The Old Street Lamp | A Christmas Greeting

Have you heard the story about the old street lamp? It is not so very amusing, but one may very well hear it once. It was such a decent old street-lamp, that had done its duty for many, many years, but now it was to be condemned. It was the last evening,—it sat there on the post and lighted the street; and it was in just such a humor as an old figurante in a ballet, who dances for the last evening, and knows that she is to be put on the shelf to-morrow. The lamp had such a fear of the coming day, for it knew that it should then be carried to the town-hall for the first time, and examined by the authorities of the city, who should decide if it could be used or not. It would then be determined whether it should be sent out to one of the suburbs, or in to the country to a manufactory; perhaps it would be sent direct to the ironfounder's and be re-cast; in that case it could certainly be all sorts of things: but it pained it not to know whether it would then retain the remembrance of its having been a street-lamp.

However it might be, whether it went into the country or not, it would be separated from the watchman and his wife, whom it regarded as its family. It became a street-lamp when he became watchman. His wife was a very fine woman at that time; it was only in the evening when she went past the lamp that she looked at it, but never in the daytime. Now, on the contrary, of late years, as they had all three grown old,—the watchman, his wife, and the lamp,—the wife had always attended to it, polished it up, and put oil in it. They were honest folks that married couple, they had not cheated the lamp of a single drop. It was its last evening in the street, and to-morrow it was to be taken to the town-hall; these were two dark thoughts in the lamp, and so one can know how it burnt. But other thoughts also passed through it; there was so much it had seen, so much it had a desire for, perhaps just as much as the whole of the city authorities; but it didn't say so, for it was a well-behaved old lamp—it would not insult any one, least of all its superiors. It remembered so much, and now and then the flames within it blazed up,—it was as if it had a feeling of—yes, they will also remember me! There was now that handsome young man—but that is many years since,—he came with a letter, it was on rose-colored paper; so fine—so fine! and with a gilt edge; it was so neatly written, it was a lady's hand; he read it twice, and he kissed it, and he looked up to me with his two bright eyes—they said, "I am the happiest of men!" Yes, only he and I knew what stood in that first letter from his beloved.

I also remember two other eyes—it is strange how one's thoughts fly about!—there was a grand funeral here in the street, the beautiful young wife lay in the coffin on the velvet-covered funeral car; there were so many flowers and wreaths, there were so many torches burning, that I was quite forgotten—out of sight; the whole footpath was filled with persons; they all followed in the procession; but when the torches were out of sight, and I looked about, there stood one who leaned against my post and wept. I shall never forget those two sorrowful eyes that looked into me. Thus there passed many thoughts through the old street-lamp, which this evening burnt for the last time. The sentinel who is relieved from his post knows his successor, and can say a few words to him, but the lamp knew not its successor; and yet it could have given him a hint about rain and drizzle, and how far the moon shone on the footpath, and from what corner the wind blew.

Now, there stood three on the kerb-stone; they had presented themselves before the lamp, because they thought it was the street-lamp who gave away the office; the one of these three was a herring's head, for it shines in the dark, and it thought that it could be of great service, and a real saving of oil, if it came to be placed on the lamp-post. The other was a piece of touchwood, which also shines, and always more than a stock-fish; besides, it said so itself, it was the last piece of a tree that had once been the pride of the forest. The third was a glow-worm; but where it had come from the lamp could not imagine; but the glow-worm was there, and it also shone, but the touchwood and the herring's head took their oaths that it only shone at certain times, and therefore it could never be taken into consideration.

The old lamp said that none of them shone well enough to be a street-lamp; but not one of them thought so; and as they heard that it was not the lamp itself that gave away the office, they said that it was a very happy thing, for that it was too infirm and broken down to be able to choose.

At the same moment the wind came from the street corner, it whistled through the cowl of the old lamp, and said to it, "What is it that I hear, are you going away to-morrow? Is it the last evening I shall meet you here? Then you shall have a present!—now I will blow up your brain-box so that you shall not only remember, clearly and distinctly, what you have seen and heard, but when anything is told or read in your presence, you shall be so clear-headed that you will also see it."

"That is certainly much!" said the old street-lamp; "I thank you much; if I be only not re-cast."

"It will not happen yet awhile," said the wind; "and now I will blow up your memory; if you get more presents than that you may have quite a pleasant old age."

"If I be only not re-cast," said the lamp; "or can you then assure me my memory?"

"Old lamp, be reasonable!" said the wind, and then it blew. The moon came forth at the same time. "What do you give?" asked the wind.

"I give nothing!" said the moon; "I am waning, and the lamps have never shone for me, but I have shone for the lamps." So the moon went behind the clouds again, for it would not be plagued. A drop of rain then fell straight down on the lamp's cowl, it was like a drop of water from the eaves, but the drop said that it came from the grey clouds, and was also a present,—-and perhaps the best of all. "I penetrate into you, so that you have the power, if you wish it, in one night to pass over to rust, so that you may fall in pieces and become dust." But the lamp thought this was a poor present, and the wind thought the same. "Is there no better—is there no better?" it whistled, as loud as it could. A shooting-star then fell, it shone in a long stripe.

"What was that?" exclaimed the herring's head; "did not a star fall right down? I think it went into the lamp! Well, if persons who stand so high seek the office, we may as well take ourselves off."

And it did so, and the others did so too; but the old lamp shone all at once so singularly bright.

