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THE STONE OF THE WISE MEN

 

OF course you know the story of Holger the Danewe are not going to tell you thatbut will ask if you re-member from it thatHolger the Dane won the great land of Indiaeast as far as the world's endeven to the tree which is called the Tree of the Sun,”as Christian Pedersen puts itDo you know Christian Pedersenit doesn't matter if you don'tHolger the Dane gave Prester John power and authority over the land of IndiaDo you know Prester Johnit doesn't matter either if you don't know himfor he doesn't come into this story at allYou are to hear about the Tree of the Sunin Indiaeast as far as the world's end”,and it was then understood by men who had not learned geography as we havebut that also does not matter at the present time

The Tree of the Sun was a noble treesuch as we have never seen and such as you will never see eitherThe crown stretched out several miles aroundit was real-ly an entire woodeach of its smallest branches formedin its turna whole treePalmsbeech treespinesplane treesand various other kinds grew herewhich are found scattered in all other parts of the worldthey shot out like small branches from the great boughsand these large houghs with their windings and knots formedas it werevalleys and hillsclothed with velvety green and covered with flowersEvery branch was like a wideblooming meadowor like the most charming gardenThe sun shone down on it with delightful raysfor it was the tree of the sunand the birds from all quarters of the world assembled togetherbirds from the primaeval forests of Americathe rose gardens of Damascusfrom the deserts of Africain which the elephant and the lion boast of being the only rulersThe Polar birds came flying hitherand of course the stork and the swallow were not absentbut the birds were not the only living beingsthe stagthe squirrelthe antelopeand a hundred other beautiful and lightfooted animals were at home

The crown of the tree was a widespread fragrant gar-denand in the midst of itwhere the great boughs raised themselves like green hillocksthere stood a castle of crystalwith a view of all the lands of the worldEach tower was reared in the form of a lilyThrough the stem one could ascedfor within it was a winding stairone could step out upon the leaves as upon balconiesand up in the calyx of the flower itself was the most beautifulsparkling round hallabove which no other roof rose but the blue firmament with sun and stars

Just as much splendourthough in another wayappeared belowin the wide halls of the castleHereon the wallsthe whole world around was reflectedOne saw everything that was doneso that there was no necessity for reading any papersand indeed there were no papers thereEverything was to he seen in living picturesif one only wished to see itfor too much is still too much even for the wisest manand this man dwelt hereHis name is very difficultyou will not be able to pronounce itand therefore it may remain unmentionedHe knew everything that a man on earth can know or can get to knowevery invention which had already been or which was yet to be made was known to himbut nothing morefor everything in the world has its limitsThe wise King Solomon was only half as wise as heand yet he was very wiseand governed the powers of natureand held sway over potent spiritsyeaDeath itself was obliged to give him every morning a list of those who were to die during the dayBut King Solomon himself was obliged to die tooand this thought it was which often in the deepest manner employed the inquirerthe mighty lord in the castle on the Tree of the SunHe alsohowever high he might tower above men in wisdommust die one dayHe knew that he and his children also must fade away like the leaves of the forestand become dustHe saw the human race fade away like the leaves on the treesaw new men come to fill their placesbut the leaves that fell off never sprouted forth againthey fell to dust or were transformed into other parts of plants

What happens to man,”the wise man asked himself,“when the angel of death touches himWhat may death beThe body is dissolvedAnd the soulYeswhat is the soulwhither doth it goTo eternal lifesays the comforting voice of religionbut what is the transitionwhere does one live and howAbovein heavensays the pious manthither we goThither?”repeated the wise manand fixed his eyes upon the sun and the stars;“up yonder?”

