Pan, by Knut Hamsun


A man asked me if I had given up shooting; he had not heard me fire a shot up in the hills, though he had been out fishing for two days. No, I had shot nothing; I had stayed at home in the hut until I had no more food in the place.

On the third day I went out with my gun. The woods were getting green; there was a smell of earth and trees. The young grass was already springing up from the frozen moss. I was in a thoughtful mood, and sat down several times. For three days I had not seen a soul except the one fisherman I had met the day before. I thought to myself, “Perhaps I may meet someone this evening on the way home, at the edge of the wood, where I met the Doctor and Edwarda before. Perhaps they may be going for a walk that way again — perhaps, perhaps not.” But why should I think of those two in particular? I shot a couple of ptarmigan, and cooked one of them at once; then I tied up the dog.

I lay down on the dry ground to eat. The earth was quiet — only a little breath of wind and the sound of a bird here and there. I lay and watched the branches waving gently in the breeze; the little wind was at its work, carrying pollen from branch to branch and filling every innocent bloom; all the forest seemed filled with delight. A green worm thing, a caterpillar, dragged itself end by end along a branch, dragging along unceasingly, as if it could not rest. It saw hardly anything, for all it had eyes; often it stood straight up in the air, feeling about for something to take hold of; it looked like a stump of green thread sewing a seam with long stitches along the branch. By evening, perhaps, it would have reached its goal.

Quiet as ever. I get up and move on, sit down and get up again. It is about four o’clock; about six I can start for home, and see if I happen to meet anyone. Two hours to wait; a little restless already, I brush the dust and heather from my clothes. I know the places I pass by, trees and stones stand there as before in their solitude; the leaves rustle underfoot as I walk. The monotonous breathing and the familiar trees and stones mean much to me; I am filled with a strange thankfulness; everything seems well disposed towards me, mingles with my being; I love it all. I pick up a little dry twig and hold it in my hand and sit looking at it, and think my own thoughts; the twig is almost rotten, its poor bark touches me, pity fills my heart. And when I get up again, I do not throw the twig far away, but lay it down, and stand liking it; at last I look at it once more with wet eyes before I go away and leave it there.

Five o’clock. The sun tells me false time today; I have been walking westward the whole day, and come perhaps half an hour ahead of my sun marks at the hut. I am quite aware of all this, but none the less there is an hour yet before six o’clock, so I get up again and go on a little. And the leaves rustle under foot. An hour goes that way.

I look down at the little stream and the little mill that has been icebound all the winter, and I stop. The mill is working; the noise of it wakes me, and I stop suddenly, there and then. “I have stayed out too long,” I say aloud. A pang goes through me; I turn at once and begin walking homewards, but all the time I know I have stayed out too long. I walk faster, then run; Æsop understands there is something the matter, and pulls at the leash, drags me along, sniffs at the ground, and is all haste. The dry leaves crackle about us.

But when we come to the edge of the wood there was no one there. No, all was quiet; there was no one there.

“There is no one here,” I said to myself. And yet it was no worse than I had expected.

I did not stay long, but walked on, drawn by all my thoughts, passed by my hut, and went down to Sirilund with Æsop and my bag and gun — with all my belongings.

Herr Mack received me with the greatest friendliness, and asked me to stay to supper.

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