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The motif Transformation in HCA : The Flax (1848)
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The motif Transformation in HCA : The Flax (1848)

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See also Intermediate state, To die and go to heaven

Description of this motif: Transformation is a core concept of Johan de Mylius' understanding of both the life and the ouevre of Hans Christian Andersen, cf. among others the book Forvandlingens pris ('The Price of Transformation', 2004). The concept does not only refer to a theme, but also to the aesthetics, in Mylius' book. The existential-religious categori transformation takes place in the moment of death, both crucial concepts in Mylius' view on the oeuvre. The concepts are elaborated in an earlier article: The Moment – a Structure of Mind and World in Hans Christian Andersen's Poetic Writings.

Example :

So the big bundle of paper was laid on the fire. "Oh!" it cried, as it suddenly burst into flame. It rose higher into the air than the flax had ever been able to send its little blue blossoms, and it shone more brilliantly than the linen had ever been able to shine. Instantly the letters written on it became fiery red, and the words and thoughts of the writer vanished in the flame.

I'm going straight up to the sun!" said a voice in the flame. It was as if a thousand voices cried this together, as the flames burst through the chimney and out at the top. And brighter than the flames, but still invisible to mortal eyes, little tiny beings hovered, just as many as there had been blossoms on the flax long ago. They were lighter even than the flame which gave them birth, and when that flame had died away and nothing was left of the paper but black ashes, they danced over the embers again. Wherever their feet touched, their footprints, the tiny red sparks, could be seen. Thus the children came out of school, and the schoolmaster came last. It was a pleasure to watch, and the children of the house sang over the dead ashes:

Snip, snap, snurre,
Basse lurre!
The ballad is over!

But the tiny invisible beings cried, "The ballad is never over! That is the best of all! We know that, and therefore none are so happy as we!"

But the children couldn't hear or understand that. And perhaps that's just as well; children shouldn't know everything.

Comment on this quote:

In "The Flax" the flax goes through a series of painful transformations; it is harvested, "broken and cracked, hackled and scalded". The plant is turned into linen, clothing and eventually paper. Always it contradicts the hedge stakes' pessismistic sentence about death, which is repeated as a refrain in the text:

"Snip, snap, snurre,
Basse lurre!
The ballad is over!"

– meaning that life is over. But the flax says, on the contrary, that "the ballad is by no means over! No, it is just beginning!".

In the end the flax, which has become a manuscript, is burned and thus turned into ashes. But in the process of burning it it said, that "It rose higher into the air than the flax had ever been able to send its little blue blossoms, and it shone more brilliantly than the linen had ever been able to shine". The flax lives on as little sparks in this transformation, that seems to be extermination, but which is not. On the contrary it is a completion, that resembles the end of the oak in "The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream" (1858) and even the transformation of the little mermaid. The end's words, that the children couldn't hear or understand it, and that they "shouldn't know everything" sounds kind of silly, and so may the rest of this tale: The flax' optimism does not seem to be reasonable – it is destroyed, isn't it? It is possible taking it seriously, and there may be a good reason to do that. As Johan de Mylius draws to attention in Forvandlingens pris ('The price of transformation', 2004, pp. 345-49), the almost twenty years olderpoem "Phantasie ved Vesterhavet" has a similar ending:

–Men døe? –ja det er underligt at tænke paa!
Dog, grumme lidt det Hele vi forstaae!
Det er saa stort og smukt hvad Døden skjænker.
Ja meget meer end nogen Digter tænker.
O, saae vi det kun klart med Aandens Blik,
Vi lige strax da ned i Graven gik,
Men vi er' Børn jo kun paa denne Side,
Og Børn maae ikke alt paa eengang vide.
–But die? –yes it is strange to think of!
Though, so little we understand of it all!
What death offers is so great and beautiful.
Yes, much more than any poet imagines.
O, did we only see it clearly with the eyes of the spirit,
We went right into the grave,
But we are but children on this side,
And children should't know everything at once.
[translated by Lars Bo Jensen. Indeed, the rhytm and rhymes are lost. Note that the last line alludes to Paul's First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 13: "Now I know in part, but then I will know fully"]

The Point is that, adults really don't know any more than children, faced with the question of death. And this may be the point in "The Flax", which thus adresses adults as well as children.

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