But he sawfrom the earthly ballthat up and down were one and the sameaccording as one stood here or there on the rolling globeand even if he mounted as high as the loftiest mountains of earth rear their headsto the air which we below call clear and transparentthe pure heavena black darkness spread abroad like a clothand the sun had a coppery glow and sent forth no raysand our earth lay wrapped in an orangecoloured mistHow narrow were the limits of the bodily eyeand how little the eye of the soul could see!—how little did even the wisest know of that which is the most important to us all

In the most secret chamber of the castle lay the greatest treasure of the earththe Book of TruthLeaf for leafthe wise man read it throughevery man may read in this bookbut only by fragmentsTo many an eye the characters seem to trembleso that the words cannot be put togetheron certain pages the writing often seems so paleso fadedthat only a blank leaf appearsThe wiser a man becomesthe more he can readand the wisest read mostFor that purpose he knew how to unite the sunlight and the starlight with the light of reason and of hidden powersand through this stronger light many things came clearly before him from the pageBut in the division of the book whose title isLife after Deathnot even one point was to be distinctly seenThat pained himShould he not he able here upon earth to obtain a light by which everything should become clear to him that stood written in the Book of Truth

Like the wise king Solomonhe understood the language of the animalsand could interpret their talk and their songsBut that made him none the wiserHe found out the forces of plants and metalsthe forces to be used for the cure of diseasesfor delaying deathbut none that could destroy deathIn all created things that were within his reach he sought the light that should shine upon the certainty of an eternal lifebut he found it notThe Book of Truth lay before him with leaves that appeared blankChristianity showed him in the Bible worde of promise of an eternal lifebut he wanted to read it in his bookand in that he saw nothing

He had five childrenfour sonseducated as well as the children of the wisest father could beand a daughterfairmildand cleverbut blindyet this appeared no loss to herher father and brothers were eyes to herand the vividness of her feelings saw for her

Never had the sons gone farther from the castle than the branches of the tree extendedstill less the sisterThey were happy children in the land of childhoodin the beautiful fragrant Tree of the SunLike all childrenthey were very glad when any story was related to themand the father told them many things that other children would not have understoodbut these were just as clever as most grown-up people are among usHe explained to them what they saw in living pictures on the castle wallsthe doings of men and the march of events in all the lands of the earthand often the sons expressed the wish that they could be present at all the great deeds and take part in themand their father then told them that out in the world it was difficult and toilsomethat the world was not quite what it appeared to them from their beauteous homeHe spoke to them of the truethe beautifuland the goodand told them that these three things held the world togetherand that under the pressure they had to endure they became hardened into a precious stoneclearer than the water of the diamonda jewel whose splendour had value with Godand whose brightness outshone everythingand which was called theStone of the Wise”.He told them that just as one through created things could attain to the knowledge of Godso through men themselves one could attain to the certainty that such a jewel as theStone of the WiseexistedHe could not tell them any more about itfor he knew no moreThis narration would have exceeded the perception of other childrenbut these children under-stood itand at length other childrentoowill learn to comprehend its meaning

They questioned their father concerning the truethe beautifuland the goodand he explained it to themtold them many thingsand told them also that Godwhen He made man out of the dust of the earthgave five kisses to His workfiery kissesheart kisseswhich we now call the five sensesThrough these the truethe beautifuland the good is seenperceivedand under-stoodthrough these it is valuedprotectedand furtheredFive senses have been given bodily and mentallyinwardly and outwardlyto body and soul

The children reflected deeply upon all these thingsthey meditated upon them by day and nightThen the eldest of the brothers dreamed a splendid dreamStrangely enoughthe second brother had the same dreamand the thirdand the fourth brother likewiseall of them dreamed exactly the same thingnamelythat each went out into the world and found theStone of the Wise”,which gleamed like a beaming light on his forehead whenin the morning dawnhe rode back on his swift horse over the velvety green meadows of his home into the castle of his fatherand the jewel threw such a heavenly light and radiance upon the leaves of the bookthat everything was illuminated that stood written concerning the life beyond the graveBut the sister dreamed nothing about going out into the wide worldit never entered her mindHer world was her father's house

I shall ride forth into the wide world,”said the eldest brother.“I must try what life is like thereand go to and fro among menI will practise only the good and the truewith these I will protect the beautifulMuch shall change for the better when I am there.”

