Pan, by Knut Hamsun


What more have I to write? I fired no shot for many days; I had no food, and did not eat at all; I sat in my shed. Eva was carried to the church in Herr Mack’s white-painted house-boat. I went there overland on foot . . .

Eva is dead. Do you remember her little girlish head, with hair like a nun’s? She came so quietly, laid down her head and smiled. And did you see how full of life that smile was? Be still, Æsop; I remember a strange saga story, of four generations ago, of Iselin’s time, when Stamer was a priest.

A girl sat captive in a stone tower. She loved a lord. Why? Ask the winds and the stars, ask the God of life, for there is none that knows such things. The lord was her friend and lover; but time went on, and one fine day he saw another and his liking changed.

Like a youth he loved his maid. Often he called her his blessing and his dove, and said: “Give me your heart!” And she did so. He said: “May I ask for something, love?” And, wild with joy, she answered “Yes.” And she gave him all, and yet he did not thank her.

The other he loved as a slave, as a madman and a beggar. Why? Ask the dust of the road and the leaves that fall, ask the mysterious God of life, for there is no other that knows such things. She gave him nothing — no, nothing did she give him — and yet he thanked her. She said, “Give me your peace and your understanding!” and he was only sorry that she did not ask his life.

And his maid was set in the tower . . .

“What do you there, maiden, sitting and smiling?”

“I think of something ten years back. It was then I met him.”

“You remember him still?”

“I remember him still.”

And time goes on.

“What do you there, maiden? And why do you sit and smile?”

“I am embroidering his name on a cloth.”

“Whose name? His who shut you up here?”

“Yes, the one I met twenty years ago.”

“You remember him still?”

“I remember him as I did before.”

And time goes on . . .

“What do you there, prisoner?”

“I grow old, and can no longer see to sew; I scrape the plaster from the walls. And of that I am making an urn to be a little gift for him.”

“Of whom are you speaking?”

“Of my lover, who shut me in the tower.”

“And do you smile at that, because he locked you in the tower?”

“I am thinking of what he will say now. ‘Look, look,’ he will say,‘my maiden has sent me a little urn; she has not forgotten me in thirty years.’”

And time goes on . . .

“What, prisoner! sit you there idle, and smile?”

“I grow old, I grow old, my eyes are blind, I am only thinking.”

“Of him that you met forty years ago?”

“Of him whom I met when I was young. Maybe it was forty years ago.”

“But do you not know, then, that he is dead? . . . Pale beldam, you do not answer; your lips are white, you breathe no more . . . ”

There! That was the strange tale of the girl in the tower. Wait, Æsop, wait a little: there was something I forgot. One day she heard her lover’s voice in the courtyard, and she fell on her knees and blushed. And that was when she was forty years . . .

I bury you, Eva, and in humility kiss the sand above your grave. A luxuriant, rose-red memory flowers in me when I think of you; I am as if drenched in blessing at the memory of your smile. You gave all; all did you give, and it cost you nothing, for you were the wild child of life itself. But others, the miserly ones who begrudge even a glance, can have all my thoughts. Why? Ask the twelve months and the ships on the sea; ask the mysterious God of the heart . . .

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