"That was a fine present!" it said; "the bright stars which I have always pleased myself so much about, and which shine so beautifully,—as I really have never been able to shine, although it was my whole aim and endeavor,—have noticed me, a poor old-lamp, and sent one down with a present to me, which consists of that quality, that everything I myself remember and see quite distinctly, shall also be seen by those I am fond of; and that is, above all, a true pleasure, for what one cannot share with others is but a half delight."

"It is a very estimable thought," said the wind; "but you certainly don't know that there must be wax-candles; for unless a wax-candle be lighted in you there are none of the others that will be able to see anything particular about you. The stars have not thought of that; they think that everything which shines has, at least, a wax-candle in it. But now I am tired," said the wind, "I will now lie down;" and so it lay down to rest.

The next day—yes, the next day we will spring over: the next evening the lamp lay in the arm chair,—and where? At the old watchman's. He had, for his long and faithful services, begged of the authorities that he might be allowed to keep the old lamp; they laughed at him when he begged for it, and then gave him it; and now the lamp lay in the arm-chair, close by the warm stove, and it was really just as if it had become larger on that account,—it almost filled the whole chair. The old folks now sat at their supper, and cast mild looks at the old lamp, which they would willingly have given a place at the table with them. It is true they lived in a cellar, a yard or so below ground: one had to go through a paved front-room to come into the room they lived in; but it was warm here, for there was list round the door to keep it so. It looked clean and neat, with curtains round the bed and over the small windows, where two strange-looking flowerpots stood on the sill. Christian, the sailor, had brought them from the East or West Indies; they were of clay in the form of two elephants, the backs of which were wanting: but in their place there came flourishing plants out of the earth that was in them; in the one was the finest chive,—It was the old folks' kitchen-garden,—and in the other was a large flowering geranium—this was their flower-garden. On the wall hung a large colored print of "The Congress of Vienna;" there they had all the kings and emperors at once. A Bornholm clock, with heavy leaden weights went "tic-tac!" and always too fast; but the old folks said it was better than if it went too slow. They ate their suppers, and the old lamp, as we have said, lay in the armchair close by the warm stove. It was, for the old lamp, as if the whole world was turned upside down. But when the old watchman looked at it, and spoke about what they had lived to see with each other, in rain and drizzle, in the clear, short summer nights, and when the snow drove about so that it was good to get into the pent-house of the cellar,—then all was again in order for the old lamp, it saw it all just as if it were now present;—yes! the wind had blown it up right well,—it had enlightened it.

The old folks were so clever and industrious, not an hour was quietly dozed away; on Sunday afternoons some book was always brought forth, particularly a book of travels, and the old man read aloud about Africa, about the great forests and the elephants that were there quite wild; and the old woman listened so attentively, and now and then took a side glance at the clay elephants—her flower-pots. "I can almost imagine it!" said she; and the lamp wished so much that there was a wax candle to light and be put in it, so that she could plainly see everything just as the lamp saw it; the tall trees, the thick branches twining into one another, the black men on horseback, and whole trains of elephants, which, with their broad feet, crushed the canes and bushes.

"Of what use are all my abilities when there is no wax candle?" sighed the lamp; "they have only train oil and tallow candles, and they are not sufficient."

One day there came a whole bundle of stumps of wax candles into the cellar, the largest pieces were burnt, and the old woman used the smaller pieces to wax her thread with when she sewed; there were wax candle ends, but they never thought of putting a little piece in the lamp.

"Here I stand with my rare abilities," said the lamp; "I have everything within me, but I cannot share any part with them. They know not that I can transform the white walls to the prettiest paper-hangings, to rich forests, to everything that they may wish for. They know it not!"

For the rest, the lamp stood in a corner, where it always met the eye, and it was neat and well scoured; folks certainly said it was an old piece of rubbish; but the old man and his wife didn't care about that, they were fond of the lamp.

One day it was the old watchman's birth day; the old woman came up to the lamp, smiled, and said, "I will illuminate for him," and the lamp's cowl creaked, for it thought, "They will now be enlightened!" But she put in train oil, and no wax candle; it burnt the whole evening; but now it knew that the gift which the stars had given it, the best gift of all, was a dead treasure for this life. It then dreamt—and when one has such abilities, one can surely dream,—that the old folks were dead, and that it had come to an ironfounder's to be cast anew; it was in as much anxiety as when it had to go to the town-hall to be examined by the authorities; but although it had the power to fall to pieces in rust and dust, when it wished it, yet it did not do it; and so it came into the furnace and was re-cast as a pretty iron candlestick, in which any one might set a wax candle. It had the form of an angel, bearing a nosegay, and in the centre of the nosegay they put a wax taper and it was placed on a green writing-table; and the room was so snug and comfortable: there hung beautiful pictures—there stood many books; it was at a poet's, and everything that he wrote, unveiled itself round about: the room became a deep, dark forest,—a sun-lit meadow where the stork stalked about; and a ship's deck high aloft on the swelling sea!

"What power I have!" said the old lamp, as it awoke. "I almost long to be re-cast;—but no, it must not be as long as the old folks live. They are fond of me for the sake of my person. I am to them as a child, and they have scoured me, and they have given me train oil. After all, I am as well off as 'The Congress,'—which is something so very grand."

From that time it had more inward peace, which was merited by the old street-lamp.