Now his thoughts were bold and greatas our thoughts generally are at home in the corner of the hearthbefore we have gone forth into the world and have encountered wind and rainand thorns and thistles

In him and in all his brothers the five senses were highly developedinwardly and outwardlybut each of them had one sense which in keenness and development surpassed the other fourIn the case of the eldest this was SightThis was to do him especial serviceHe said he had eyes for all timeeyes for all nationseyes that could look into the depths of the earthwhere the treasures lie hid-denand deep into the hearts of menas though nothing but a pane of glass were placed before themhe could read more than we can see on the cheek that blushes or grows palein the eye that weeps or smilesStags and antelopes escorted him to the boundary of his home towards the westand there the wild swans received him and flew north-westHe followed themAnd now he had gone far out into the worldfar from the land of his fatherthat extended east-ward to the end of the earth

But how he opened his eyes in astonishmentMany things were here to be seenand many things appear very differentwhen a man beholds them with his own eyesfrom when he merely sees them in a pictureas the son had done in his father's househowever faithful the picture may beAt the outset he nearly lost his eyes in astonishment at all the rubbish and all the masquerading stuff put forward to represent the beautifulbut he did not quite lose themhe had other use for themHe wished to go thoroughly and honestly to work in the understanding of the beautifulthe trueand the goodBut how were these rep-resented in the worldHe saw that often the garland that belonged to the beautiful was given to the hideousthat the good was often passed by without noticewhile mediocrity was applauded when it should have been hissed offPeople looked to the dressand not to the wearerasked for a nameand not for desertand went more by reputation than by serviceIt was the same thing everywhere

I see I must attack these things vigorously,”he saidand attacked them with vigour accordingly

But while he was looking for the truthcame the Evil Onethe father of liesGladly would the fiend have plucked out the eyes of this Seerbut that would have been too directthe devil works in a more cunning wayHe let him see and seek the true and the goodbut while the young man was contemplating themthe Evil Spirit blew one mote after another into each of his eyesand such a proceeding would be hurtful even to the best sightThen the fiend blew upon the motesso that they became beamsand the eyes were destroyedand the Seer stood like a blind man in the wide worldand had no faith in ithe lost his good opinion of it and himselfand when a man gives up the world and himselfall is over with him

Over!”said the wild swanswho flew across the sea towards the east.“Over!”twittered the swallowswho likewise flew eastwardtowards the Tree of the SunThat was no good news for those at home

I fancy the Seer must have fared badly,”said the second brother;“but the Hearer may have better for-tune.”For this one possessed the sense of hearing in an eminent degreehe could hear the grass growso quick was he to hear

He took a hearty leave of all at homeand rode awayprovided with good abilities and good intentionsThe swallows escorted himand he followed the swansand he stood far from his home in the wide world

But he experienced the fact that one may have too much of a good thingHis hearing was too fineHe not only heard the grass growbut could hear every man's heart beatin sorrow and in joyThe whole world was to him like a great clockmaker's workshopwherein all the clocks were goingticktick!”and all the turret clocks strikingding dong.”It was unbearableFor a long time his ears held outbut at last all the noise and screaming became too much for one manThere came blackguard boys of sixty years oldfor it is not age that does itthey roared and shouted in a way that one could laugh atbut then came gossipwhich whispered through all houseslanesand streetsright out to the high-wayFalsehood thrust itself forward and played the masterthe bells on the fool's cap jangled and declared they were church bellsand the noise became too bad for the Hearerand he thrust his fingers into both earsbut still he could hear false singing and bad soundsgossip and idle wordsscandal and slandergroaning and moaning without and withinHeaven help usHe thrust his fingers deeper and deeper into his earsbut at last the drums burstNow he could hear nothing at all ot the goodthe trueand the beautifulfor his hearing was to have been the bridge by which he crossedHe became silent and suspicioustrusted no one at lastnot even himselfand that is very unfortunateandno longer hoping to find and bring home the costly jewelhe gave it upand gave himself upand that was the worst of allThe birds who winged their flight towards the east brought tidings of thistill the news reached the castle in the Tree of the Sun

I will try now!”said the third brother.“I have a sharp nose!”

Now that was not said in very good tastebut it was his wayand one must take him as he wasHe had a happy temperand was a poeta real poethe could sing many things that he could not sayand many things struck him far earlier than they occurred to others.“I can smell fire!”he saidand he attributed to the sense of smellingwhich he possessed in a very high degreea great power in the region of the beautiful

Every fragrant spot in the realm of the beautiful has its frequentershe said.“One man feels at home in the atmosphere of the tavernamong the flaring tallow candleswhere the smell of spirits mingles with the fumes of bad to-baccoAnother prefers sitting among the overpowering scent of jessamineor scenting himself with strong clove oilThis man seeks out the fresh sea breezewhile that one climbs to the highest mountain-top and looks down upon the busy little life beneath.”

