By Hans Christian Andersen
The comet came, shone with its core of fire,
and threatened with its rod ; they looked at
it from the rich palace, and the poor
cottage ; the crowd on the street looked at
it, and the lonely one who went his way over
the pathless heath ; every one had his
thoughts about it.
' Come and look at the sign in the heavens !
come and look at the splendid sight,' they
said, and all hastened to look.
But in the room there sat a little boy with
his mother ; the tallow candle was burning,
and the mother thought that there was a
shroud in the candle ; the tallow stood up
in a point and curled over ; that meant, she
believed, that the little boy must soon die,
the shroud turned towards
him. It was an old superstition, and she
The little boy was really destined to live
many years on the earth, to live and see the
comet, when it reappeared more than sixty
He did not see the shroud in the candle, and
had no thought for the comet, which for the
first time in his life shone from the
heavens. He sat with a mended slop-basin in
front of him ; in it were some soap-suds,
and he dipped the head of a clay-pipe down
into it, put the stem in his
mouth and blew soap-bubbles, great and small
; they swayed and floated with the most
lovely colours, which changed from yellow to
red, lilac and blue, and then became green,
like the leaves of the forest when the sun
shines through them.
' God grant thee as many years here on the
earth as the bubbles thou blowest ! '
' So many, so many,' said the little one, '
the soap-suds can never be all used up ! '
and the little one blew bubble after bubble.
' There flies a year ! there flies a year !
see how they fly ! ' said he, with every
bubble which got free and flew off. One or
two went right into his eyes ; they smarted
and burned, and the tears came into his eyes.
In every bubble he saw a vision of the
future, shining and glittering.
' Now you can see the comet ! ' cried the
neighbours. ' Come out ; don't sit inside
there ! '
And the mother took the little boy by the
hand ; he was obliged to lay aside the clay
-pipe, and stop playing with the
soap-bubbles ; the comet was there.
And the little boy saw the shining ball of
fire, with the radiant tail ; some people
said that it was three yards long, others
that it was millions of yards long ; people
see so differently. ' Children and
grandchildren may be dead before it appears
again ! ' people said.
Most of those who said it were really dead
and gone before it reappeared ; but the
little boy for whom the shroud stood in the
candle, and of whom the mother thought ' He
will die soon ! ' still lived, old and
white-haired. ' White hair is the flower of
age ! ' the proverb says, and he had
many of the flowers ; he was now an old
The school-children said he was very wise,
and knew so much ; knew history, and
geography, and everything that is known
about the heavenly bodies.
' Everything comes round again ! ' said he ;
' only take notice of people and events, and
you will find that they always come again,
in another dress, in another country.'
The schoolmaster had just told about William
Tell, who had to shoot an apple off his
son's head, but before he shot the arrow, he
hid in his breast another arrow with which
to shoot the wicked Gesler in the heart. It
was in Switzerland that that happened, but
many years before, the same thing had
happened in Denmark with Palnatoke ; he also
had to shoot an apple off his son's head,
and hid, like Tell, an arrow to avenge
himself with ; and more than a thousand
years farther back, the same story was
recorded as having taken place in Egypt. The
same things come again like the comet, they
pass away, disappear, and come again.
And he talked about the comet which was
expected, the comet he had seen as a little
boy. The schoolmaster knew the heavenly
bodies, and thought over them, but did not
forget history and geography because of them.
He had laid out his garden in the shape of
the map of Denmark. The plants and flowers
were arranged according as they grow best in
the different parts of the country. ' Bring
me some peas ! ' said he, and one went to
the bed which represented Lolland. ' Fetch
me some buck-wheat,'
and one went to Langeland. The lovely blue
gentian and sweet-willow were to be found up
in Skagen, the glistening holly over at
Silkeborg. The towns themselves were marked
with stone figures. Here stood St. Canute
with the dragon, that signified Odense ;
Absalon with a bishop's staff signified Soro
; the little boat with the oars was the mark
that here lay the town of Aarhus. From the
schoolmaster's garden, one could learn the
map of Denmark very well ; but one must
first be instructed by him, and that was so
The comet was expected now, and he told what
the people had said and thought about it, in
the old days when it was here last. 'The
comet-year is a good wineyear,' he said ; '
one can dilute the wine with water, and it
will not be noticed. The wine -sellers
should think much of the comet-year.'
The sky was full of clouds for fourteen days
and nights. The eomet could not be seen, but
it was there.
The old schoolmaster sat in his little room,
close by the schoolroom. The grandfather's
clock, which had belonged to his parents,
stood in the corner ; the heavy leaden
weights neither rose nor fell, the pendulum
did not move. The little cuckoo, which used
to come forward to cuckoo the hour, had for
several years sat silent behind closed doors
: all was quiet and silent there, the clock
went no more. But the old piano close by,
which had also belonged to his parents,
still had life, and the strings could sound,
though certainly a little hoarse, the
melodies of a whole generation. The old man
remembered so many of them, both joyful and
sorrowful, in the years from the time when
he was a little boy and saw the comet, till
now when it was here again.
He remembered what his mother said about the
shroud in the candle, he remembered the
lovely soap-bubbles he blew; every one was a
year of life, he had said, how radiant, how
rich in colour ! everything lovely and
joyful he saw there ; childish games and
youthful pleasure, the whole
of the wide world open in the sunshine, and
he should go out in it ! that was the bubble
of the future. As an old man he heard
melodies of the vanished times from the
strings of the piano : the bubbles of
remembrance with memory's colour tints;
there sounded Grandmother's knitting song :
'Twas certainly no Amazon
That knitted first a stocking.
There sounded the song which the old servant
sung for him as a child :
There are so many dangers
Wherein the young may fall,
Who are of years but tender
And understanding small.
Now sounded the melodies from the first ball,
a minuet and Polish dance ; now sounded soft,
sorrowful tones, which brought tears into
the eyes of the old man ; now rushed a
battle-march, now a psalm tune, now gay
tones, bubble on bubble, just as when he, as
a little boy, blew them
His eyes were fastened on the window, a
cloud in the sky glided away and he saw in
the clear air the comet, its shining heart,
its bright misty veil.
It seemed as if he nad seen it yesterday
evening, and yet there lay a whole lifetime
between that time and now ; at that time he
was a child, and saw the future in the
bubbles, now the bubbles pointed backward ;
he felt the childish mind and childish faith,
his eyes shone, his hand sank down on the
keys it sounded as if a string broke.
' Come and see, the comet is here,' cried
the neighbours, the sky is so beautifully
clear ! come and see ! '
The old schoolmaster did not answer, he was
gone to see in reality ; his soul had gone
on a longer course, in a Wider space than
the comet flies through. The comet was again
seen from the rich castle, from the poor
cottage, by the crowd in the street, and by
the lonely one on the trackless heath. His
soul was seen by God and by the dear ones
who had gone before those he had longed for.