Pan by Knut Hamsun

I

These last few days I have been thinking and thinking of the Nordland
summer, with its endless day. Sitting here thinking of that, and of a
hut I lived in, and of the woods behind the hut. And writing things
down, by way of passing the time; to amuse myself, no more. The time
goes very slowly; I cannot get it to pass as quickly as I would, though
I have nothing to sorrow for, and live as pleasantly as could be. I am
well content withal, and my thirty years are no age to speak of.

A few days back someone sent me two feathers. Two bird’s feathers in a
sheet of note-paper with a coronet, and fastened with a seal. Sent from
a place a long way off; from one who need not have sent them back at
all. That amused me too, those devilish green feathers.

And for the rest I have no troubles, unless for a touch of gout now and
again in my left foot, from an old bullet-wound, healed long since.

Two years ago, I remember, the time passed quickly–beyond all
comparison more quickly than time now. A summer was gone before I knew.
Two years ago it was, in 1855. I will write of it just to amuse
myself–of something that happened to me, or something I dreamed. Now, I
have forgotten many things belonging to that time, by having scarcely
thought of them since. But I remember that the nights were very light.
And many things seemed curious and unnatural. Twelve months to the
year–but night was like day, and never a star to be seen in the sky.
And the people I met were strange, and of a different nature from those
I had known before; sometimes a single night was enough to make them
blossom out from childhood into the full of their glory, ripe and fully
grown. No witchery in this; only I had never seen the like before. No.

In a white, roomy home down by the sea I met with one who busied my
thoughts for a little time. I do not always think of her now; not any
more. No; I have forgotten her. But I think of all the other things: the
cry of the sea-birds, my hunting in the woods, my nights, and all the
warm hours of that summer. After all, it was only by the merest accident
I happened to meet her; save for that, she would never have been in my
thoughts for a day.

From the hut where I lived, I could see a confusion of rocks and reefs
and islets, and a little of the sea, and a bluish mountain peak or so;
behind the hut was the forest. A huge forest it was; and I was glad and
grateful beyond measure for the scent of roots and leaves, the thick
smell of the fir-sap, that is like the smell of marrow. Only the forest
could bring all things to calm within me; my mind was strong and at
ease. Day after day I tramped over the wooded hills with Æsop at my
side, and asked no more than leave to keep on going there day after day,
though most of the ground was covered still with snow and soft slush. I
had no company but Æsop; now it is Cora, but at that time it was Æsop,
my dog that I afterwards shot.

Often in the evening, when I came back to the hut after being out
shooting all day, I could feel that kindly, homely feeling trickling
through me from head to foot–a pleasant little inward shivering. And I
would talk to Æsop about it, saying how comfortable we were. “There, now
we’ll get a fire going, and roast a bird on the hearth,” I would say;
“what do you say to that?” And when it was done, and we had both fed,
Æsop would slip away to his place behind the hearth, while I lit a pipe
and lay down on the bench for a while, listening to the dead soughing of
the trees. There was a slight breeze bearing down towards the hut, and I
could hear quite clearly the clutter of a grouse far away on the ridge
behind. Save for that, all was still.

And many a time I fell asleep there as I lay, just as I was, fully
dressed and all, and did not wake till the seabirds began calling. And
then, looking out of the window, I could see the big white buildings of
the trading station, the landing stage at Girilund, the store where I
used to get my bread. And I would lie there a while, wondering how I
came to be there, in a hut on the fringe of a forest, away up in
Nordland.

Then Æsop over by the hearth would shake out his long, slender body,
rattling his collar, and yawning and wagging his tail, and I would jump
up, after those three or four hours of sleep, fully rested and full of
joy in everything … everything.

Many a night passed just that way.

II

Rain and storm–’tis not such things that count. Many a time some little
joy can come along on a rainy day, and make a man turn off somewhere to
be alone with his happiness–stand up somewhere and look out straight
ahead, laughing quietly now and again, and looking round. What is there
to think of? One clear pane in a window, a ray of sunlight in the pane,
the sight of a little brook, or maybe a blue strip of sky between the
clouds. It needs no more than that.

At other times, even quite unusual happenings cannot avail to lift a man
from dulness and poverty of mind; one can sit in the middle of a
ballroom and be cool, indifferent, unaffected by anything. Sorrow and
joy are from within oneself.

One day I remember now. I had gone down to the coast. The rain came on
suddenly, and I slipped into an open boathouse to sit down for a while.
I was humming a little, but not for any joy or pleasure, only to pass
the time. Æsop was with me; he sat up listening, and I stopped humming
and listened as well. Voices outside; people coming nearer. A mere
chance–nothing more natural. A little party, two men and a girl, came
tumbling in suddenly to where I sat, calling to one another and
laughing:

“Quick! Get in here till it stops!”