Thus he spakeIt seemed to him as if he had already been out in the worldas if he had already associated with men and known themBut this experience arose from within himselfit was the poet within himthe gift of Heavenand bestowed on him in his cradle

He bade farewell to his paternal roof in the Tree of the Sunand departed on foot through the pleasant scenery of homeArrived at its confineshe mounted on the back of an ostrichwhich runs faster than a horseand afterwardswhen he fell in with the wild swanshe swung himself on the strongest of themfor he loved changeand away he flew over the sea to distant lands with great forestsdeep lakesmighty mountainsand proud citiesand wherever he came it seemed as if sunshine travelled with him across the fieldsfor every flowerevery bushevery tree exhaled a new fragrancein the consciousness that a friend and protector was in the neighbourhoodwho understood them and knew their valueThe crippled rose bush reared up its twigsunfolded its leavesand bore the most beautiful rosesevery one could see itand even the black damp Wood Snail noticed its beauty

I will give my seal to the flower,”said the Snail;“I have spit on itand I can do no more for it.”

Thus it always fares with the beautiful in this world!”said the poet

And he sang a song concerning itsang it in his own waybut nobody listenedThen he gave the drummer two pence and a peacock's featherand set the song for the drumand had it drummed in all the streets of the townand the people heard itand said that they understood itit was so deepThen the poet sang several songs of the beautifulthe trueand the goodHis songs were listened to in the tavernwhere the tallow candles smokedin the fresh meadowin the forestand on the high seasIt appeared as if this brother was to have better fortune than the two othersBut the Evil Spirit was angry at thisand accordingly he set to work with incense powder and incense smokewhich he can prepare so artfully as to confuse an angeland how much more therefore a poor poetThe Evil One knows how to take that kind of peopleHe surrounded the poet so completely with incensethat the man lost his headand forgot his mission and his homeand at last himselfand ended in smoke

But when the little birds heard of this they mournedand for three days they sang not one songThe black Wood Snail became blacker stillnot for griefbut for envy

They should have strewed incense for me,”she said,“for it was I who gave him his idea of the most famous of his songsthe drum song ofThe Way of the World’it was I who spat upon the roseI can bring witness to the fact.”

But no tidings of all this penetrated to the poet's home in Indiafor all the birds were silent for three daysand when the time of mourning was overtheir grief had been so deep that they had forgotten for whom they weptThat's the usual way

Now I shall have to go out into the worldto disappear like the rest,”said the fourth brother

He had just as good a humour as the thirdbut he was no poetand so he had good reason to have good humourThose two had filled the castle with cheerfulnessand now the last cheerfulness was going awaySight and hearing have always been looked upon as the two chief senses of menand as the two that it is most desirable to sharpenthe other senses are looked upon as of less consequenceBut that was not the opinion of this sonas he had especially cultivated his taste in every respectand taste is very powerfulIt holds sway over what goes into the mouthand also over what penetrates into the mindand consequently this brother tasted everything that was stored up in bottles and potssaying that this was the rough work of his officeEvery man was to him a vessel in which something was seethingevery country

an enormous kitchena kitchen of the mind

That was the fine work,”he saidand he wanted to go out and try what was delicate.“Perhaps fortune may be more favourable to me than it was to my brothers,”he said.“I shall start on my travelsBut what conveyance shall I chooseAre air balloons invented yet?”he asked his fatherwho knew of all inventions that had been made or that were to be madeBut air balloons had not yet been inventednor steam-shipsnor railways.“Goodthen I shall choose an air balloon,”he said;“my father knows how they are made and guidedNobody has invented them yetand consequently the people will believe that it is an aerial phantomWhen I have used the balloon I will burn itand for this purpose you must give me a few pieces of the invention that will be made nextI mean chemical matches.”

