Pan, by Knut Hamsun


Summer nights and still water, and the woods endlessly still. No cry, no footsteps from the road. My heart seemed full as with dark wine.

Moths and night-flies came flying noiselessly in through my window, lured by the glow from the hearth and the smell of the bird I had just cooked. They dashed against the roof with a dull sound, fluttered past my ears, sending a cold shiver through me, and settled on my white powder-horn on the wall. I watched them; they sat trembling and looked at me — moths and spinners and burrowing things. Some of them looked like pansies on the wing.

I stepped outside the hut and listened. Nothing, no noise; all was asleep. The air was alight with flying insects, myriads of buzzing wings. Out at the edge of the wood were ferns and aconite, the trailing arbutus was in bloom, and I loved its tiny flowers . . . Thanks, my God, for every heather bloom I have ever seen; they have been like small roses on my way, and I weep for love of them . . . Somewhere near were wild carnations; I could not see them, but I could mark their scent.

But now, in the night hours, great white flowers have opened suddenly; their chalices are spread wide; they are breathing. And furry twilight moths slip down into their petals, making the whole plant quiver. I go from one flower to another. They are drunken flowers. I mark the stages of their intoxication.

Light footsteps, a human breathing, a happy “Godaften.”

And I answer, and throw myself down on the road.

Godaften, Edwarda,” I say again, worn out with joy.

“That you should care for me so!” she whispers.

And I answered her: “If you knew how grateful I can be! You are mine, and my heart lies still within me all the day, thinking of you. You are the loveliest girl on earth, and I have kissed you. Often I go red with joy, only to think that I have kissed you.”

“Why are you so fond of me this evening?” she asks.

I was that for endless reasons; I needed only to think of her to feel so. That look of hers, from under the high-arched brows, and her rich, dark skin!

“Should I not be fond of you?” I say again. “I thank every tree in my path because you are well and strong. Once at a dance there was a young lady who sat out dance after dance, and they let her sit there alone. I didn’t know her, but her face touched me, and I bowed to her. Well? But no, she shook her head. Would she not dance, I asked her? ‘Can you imagine it?’ she said. ‘My father was a handsome man, and my mother a perfect beauty, and my father won her by storm. But I was born lame.’”

Edwarda looked at me.

“Let us sit down,” she said.

And we sat down in the heather.

“Do you know what my friend says about you?” she began. “Your eyes are like an animal’s, she says, and when you look at her, it makes her mad. It is just as if you touched her, she says.”

A strange joy thrilled me when I heard that, not for my own sake, but for Edwarda’s, and I thought to myself: There is only one whom I care for: what does that one say of the look in my eyes? And I asked her:

“Who was that, your friend?”

“I will not tell you,” she said. “But it was one of those that were out on the island that day.”

“Very well, then.”

And then we spoke of other things.

“My father is going to Russia in a few days,” she said. “And I am going to have a party. Have you been out to Korholmerne? We must have two hampers of wine; the ladies from the vicarage are coming again, and father has already given me the wine. And you won’t look at her again, will you? My friend, I mean. Please, you won’t, will you? Or I shall not ask her at all.”

And with no more words she threw herself passionately about my neck, and looked at me, gazing into my face and breathing heavily. Her glance was sheer blackness.

I got up abruptly, and, in my confusion, could only say:

“So your father is going to Russia?”

“What did you get up like that for, so quickly?” she asked.

“Because it is late, Edwarda,” I said. “Now the white flowers are closing again. The sun is getting up; it will soon be day.”

I went with her through the woodland and stood watching her as long as I could; far down, she turned round and softly called good-night. Then she disappeared.

At the same moment the door of the blacksmith’s house opened. A man with a white shirt front came out, looked round, pulled his hat down farther over his forehead, and took the road down to Sirilund.

Edwarda’s good-night was still in my ears.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:55