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An essay by Hans Christian Andersen


Title:     Danemora
Author: Hans Christian Andersen [More Titles by Andersen]

Reader, do you know what giddiness is? Pray that she may not seize you, this mighty "Loreley" of the heights, this evil-genius from the land of the sylphides; she whizzes around her prey, and whirls it into the abyss. She sits on the narrow rocky path, close by the steep declivity, where no tree, no branch is found, where the wanderer must creep close to the side of the rock, and look steadily forward. She sits on the church spire and nods to the plumber who works on his swaying scaffold; she glides into the illumined saloon, and up to the nervous, solitary one, in the middle of the bright polished floor, and it sways under him--the walls vanish from him.

Her fingers touch one of the hairs of our head, and we feel as if the air had left us, and we were in a vacuum.

We met with her at Danemora's immense gulf, whither we came on broad, smooth, excellent high-roads, through the fresh forest. She sat on the extreme edge of the rocky wall, above the abyss, and kicked at the tun with her thin, awl-like legs, as it hung in iron chains on large beams, from the tower-high corner of the bridge by the precipice.

The traveller raised his foot over the abyss, and set it on the tun, into which one of the workmen received him, and held him; and the chains rattled; the pulleys turned; the tun sank slowly, hovering through the air. But he felt the descent; he felt it through his bones and marrow; through all the nerves. Her icy breath blew in his neck, and down the spine, and the air itself became colder and colder. It seemed to him as if the rocks grew over his head, always higher and higher: the tun made a slight swinging, but he felt it, like a fall--a fall in sleep, that shock in the blood. Did it go quicker downwards, or was it going up again? He could not distinguish by the sensation.

The tun touched the ground, or rather the snow--the dirty trodden, eternal snow, down to which no sunbeam reaches, which no summer warmth from above ever melts. A hollow sound was heard from within the dark, yawning cavern, and a thick vapour rolled out into the cold air. The stranger entered the dark halls; there seemed to be a crashing above him: the fire burned; the furnaces roared; the beating of hammers sounded; the watery damps dripped down--and he again entered the tun, which was hoven up in the air. He sat with closed eyes, but giddiness breathed on his head, and on his breast; his inwardly-turned eye measured the giddy depth through the tun: "It is appalling," said he.

"Appalling!" echoed the brave and estimable stranger, whom we met at Danemora's great gulf. He was a man from Scania, consequently from the same street as the Sealander--if the Sound be called a street (strait). "But, however, one can say one has been down there," said he, and he pointed to the gulf; "right down, and up again; but it is no pleasure at all."

"But why descend at all?" said I. "Why will men do these things?"

"One must, you know, when one comes here," said he. "The plague of travelling is, that one must see everything: one would not have it supposed otherwise. It is a shame to a man, when he gets home again, not to have seen everything, that others ask him about."

"If you have no desire, then let it alone. See what pleases you on your travels. Go two paces nearer than where you stand, and become quite giddy: you will then have formed some conception of the passage downward. I will hold you fast, and describe the rest of it for you." And I did so, and the perspiration sprang from his forehead.

"Yes, so it is: I apprehend it all," said he: "I am clearly sensible of it."

I described the dirty grey snow covering, which the sun's warmth never thaws; the cold down there, and the caverns, and the fire, and the workmen, &c.;

"Yes; one should be able to tell all about it," said he. "That _you_ can, for you have seen it."

"No more than you," said I. "I came to the gulf; I saw the depth, the snow below, the smoke that rolled out of the caverns; but when it was time I should get into the tun--no, thank you. Giddiness tickled me with her long, awl-like legs, and so I stayed where I was I have felt the descent, through the spine and the soles of the feet, and that as well as any one: the descent is the pinch. I have been in the Hartz, under Rammelsberg; glided, as on Russian mountains, at Hallein, through the mountain, from the top down to the salt-works; wandered about in the catacombs of Rome and Malta: and what does one see in the deep passages? Gloom--darkness! What does one feel? Cold, and a sense of oppression--a longing for air and light, which is by far the best; and that we have now."

"But nevertheless, it is so very remarkable!" said the man; and he drew forth his "Hand-book for Travellers in Sweden," from which he read: "Danemora's iron-works are the oldest, largest, and richest in Sweden; the best in Europe. They have seventy-nine openings, of which seventeen only are being worked. The machine mine is ninety-three fathoms deep."

Just then the bells sounded from below: it was the signal that the time of labour for that day was ended. The hue of eve still shone on the tops of the trees above; but down in that deep, far-extended gulf, it was a perfect twilight. Thence, and out of the dark caverns, the workmen swarmed forth. They looked like flies, quite small in the space below: they scrambled up the long ladders, which hung from the steep sides of the rocks, in separate landing-places: they climbed higher and higher--upwards, upwards--and at every step they became larger. The iron chains creaked in the scaffolding of beams, and three or four young fellows stood in their wooden shoes on the edge of the tun; chatted away right merrily, and kicked with their feet against the side of the rock, so that they swung from it: and it became darker and darker below; it was as if the deep abyss became still deeper!

"It is appalling!" said the man from Scania. "One ought, however, to have gone down there, if it were only to swear that one _had_ been. You, however, have certainly been down there," said he again to me.

"Believe what you will," I replied; and I say the same to the reader.

[The end]
Hans Christian Andersen's essay: Danemora