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H.C. Andersen : Twelfth Evening
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H.C. Andersen : Twelfth Evening

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Twelfth Evening

"I shall give you a picture of Pompeii, said the Moon. "I was outside the city, in the Street of the Tombs, as they call the place where happy youths, with wreaths of roses on their heads, once danced with the fair sisters of Lais. Now the silence of death reigns there.

"German soldiers, in the service of Naples, kept guard, and played cards and diced. A group of strangers from beyond the mountains walked into the city, conducted by a guard. They had come to see, in the full clear rays of my light, the city arisen from the grave. I showed them the ruts of the chariot wheels in the streets paved with great slabs of lava. I showed them the names upon the doors and the signs still hanging before the houses. In the narrow courts they saw the fountain basins ornamented with shells, but the waters no longer spouted forth. No longer were songs heard from the richly painted chambers, where the bronze dogs kept watch before the doors. It was the City of the Dead. Vesuvius alone still thundered his eternal hymn, and each stanza of it men call a new eruption. We visited the Temple of Venus, built of pure white marble, with its high altar in front of its broad steps; the weeping willow has sprung up between the columns. The air here was transparent and blue, and in the background loomed Vesuvius, black as coal, its flames rising straight as the trunk of a pine tree. The glowing smoke cloud lay in the still calm of the night like the crown of the pine tree, but red as blood.

"Among the group was a lady singer, a truly great artiste; I have seen the honor done her in the first cities of Europe. They approached the amphitheater, and there they all seated themselves on the stone steps; thus a small space was filled, whereas thousands of years ago the entire place had been. The stage was still there, as in the olden days, with its brick side walls and the two arches in the background, through which the same scenery was visible as in times of old, and Nature herself spread out before us the hills between Sorrento and Amalfi.

"In jest the lady walked up onto the ancient stage and sang. The place inspired her, and I could not but think of a wild Arabian horse, snorting, its mane standing erect, as it dashes off in its wild course; here were the same ease and confidence. I had to think, too, of the suffering mother beneath the Cross of Golgotha, so deep was the feeling, the pain expressed. Round about sounded shouts of delight and applause, as they had thousands of years before here. 'What a heavenly gift!' they all exclaimed.

"Three minutes later the scene was deserted; everyone was gone, and not a sound was heard, for the group had wandered off. But the ruin stood unchanged, as it will stand for centuries yet to come. The momentary applause is forgotten, as are the singer's notes and smiles, forgotten, gone. Even to me this hour will be but a fleeting memory."