Pan, by Knut Hamsun


The first iron night.

At nine the sun sets. A dull darkness settles over the earth, a star or so can be seen; two hours later there is a glow of the moon. I wander up in the woods with my gun and my dog. I light a fire, and the light of the flames shines in between the fir-trunks. There is no frost.

“The first iron night!” I say. And a confused, passionate delight in the time and the place sends a strange shiver through me . . .

“Hail, men and beasts and birds, to the lonely night in the woods, in the woods! Hail to the darkness and God’s murmuring between the trees, to the sweet, simple melody of silence in my ears, to green leaves and yellow! Hail to the life-sound I hear; a snout against the grass, a dog sniffing over the ground! A wild hail to the wildcat lying crouched, sighting and ready to spring on a sparrow in the dark, in the dark! Hail to the merciful silence upon earth, to the stars and the half moon; ay, to them and to it!” . . .

I rise and listen. No one has heard me. I sit down again.

“Thanks for the lonely night, for the hills, the rush of the darkness and the sea through my heart! Thanks for my life, for my breath, for the boon of being alive to-night; thanks from my heart for these! Hear, east and west, oh, hear. It is the eternal God. This silence murmuring in my ears is the blood of all Nature seething; it is God weaving through the world and me. I see a glistening gossamer thread in the light of my fire; I hear a boat rowing across the harbour; the northern lights flare over the heavens to the north. By my immortal soul, I am full of thanks that it is I who am sitting here!”

Silence. A fir cone falls dully to the ground. A fir cone fell! I think to myself. The moon is high, the fire flickers over the half-burned brands and is dying. And in the late night I wander home.

The second iron night; the same stillness and mild weather. My soul is pondering. I walk mechanically over to a tree, pull my cap deep down over my eyes, and lean against that tree, with hands clasped behind my neck. I gazed and think; the flame from my fire dazzles my eyes, and I do not feel it. I stand in that stupor for a while, looking at the fire; my legs fail me first, and grow tired; thoroughly stiff, I sit down. Not till then do I think of what I have been doing. Why should I stare so long at the fire?

Æsop lifts his head and listens; he hears footsteps; Eva appears among the trees.

“I am very thoughtful and sad this evening,” I say.

And in sympathy she makes no answer.

“I love three things,” I go on. “I love a dream of love I once had; I love you; and I love this spot of ground.”

“And which do you love most?”

“The dream.”

All still again. Æsop knows Eva; he lays his head on one side and looks at her. I murmur:

“I saw a girl on the road to-day; she walked arm in arm with her lover. The girl looked towards me, and could scarcely keep from laughing as I passed.”

“What was she laughing at?”

“I don’t know. At me, I suppose. Why do you ask?”

“Did you know her?”

“Yes. I bowed.”

“And didn’t she know you?”

“No, she acted as if she didn’t know me . . . But why do you sit there worming things out of me? It is not a nice thing to do. You will not get me to tell you her name.”


I murmur again:

“What was she laughing at? She is a flirt; but what was she laughing at? What had I done to harm her?”

Eva answers:

“It was cruel of her to laugh at you.”

“No, it was not cruel of her,” I cry. “How dare you sit there speaking ill of her? She never did an unkind thing; it was only right that she should laugh at me. Be quiet, devil take you, and leave me in peace — do you hear?”

And Eva, terrified, leaves me in peace. I look at her, and repent my harsh words at once; I fall down before her; wringing my hands.

“Go home, Eva. It is you I love most; how could I love a dream? It was only a jest; it is you I love. But go home now; I will come to you to-morrow; remember, I am yours; yes, do not forget it. Good-night.”

And Eva goes home.

* * * * *

The third iron night, a night of extremes! tension. If only there were a little frost! Instead, still heat after the sun of the day; the night is like a lukewarm marsh. I light my fire . . .

“Eva, it can be a delight at times to be dragged by the hair. So strangely can the mind of a man be warped. He can be dragged by the hair over hill and dale, and if asked what is happening, can answer in ecstasy: ‘I am being dragged by the hair!’ And if anyone asks: ‘But shall I not help you, release you?’ he answers: ‘No.’ And if they ask: ‘But how can you endure it?’ he answers: ‘I can endure it, for I love the hand that drags me.’ Eva, do you know what it is to hope?”

“Yes, I think so.”

“Look you, Eva, hope is a strange thing, a very strange thing. You can go out one morning along the road, hoping to meet one whom you are fond of. And do you? No. Why not? Because that one is busy that morning — is somewhere else, perhaps . . . Once I got to know an old blind Lapp up in the hills. For fifty-eight years he had seen nothing, and now he was over seventy. It seemed to him that his sight was getting better little by little; getting on gradually, he thought. If all went well he would be able to make out the sun in a few years’ time. His hair was still black, but his eyes were quite white. When we sat in his hut, smoking, he would tell of all the things he had seen before he went blind. He was hardy and strong; without feeling, indestructible; and he kept his hope. When I was going, he came out with me, and began pointing in different ways. ‘There’s the south,’ he said, ‘and there’s north. Now you go that way first, and when you get a little way down, turn off that way.’ ‘Quite right,’ I said. And at that the Lapp laughed contentedly, and said: ‘There! I did not know that forty or fifty years back, so I must see better now than I used to — yes, it is improving all the time.’ And then he crouched down and crept into his hut again — the same old hut, his home on earth. And he sat down by the fire as before, full of hope that in some few years he would be able to make out the sun . . . Eva, ’tis strange about hope. Here am I, for instance, hoping all the time that I may forget the one I did not meet on the road this morning . . . ”

“You talk so strangely.”

“It is the third of the iron nights. I promise you, Eva, to be a different man to-morrow. Let me be alone now. You will not know me again to-morrow, I shall laugh and kiss you, my own sweet girl. Just think — only this one night more, a few hours — and then I shall be a different man. Godnat, Eva.”


I lie down closer to the fire, and look at the flames. A pine cone falls from the branch; a dry twig or so falls too. The night is like a boundless depth. I close my eyes.

After an hour, my senses begin swinging in a certain rhythm. I am ringing in tune with the great stillness — ringing with it. I look at the half-moon; it stands in the sky like a white scale, and I have a feeling of love for it; I can feel myself blushing. “It is the moon!” I say softly and passionately; “it is the moon!” and my heart strikes toward it in a soft throbbing. So for some minutes. It is blowing a little; a stranger wind comes to me a mysterious current of air. What is it? I look round, but see no one. The wind calls me, and my soul bows acknowledging the call; and I feel myself lifted into the air, pressed to an invisible breast; my eyes are dewed, I tremble — God is standing near, watching me. Again several minutes pass. I turn my head round; the stranger wind is gone, and I see something like the back of a spirit wandering silently in through the woods . . .

I struggle a short while with a heavy melancholy; I was worn out with emotions; I am deathly tired, and I sleep.

* * * * *

When I awoke the night was past. Alas, I had been going about for a long time in a sad state, full of fever, on the verge of falling down stricken with some sickness or other. Often things had seemed upside down. I had been looking at everything through inflamed eyes. A deep misery had possessed me.

It was over now.

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