I got up.

One of the men had a white shirt front, soft, and now soaked with rain
into the bargain, and all bagging down; and in that wet shirt front a
diamond clasp. Long, pointed shoes he wore, too, that looked somewhat
affected. I gave him good-day. It was Mack, the trader; I knew him
because he was from the store where I used to get my bread. He had asked
me to look in at the house any time, but I had not been there yet.

“Aha, it’s you, is it?” said Mack at sight of me. “We were going up to
the mill, but had to turn back. Ever see such weather–what? And when
are you coming up to see us at Sirilund, Lieutenant?”

He introduced the little black-bearded man who was with him; a doctor,
staying down near the church.

The girl lifted her veil the least little bit, to her nose, and started
talking to Æsop in a whisper. I noticed her jacket; I could see from
the lining and the buttonholes that it had been dyed. Mack introduced me
to her as well; his daughter, Edwarda.

Edwarda gave me one glance through her veil, and went on whispering to
the dog, and reading on its collar:

“So you’re called Æsop, are you? Doctor, who was Æsop? All I can
remember is that he wrote fables. Wasn’t he a Phrygian? I can’t
remember.”

A child, a schoolgirl. I looked at her–she was tall, but with no figure
to speak of, about fifteen or sixteen, with long, dark hands and no
gloves. Like as not she had looked up Æsop in the dictionary that
afternoon, to have it ready.

Mack asked me what sport I was having. What did I shoot mostly? I could
have one of his boats at any time if I wanted–only let him know. The
Doctor said nothing at all. When they went off again, I noticed that the
Doctor limped a little, and walked with a stick.

I walked home as empty in mind as before, humming all indifferently.
That meeting in the boathouse had made no difference either way to me;
the one thing I remembered best of all was Mack’s wet shirt front, with
a diamond clasp–the diamond all wet, too, and no great brilliance about
it, either.

III

There was a stone outside my hut, a tall grey stone. It looked as if it
had a sort of friendly feeling towards me; as if it noticed me when I
came by, and knew me again. I liked to go round that way past the
stone, when I went out in the morning; it was like leaving a good friend
there, who I knew would be still waiting for me when I came back.

Then up in the woods hunting, sometimes finding game, sometimes none…

Out beyond the islands, the sea lay heavily calm. Many a time I have
stood and looked at it from the hills, far up above. On a calm day, the
ships seemed hardly to move at all; I could see the same sail for three
days, small and white, like a gull on the water. Then, perhaps, if the
wind veered round, the peaks in the distance would almost disappear, and
there came a storm, the south-westerly gale; a play for me to stand and
watch. All things in a seething mist. Earth and sky mingled together,
the sea flung up into fantastic dancing figures of men and horses and
fluttering banners on the air. I stood in the shelter of an overhanging
rock, thinking many things; my soul was tense. Heaven knows, I thought
to myself, what it is I am watching here, and why the sea should open
before my eyes. Maybe I am seeing now the inner brain of earth, how
things are at work there, boiling and foaming. Æsop was restless; now
and again he would thrust up his muzzle and sniff, in a troubled way,
with legs quivering uneasily; when I took no notice, he lay down between
my feet and stared out to sea as I was doing. And never a cry, never a
word of human voice to be heard anywhere; nothing; only the heavy rush
of the wind about my head. There was a reef of rocks far out, lying all
apart; when the sea raged up over it the water towered like a crazy
screw; nay, like a sea-god rising wet in the air, and snorting, till
hair and beard stood out like a wheel about his head. Then he plunged
down into the breakers once more.

And in the midst of the storm, a little coal-black steamer fighting its
way in…

When I went down to the quay in the afternoon, the little coal-black
steamer had come in; it was the mail-packet. Many people had gathered on
the quayside to see the rare visitor; I noticed that all without
exception had blue eyes, however different they might be in other ways.
A young girl with a white woolen kerchief over her head stood a little
apart; she had very dark hair, and the white kerchief showed up
strangely against it. She looked at me curiously, at my leather suit, my
gun; when I spoke to her, she was embarrassed, and turned her head away.
I said:

“You should always wear a white kerchief like that; it suits you well.”

