var det vokset højt op over skyerne, der som mørke trækfugleskarer, eller store hvide svaneflokke drog hen under det.

Og hvert af træets blade kunne se, som havde det øjne at se med; stjernerne blev synlige ved dagen, så store og blanke; hver af dem blinkede som et par øjne, så milde, så klare; de mindede om kendte, kærlige øjne, barneøjne, kærestefolksøjne, når de mødtes under træet.

Det var et livsaligt øjeblik, så frydefuldt! og dog, i al den fryd, fornam det en længsel og lyst efter, at alle de andre skovens træer dernede, alle buske, urter og blomster måtte kunne løfte sig med, føle og fornemme denne glans og glæde. Det mægtige egetræ i al sin herligheds drøm, var ikke fuldt lykkeligt, uden at have dem med alle, små og store, og denne følelse bævede igennem grene og blade, så inderligt, så stærkt som i et menneskes bryst.

Træets krone bevægede sig som om det søgte og savnede, det så tilbage, og da fornam det duft af skovmærker og snart endnu stærkere duft af kaprifolier og violer, det troede at kunne høre gøgen svare sig.

Ja, gennem skyerne pippede frem skovens grønne toppe, det så under sig de andre træer voksede og løftede sig som det; buske og urter skød højt i vejret; enkelte rev sig løs med rod og fløj hurtigere. Birken var snarest; som en hvid lynstråle knitrede dens slanke stamme opad, grenene bølgede som grønne flor og faner; den hele skovnatur, selv det brunfjerede rør, voksede med, og fuglene fulgte med og sang, og på strået, der som et langt, grønt silkebånd løst flagrede og fløj, sad græshoppen og spillede med vingen på sit skinneben; oldenborrerne brummede og bierne summede, hver fugl sang med sit næb, alt var sang og glæde lige ind i himlen.

"Men den lille blå blomst ved vandet, den skulle også med!" sagde egetræet; "og den røde klokkeblomst! og den lille gåseurt!" – ja egen ville have dem alle sammen med!

"Vi er med! vi er med!" sang og klang det.

"Men de smukke skovmærker fra forrige sommer – og året forud var her et flor af liljekonvaller –! og det vilde æbletræ, hvor stod det dejligt – og al den skovpragt i åringer, i mange åringer –! havde den dog levet og blevet til nu, så havde den dog også kunnet være med!"

"Vi er med! vi er med!" sang og klang det endnu højere oppe, det syntes, som om de var fløjet foran.

"Nej, det er alt for utroligt dejligt!" jublede den gamle eg. "Jeg har dem alle sammen! små og store! ikke én er glemt! hvor er dog al den lyksalighed mulig og tænkelig!"

"I Guds himmel er den mulig og tænkelig!" klang det.

Og træet, der altid voksede, fornam at dets rødder løsnede sig fra jorden.

"Det er nu det allerbedste!" sagde træet, "nu holder mig ingen bånd! jeg kan flyve op til det allerhøjeste i lys og glans! og alle kære har jeg med! Små og store! Alle med!"


Det var egetræets drøm, og medens det drømte gik en voldsom storm hen over hav og land i den hellige julenat; søen væltede tunge bølger mod stranden, træet knagede, bragede og rykkedes op med rod, netop idet det drømte, at dets rødder løsnede sig. Det faldt. Dets tre hundrede og femogtresindstyve år var nu som en dag for døgnfluen.

Julemorgen, da solen kom frem, havde stormen lagt sig; alle kirkeklokker ringede festlig, og fra hver skorsten, selv den mindste på husmandens tag, løftede sig røgen blålig som fra alteret ved druidens fest, takkens offerrøg. Søen blev mere og mere stille, og på et stort fartøj derude, der i natten havde vel overstået det hårde vejr, hejsedes nu alle flag, julefestligt og smukt.

"Træet er borte! Det gamle egetræ, vort mærke på landet!" sagde søfolkene. "Det er faldet i denne stormnat! Hvem skal kunne erstatte det; det kan ingen!"

Sådan ligtale, kort, men velment, fik træet, der lå udstrakt på snetæppet ved stranden; og hen over det klang salmesang fra skibet, sangen om julens glæde og menneskenes sjæls frelse i Kristi og det evige liv:

"Syng højt i sky, Guds kirkeflok!
Halleluja, nu har vi nok,
Den fryd er uden lige!
Halleluja, halleluja!"

Så lød den gamle salme, og hver derude på skibet løftedes på sin vis ved den og bønnen, ret som det gamle træ løftede sig i sin sidste, sin dejligste drøm julenat.

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