Oh, these darn galoshes!
The galoshes had found themselves in a police station. The clerk there looked at the two pairs of galoshes and could not discern which pair was his. He thought that probably not even a shoemaker could tell the difference. He thought that the wet pair must be his and so he put them on. The clerk was a simple man; for most of his walk home he thought of nothing.
On the street he met a poet he knew. The poet was about to go off traveling again. The clerk asked if he were really traveling off again so soon and the poet said he was. The poet said the man was lucky to have a pension when he was older even if he did not travel. The clerk soon waxed desirous. He wondered what it would be like to be a poetic person.
The galoshes worked their magic. He soon found himself thinking all sorts of poetic thoughts. He described the day and his surroundings. He was no great poet, as the story states, “By most poets what he had said would be considered common-place, or as the Germans call it, “insipid.”” He went on and on about the day and about things. He thought some papers in his pockets would put his mind off of things, but it turns out the papers were rejected writings from play houses. He thought someone must have reversed robbed him and put those papers there. A sensible clerk like himself wouldn’t be writing plays for playhouses.
He thought some more about the day and his surroundings in a poetic manner, but he soon saw some birds and he wished that he were a bird. The shoes did their thing and he turned into a bird. The sense of poetry was gone because the galoshes can only do one magical thing at a time. He flew around singing, but not for long. Something dark came over him. He had been caught by some little boys. Those boys in turn sold him to some other little boys, who took him home and put him in a cage.
In the house there were already two birds. One was a gray parrot and the other was a canary. The gray parrot could say, “Let us be men,” in English, while the canary sang all the time. As the clerk was now a bird he could understand both the parrot and the canary. The canary missed being free. He sang of his home country where the girls danced and everything was beautiful. The parrot too missed his home, but was more at home with the humans than the canary was. They admonished the clerk to fly away as his cage door had been left open.
The clerk flew away just as a cat was sneaking into the room. He flew all the way back to his own room, where he remembered what the parrot had said, “Let us be men.” He desired to be a man again and so he was. He decided that he had been sleeping and had one very strange dream.
Why do the Germans call mediocre poetry insipid? Is this really a real thing? Do Germans regularly go around criticizing poetry and saying, “That’s insipid.” I can’t say that I’ve known many Germans in my life time, but it doesn’t sound like something people do. Hans obviously knew more Germans than I did. Maybe the Germans Hans knew didn’t like mediocre poetry.
I like poetry as much as the next person, but some of the more poetic writing in this story can get on a person’s nerves. Not everything has to be poetic.
The parrot in this story sounds like an African Gray Parrot. They’re very smart and out of all the parrots they have the most potential to have a large vocabulary of human words. They also live quite a long time, decades. Both birds mentioned in the story are both from Africa. They’ve been transported from a warmer climate with vast cultural differences to a place that is quite cold and very much different from what they’re used to. Anyone would miss their homeland under these circumstances.
This story does show the world coming into Denmark. Hans had obviously seen a canary and knew that it sang. He had obviously seen an African Gray Parrot and knew that it could speak human words. I don’t know if Hans ever went to Africa, the more likely scenario is that he had a friend who had some exotic birds imported into Denmark. I know we’re used to people having pet parrots today, but it didn’t used to be a thing. It wasn’t until groups like the Dutch East India Company started up that strange things started appearing in Europe from all over the world. Well, to be fair, strange things had been appearing in Europe from land routes for a long time before the Dutch East India Company, but those exotic things just weren’t as common because merchants had to go overland to places like India to secure the exotic goods.
Some people just aren’t poets. As soon as this clerk turned into a bird he lost his poetic license. Sometimes you have an artistic gift and sometimes you really, really don’t. There’s a scene I like in the movie Four Christmases. There is a man talking about his niece who thinks she’s going to be the next Beyonce, the man says that this girl sounds awful. This girl may want to be the next Beyonce, but that doesn’t mean she has the talent to do so. Sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t.
This clerk was a very black and white type of personality. He went to work. He went home. He was practical. He liked the idea of traveling, but practicality outweighed those desires. He’s just not the type of guy who would be good at being a poet even if he did have that ability. I know people always like to say that artists and writers are weird… yeah, well, you’re weird. I’m not weird. You’re weird for wanting to keep all the walls in your house white and wanting to be all practical all the time. Artistic people and non-artistic people think entirely different. This man, for a short period of time, experienced what it was like to be an artistic person. It just wasn’t him. He was practical and didn’t think that things could happen to him that were out of the realm of reason.
As a note, this doesn’t make the clerk a bad guy; it just makes him a bit boring to all the artistic people around him. Trust me get a bunch of art-minded people in a room with a person who loves accounting and the accounting person is going to feel really uncomfortable.
Also, use your freedom while you have the chance. Don’t let your freedom slip by you. The clerk flew away when the door was open; it would have been his only chance and he used it. Despite being a boring clerk, this guy has got some guts. It takes cojones to grab your only chance at something. If you don’t know what that word means look it up. Those once in a lifetime opportunities are scary and sometimes we let them slide by because we’re too afraid to grab them. This clerk did not. He went for it. Go nameless clerk!
If you ever read Love in the Time of Cholera, there is a cussing parrot in that book. I mean, why have a parrot if you’re not going to teach it swear words?
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Andersen Fairy Tales, Andersen-Hans Christian