And he obtained what he wantedand flew awayThe birds accompanied him farther than they had flown with the other brothersThey were curious to know what would be the result of the flightand more of them came sweeping upthey thought he was some new birdand he soon had a goodly followingThe air became black with birdsthey came on like a cloudlike the cloud of locusts over the land of Egypt

Now he was out in the wide world

I have had a good friend and helper in the East Wind,”he said

The East and the West Windyou mean,”said the winds.“We have been both at workotherwise you would not have come north-west.”

But he did not hear what the winds saidand it does not matter eitherThe birds had also ceased to accompany himWhen they were most numerousa few of them be-came tired of the journeyToo much was made of this kind of thingthey saidHe had got fancies into his head.“There is nothing at all to fly afterthere is nothinit's quite stupid;”and so they stayed behindthe whole flock of them

The air balloon descended over one of the greatest citiesand the aeronaut took up his station on the highest pointon the church steepleThe balloon rose againwhich it ought not to have donewhere it went to is not knownbut that was not a matter of consequencefor it was not yet inventedThen he sat on the church steepleThe birds no longer hovered around himthey had got tired of himand he was tired of them

All the chimneys in the town were smoking merrily

Those are altars erected to they honour!”said the Windwho wished to say something agreeable to him

He sat boldly up thereand looked down upon the people in the streetThere was one stepping alongproud of his purseanother of the key he carried at his girdlethough he had nothing to unlockone proud of his moth-eaten coatanother of his wasted body

VanityI must hasten downwarddip my finger in the potand taste!”he said.“But for a while I will still sit herefor the wind blows so pleasantly against my backI'll sit here as long as the wind blowsI'll enjoy a slight rest.‘It is good to sleep long in the morningwhen one has much to do says the lazy manbut laziness is the root of all eviland there is no evil in our familyI'll stop here as long as this wind blowsfor it pleases me

And there he satbut he was sitting upon the weathercock of the steeplewhich kept turning round and round with himso that he thought that the same wind still blewso he might stay up there a goodly while

But in Indiain the castle in the Tree of the Sunit was solitary and stillsince the brothers had gone away one after the other

It goes not well with them,”said the father;“they will never bring the gleaming jewel homeit is not made for methey are gonethey are dead!”

And he bent down over the Book of Truthand gazed at the page on which he should read of life after deathbut for him nothing was to be seen or learned upon it

The blind daughter was his consolation and joyshe attached herself with sincere affection to himand for the sake of his peace and joy she wished the costly jewel might be found and brought home With sorrow and longing she thought of her brothersWhere were theyWhere did they liveShe wished sincerely that she might dream of thembut it was strangenot even in dreams could she approach themBut at lengthone night she dreamed that the voices of her brothers sounded across to hercalling to her from the wide worldand she could not refrainbut went far far outand yet it seemed in her dream that she was still in her father's houseShe did not meet her brothersbut she feltas it werea fire burning in her handbut it did nothurt herfor it was the jewel she was bringing to her fatherWhen she awokeshe thought for a moment that she still held the stonebut it was the knob of her distaff that she was graspingDuring the long nights she had spun incessantlyand round the distaff was turned a threadfiner than the finest web of the spiderhuman eyes were unable to distinguish the separate threadsShe had wetted them with her tearsand the twist was strong as a cableShe roseand her resolution was takenthe dream must be made a reality

It was nightand her father sleptShe pressed a kiss upon his handand then took her distaffand fastened the end of the thread to her father's houseBut for thisblind as she wasshe would never have found her way hometo the thread she must hold fastand trust not to herself or to othersFrom the Tree of the Sun she broke four leavesthese she would confide to wind and weatherthat they might fly to her brothers as a letter and a greetingin case she did not meet them in the wide worldHow would she fare out thereshethe poor blind childBut she had the invisible thread to which she could hold fastShe possessed a gift which all the others lackedThis was thoroughnessand in virtue of this it seemed as if she had eyes at the tips of her fingers and cars down in her very heart

And quietly she went forth into the noisywhirlingwonderful worldand wherever she went the sky grew brightshe felt the warm raythe rainbow spread itself out from the dark cloud through the blue airShe heard the song of the birdsand smelt the scent of orange groves and apple orchards so strongly that she seemed to taste itSoft tones and charming songs reached her earbut also howling and roaringand thoughts and opinions sounded in strange contradiction to each otherInto the innermost depths of her heart penetrated the echoes of human thoughts and feelingsOne chorus sounded darkly

