the Last Day
By Hans Christian Andersen
The most solemn day amongst all the days of
our life is the day on which we die ; it is
the last day, the holy, great day of
transformation. Have you really, seriously
thought over this mighty, certain, last hour
here on earth ? There was a man, a strict
believer, as he was called, a warrior of the
Word, which was for him a law, a zealous
servant of a zealous God. Death stood now by
his bed, Death with the austere, heavenly
' The hour has come, you must follow me,'
said Death, and with his ice-cold finger he
touched his feet, and they turned cold as
ice. Death touched his forehead, then his
heart, and with that it burst, and the soul
followed the Angel of Death. But in the few
seconds before, between the consecration
from foot to forehead and heart, all that
life had brought and created went like great,
heavy waves of the sea over the dying man.
In that way one sees with a single glance
down into the giddy depths, and comprehends
in a flash of thought the immeasurable way ;
thus one sees with a single glance, as a
single whole, the countless myriads of
stars, and discerns spheres and worlds in
the vastness of space. In such a
moment the terrified sinner trembles and has
nothing to lean upon ; it is as if he sank
down into an emptiness without end. But the
pious one leans his head on God and gives
himself up, like a child, to ' Thy will be
But this dying man had not the child-like
mind, he felt he was a man ; he did not
tremble like the sinner, he knew he was a
true believer. He had kept to the forms of
religion in all their strictness ; millions
he knew must go the broad way to destruction
; with sword and with fire he could have
destroyed their bodies here, as their souls
were already destroyed and always would be ;
his way was now towards Heaven, where Mercy
opened the gate for him, the promised mercy.
And the soul went with the Angel of Death,
but yet once he looked back to the couch
where the earthly form lay in its white
shroud, a strange image of its ' I ' and
they flew, and they went it seemed as in a
vast hall and yet as in a wood : Nature was
pruned, drawn out, tied up and set in rows,
made artificial like the old French gardens
; and here there was a masquerade.
' That is human life,' said the Angel of
Death. All the figures were seen more or
less masked ; it was not altogether the
noblest or mightiest who went dressed in
velvet and gold ; it was not quite the
lowest and most insignificant who went in
the cloak of poverty. It was a wonderful
masquerade, and it was in particular quite
strange to see how all of them concealed
something carefully from each other under
their clothing ; but the one tugged at the
other in order that this might be revealed,
and then one saw the head of some animal
sticking out : with one it was a grinning
ape, with another an ugly goat, a clammy
snake, or a flabby fish.
It was the animal which we all carry about,
the animal which has grown fast in one, and
it hopped and sprang and tried to come to
light, and every one held his clothes tight
about it, but the others tore them aside and
shouted, ' Look ! look ! there he is ! There
she is ! ' and the one
laid bare the other's shame.
' And what was the animal in me ? ' asked
the wandering soul, and the Angel of Death
pointed to a haughty figure in front of them,
around whose head appeared a many coloured
glory, but beside the man's heart the feet
of the animal were concealed, the peacock's
feet ; the glory was
only the many-coloured tail of the bird.
And as they wandered on, great birds
screamed horridly from the branches of the
trees ; with distinct human voices they
shrieked, ' Thou wanderer with Death,
rememberest thou me ? ' These were all the
evil thoughts and desires of his lifetime
which shouted to him, ' Rememberest thou me?'
And the soul trembled for a moment, for it
knew the voices of the wicked thoughts and
desires, which came forward as witnesses.
' In our flesh, in our wicked nature lives
nothing good ! ' said the soul, ' but with
me the thoughts did not become deeds, the
world has not seen the evil fruit ! ' and he
hastened the more, to get quickly away from
the horrid shrieks, but the great black
birds hovered round him in circles, and
shrieked and shrieked as if they meant to be
heard over all the world ; and he sprang
like the hunted deer, and at every step he
struck his feet on sharp flint stones, and
they cut his feet and hurt him sorely. ' How
come these sharp stones here ? They lie like
withered leaves over all the earth ! '
' That is every incautious word you let fall,
which wounded your neighbour's heart far
deeper than the stones now wound your feet !
' I did not think of that,' said the soul. '
Judge not, that ye be not judged ! ' sounded
' We have all sinned,' said the soul, and
raised itself again. ' I have kept the law
and the gospel ; I have done what I could, I
am not like the others ! '
And they stood by the gate of Heaven, and
the Angel that was the keeper of the gate
asked, ' Who art thou ? Tell me thy faith,
and show it to me in thy works.'
' I have strictly fulfilled all the
commandments. I have humbled myself before
the eyes of the world. I have hated and
persecuted wicked things and wicked men,
those who go the broad way to everlasting
destruction, and I would do it yet, with
fire and with sword, if I had the
' You are then one of Mohammed's followers ?
' said the Angel.
' I never ! '
' Who takes the sword shall perish with the
sword, says the Son ; His faith you have not
! You are perhaps one of the sons of Israel,
who say with Moses, " An eye for an eye, and
a tooth for a tooth ! " a son of Israel,
whose zealous God is only the God of your
people ! '
' I am a Christian ! '
' I discern it not in your faith and your
works. The teaching of Christ is
reconciliation, love, and mercy ! '
' Mercy ! ' sounded again through endless
space, and the gate of Heaven opened, and
the soul floated towards the glory thus
revealed. But the light which streamed out
was so dazzling, so penetrating, that the
soul drew back as before a drawn sword ; and
the music sounded so soft and touching, that
no mortal tongue can declare it, and the
soul trembled and bowed down lower and ever
lower, but the heavenly clearness forced its
way into it, and then it felt and understood
what it had never thus felt before, the
burden of its pride, its hardness, and its
sin. All became
so clear within it.
' Whatever good I have done in the world, I
did because I could not do otherwise, but
the evil that was of myself ! '
And the soul, feeling itself blinded with
the clear heavenly light, sank powerless, as
it seemed to it, deep down and rolled up in
itself, weighed down, unripe for the Kingdom
of Heaven ; and at the thought of the
austere, righteous God, it dared not stammer
' Mercy ! '
And then Mercy appeared, the unexpected
Mercy. God's Heaven was in all the infinite
space, God's love streamed through it in
' Holy, happy, loving, and eternal be thou,
O human soul,' was heard ringing and singing.
And all, all of us, on the last day of our
lives, shall, like the soul here, shrink
back before the brightness and glory of the
Kingdom of Heaven, bow ourselves deeply,
humbly sinking down, and yet, brne by His
love and His mercy, be held up, hovering in
new paths, purified, nobler, and
better, coming nearer and nearer to the
glory of the light, and, strengthened by Him,
be enabled to enter into the everlasting