Just then a burly man in an Iceland jersey came up and joined her; he
called her Eva. Evidently she was his daughter. I knew the burly man; he
was the local smith, the blacksmith. Only a few days back he had mended
the nipple of one of my guns…

And rain and wind did their work, and thawed away the snow. For some
days a cheerless cold hovered over the earth; rotten branches snapped,
and the crows gathered in flocks, complaining. But it was not for long;
the sun was near, and one day it rose up behind the forest.

It sends a strip of sweetness through me from head to foot when the sun
comes up; I shoulder my gun with quiet delight.

IV

I was never short of game those days, but shot all I cared to–a hare, a
grouse, a ptarmigan–and when I happened to be down near the shore and
came within range of some seabird or other, I shot it too. It was a
pleasant time; the days grew longer and the air clearer; I packed up
things for a couple of days and set off up into the hills, up to the
mountain peaks. I met reindeer Lapps, and they gave me cheese–rich
little cheeses tasting of herbs. I went up that way more than once.
Then, going home again, I always shot some bird or other to put in my
bag. I sat down and put Æsop on the lead. Miles below me was the sea;
the mountainsides were wet and black with the water running down them,
dripping and trickling always with the same little sound. That little
sound of the water far up on the hills has shortened many an hour for me
when I sat looking about. Here, I thought to myself, is a little endless
song trickling away all to itself, and no one ever hears it, and no one
ever thinks of it, and still it trickles on nevertheless, to itself, all
the time, all the time! And I felt that the mountains were no longer
quite deserted, as long as I could hear that little trickling song. Now
and again something would happen: a clap of thunder shaking the earth, a
mass of rock slipping loose and rushing down towards the sea, leaving a
trail of smoking dust behind. Æsop turned his nose to the wind at once,
sniffing in surprise at the smell of burning that he could not
understand. When the melting of the snow had made rifts in the hillside,
a shot, or even a sharp cry, was enough to loosen a great block and send
it tumbling down…

An hour might pass, or perhaps more–the time went so quickly. I let
Æsop loose, slung my bag over the other shoulder, and set off towards
home. It was getting late. Lower down in the forest, I came unfailingly
upon my old, well-known path, a narrow ribbon of a path, with the
strangest bends and turns. I followed each one of them, taking my
time–there was no hurry. No one waiting for me at home. Free as a
lord, a ruler, I could ramble about there in the peaceful woods, just as
idly as I pleased. All the birds were silent; only the grouse was
calling far away–it was always calling.

I came out of the wood and saw two figures ahead, two persons moving. I
came up with them. One was Edwarda, and I recognized her, and gave a
greeting; the Doctor was with her. I had to show them my gun; they
looked at my compass, my bag; I invited them to my hut, and they
promised to come some day.

It was evening now. I went home and lit a fire, roasted a bird, and had
a meal. To-morrow there would be another day…

All things quiet and still. I lay that evening looking out the window.
There was a fairy glimmer at that hour over wood and field; the sun had
gone down, and dyed the horizon with a rich red light that stood there
still as oil. The sky all open and clean; I stared into that clear sea,
and it seemed as if I were lying face to face with the uttermost depth
of the world; my heart beating tensely against it, and at home there.
God knows, I thought to myself, God knows why the sky is dressed in gold
and mauve to-night, if there is not some festival going on up there in
the world, some great feast with music from the stars, and boats gliding
along river ways. It looks so!–And I closed my eyes, and followed the
boats, and thoughts and thoughts floated through my mind…

So more than one day passed.

I wandered about, noting how the snow turned to water, how the ice
loosed its hold. Many a day I did not even fire a shot, when I had food
enough in the hut–only wandered about in my freedom, and let the time
pass. Whichever way I turned, there was always just as much to see
and hear–all things changing a little every day. Even the osier
thickets and the juniper stood waiting for the spring. One day I went
out to the mill; it was still icebound, but the earth around it had been
trampled through many and many a year, showing how men and more men had
come that way with sacks of corn on their shoulders, to be ground. It
was like walking among human beings to go there; and there were many
dates and letters cut in the walls.

Well, well…

V

Shall I write more? No, no. Only a little for my own amusement’s sake,
and because it passes the time for me to tell of how the spring came two
years back, and how everything looked then. Earth and sea began to smell
a little; there was a sweetish, rotting smell from the dead leaves in
the wood, and the magpies flew with twigs in their beaks, building their
nests. A couple of days more, and the brooks began to swell and foam;
here and there a butterfly was to be seen, and the fishermen came home
from their stations. The trader’s two boats came in laden deep with
fish, and anchored off the drying grounds; there was life and commotion
all of a sudden out on the biggest of the islands, where the fish were
to be spread on the rocks to dry. I could see it all from my window.