The life of earth is a shadow vain

A night created for sorrow

but then came another strain

The life of earth is the scent of the rose

With its sunshine and its pleasure

And if one strophe sounded painfully

Each mortal thinks of himself alone

This truth has been shownhow often

on the other side the answer pealed forth

A mighty stream of warmest love

All through the world shall bear us

She beardindeedthe words

In the little petty whirl here below

Each thing shows mean and paltry

but then came also the comfort

Many things great and good are achieved

That the ear of man heareth never

And if sometimes the mocking strain sounded around her

Join in the common crywith a jest

Destroy the good gifts of the Giver

in the blind girl's heart a stronger voice repeated

To trust in thyself and in God is best

His will be done for ever

And whenever she entered the circle of human kindand appeared among young or oldthe knowledge of the truethe goodand the beautiful beamed into their heartsWhether she entered the study of the artistor the festive decorated hallor the crowded factorywith its whirring wheelsit seemed as though a sunbeam were stealing inas if the sweet string soundedthe flower exhaled its perfumeand a living dewdrop fell upon the exhausted leaf

But the Evil Spirit could not see this and be contentHe has more cunning than ten thousand menand he found out a way to compass his endHe betook himself to the marshcollected little bubbles of the stagnant waterand passed over them a sevenfold echo of lying words to give them strengthThen he pounded up paidfor eulogies and lying epitaphsas many as he could getboiled them in tears that envy had shedput upon them rouge he had scraped from faded cheeksand of these he composed a maidenwith the aspect and gait of the blessed blind girlthe angel of thoroughnessand then the Evil One's plot was in full progressThe world knew not which of the two was the true oneandindeedhow should the world know

To trust in thyself and in God is best

His good will be done for ever,”

sang the blind girlin full faithShe entrusted the four green leaves from the Tree of the Sun to the windsas a letter and a greeting to her brothersand had full confidence that they would reach their destinationand that the jewel would be found which outshines all the glories of the worldFrom the forehead of humanity it would gleam even to the castle of her father

Even to my father's house,”she repeated

Yesthe place of the jewel is on earthand I shall bring more than the promise of it with meI feel its glowit swells more and more in my closed handEvery grain of truthwere it never so finewhich the sharp wind carried up and whirled towards meI took up and treasuredI let it be penetrated by the fragrance of the beautifulof which there is so much in the worldeven for the blindI took the sound of the beating heart engaged in what is goodand added it to the firstAll that I bring is but dustbut still it is the dust of the jewel we seekand in plentyI have my whole hand full of it.”

And she stretched forth her hand towards her fatherShe was soon at homeshe had travelled thither in the flight of thoughtsnever having quitted her hold of the in-visible thread from the paternal home

The evil powers rushed with hurricane fury over the Tree of the Sunpressed with a wind-blast against the open doorsand into the sanctuary

It will be blown away by the wind!”said the fatherand he seized the hand she had opened

No,”she repliedwith quiet confidence,“it cannot be blown awayI feel the beam warming my very soul.”

And the father became aware of a glancing flamethere where the shining dust poured out of her hand over the Book of Truththat was to tell of the certainty of an everlasting lifeand on it stood one shining wordone only word—“Faith.”

And with the father and daughter were again the four brothersWhen the green leaf fell upon the bosom of eacha longing for home had seized them and led them backThey had arrivedThe birds of passageand the stagthe antelopeand all the creatures of the forest followed themfor all wished to have a part in their joy

We have often seenwhere a sunbeam bursts through a crack in the door into the dusty roomhow a whirling column of dust seems circling roundbut this was not poor and insignificant like common dustfor even the rainbow is dead in colour compared with the beauty which showed it selfThusfrom the leaf of the book with the beaming word Faith,”arose every grain of truthdecked with the charms of the beautiful and the goodburning brighter than the mighty pillar of flame that led Moses and the children of Israel through the desert to Canaanand from the wordFaithwent the bridge of Hope the Infinite

 


 

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