But no noise reached the hut; I was alone, and remained so. Now and
again someone would pass. I saw Eva, the blacksmith’s girl; she had got
a couple of freckles on her nose.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Out for firewood,” she answered quietly. She had a rope in her hand to
carry the wood, and her white kerchief on her head. I stood watching
her, but she did not turn round.

After that I saw no one for days.

The spring was urging, and the forest listened; it was a great delight
to watch the thrushes sitting in the tree-tops staring at the sun and
crying; sometimes I would get up as early as two in the morning, just
for a share of the joy that went out from bird and beast at sunrise.

The spring had reached me too, maybe, and my blood beat at times as if
it were footsteps. I sat in the hut, and thought of overhauling my
fishing rods and lines and gear, but moved never a finger to any work at
all, for a glad, mysterious restlessness that was in and out of my heart
all the while. Then suddenly Æsop sprang up, stood and stiffened, and
gave a short bark. Someone coming to the hut! I pulled off my cap
quickly, and heard Edwarda’s voice already at the door. Kindly and
without ceremony she and the Doctor had come to pay me a visit, as they
had said.

“Yes,” I heard her say, “he is at home.” And she stepped forward, and
gave me her hand in her simple girlish way. “We were here yesterday, but
you were out,” she said.

She sat down on the rug over my wooden bedstead and looked round the
hut; the Doctor sat down beside me on the long bench. We talked, chatted
away at ease; I told them things, such as what kinds of animals there
were in the woods, and what game I could not shoot because of the closed
season. It was the closed season for grouse just now.

The Doctor did not say much this time either, but catching sight of my
powder-horn, with a figure of Pan carved on it, he started to explain
the myth of Pan.

“But,” said Edwarda suddenly, “what do you live on when it’s closed
season for all game?”

“Fish,” I said. “Fish mostly. But there’s always something to eat.”

“But you might come up to us for your meals,” she said. “There was an
Englishman here last year–he had taken the hut–and he often came to us
for meals.”

Edwarda looked at me and I at her. I felt at the moment something
touching my heart like a little fleeting welcome. It must have been the
spring, and the bright day; I have thought it over since. Also, I
admired the curve of her eyebrows.

She said something about my place; how I had arranged things in the hut.
I had hung up skins of several sorts on the walls, and birds’ wings; it
looked like a shaggy den on the inside. She liked it. “Yes, a den,” she
said.

I had nothing to offer my visitors that they would care about; I thought
of it, and would have roasted a bird for them, just for amusement–let
them eat it hunter’s fashion, with their fingers. It might amuse them.

And I cooked the bird.

Edwarda told about the Englishman. An old man, an eccentric, who talked
aloud to himself. He was a Roman Catholic, and always carried a little
prayer-book, with red and black letters, about with him wherever he
went.

“Was he an Irishman then?” asked the Doctor.

“An Irishman…?”

“Yes–since he was a Roman Catholic.”

Edwarda blushed, and stammered and looked away.

“Well, yes, perhaps he was an Irishman.”

After that she lost her liveliness. I felt sorry for her, and tried to
put matters straight again. I said:

“No, of course you are right: he was an Englishman. Irishmen don’t go
travelling about in Norway.”

We agreed to row over one day and see the fish-drying grounds…

When I had seen my visitors a few steps on their way, I walked home
again and sat down to work at my fishing gear. My hand-net had been hung
from a nail by the door, and several of the meshes were damaged by rust;
I sharpened up some hooks, knotted them to lengths of line, and looked
to the other nets. How hard it seemed to do any work at all to-day!
Thoughts that had nothing to do with the business in hand kept coming
and going; it occurred to me that I had done wrong in letting Edwarda
sit on the bed all the time, instead of offering her a seat on the
bench. I saw before me suddenly her brown face and neck; she had
fastened her apron a little low down in front, to be long-waisted, as
was the fashion; the girlish contour of her thumb affected me tenderly,
and the little wrinkles above the knuckle were full of kindliness. Her
mouth was large and rich.

I rose up and opened the door and looked out. I could hear nothing, and
indeed there was nothing to listen for. I closed the door again; Æsop
came up from his resting-place and noticed that I was restless about
something. Then it struck me that I might run after Edwarda and ask her
for a little silk thread to mend my net with. It would not be any
pretence–I could take down the net and show her where the meshes were
spoiled by rust. I was already outside the door when I remembered that I
had silk thread myself in my fly-book; more indeed than I wanted. And I
went back slowly, discouraged–to think that I had silk thread myself.

A breath of something strange met me as I entered the hut again; it
seemed as if I were no longer alone there.