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The Old Street Lamp
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The Old Street Lamp - Fairy Tale by Hans Christian Andersen

Reading time for children: 20 min

Did you ever hear the story of the old street lamp? It is not remarkably interesting, but for once in a way you may as well listen to it. It was a most respectable old lamp, which had seen many, many years of service, and now was to retire with a pension. It was this evening at its post for the last time, giving light to the street. His feelings were something like those of an old dancer at the theatre, who is dancing for the last time, and knows that on the morrow she will be in her garret, alone and forgotten. The lamp had very great anxiety about the next day, for he knew that he had to appear for the first time at the town hall, to be inspected by the mayor and the council, who were to decide if he were fit for further service or not;– whether the lamp was good enough to be used to light the inhabitants of one of the suburbs, or in the country, at some factory; and if not, it would be sent at once to an iron foundry, to be melted down. In this latter case it might be turned into anything, and he wondered very much whether he would then be able to remember that he had once been a street lamp, and it troubled him exceedingly. Whatever might happen, one thing seemed certain, that he would be separated from the watchman and his wife, whose family he looked upon as his own. The lamp had first been hung up on that very evening that the watchman, then a robust young man, had entered upon the duties of his office. Ah, well, it was a very long time since one became a lamp and the other a watchman. His wife had a little pride in those days. She seldom condescended to glance at the lamp, excepting when she passed by in the evening, never in the daytime. But in later years, when all these,– the watchman, the wife, and the lamp– had grown old, she had attended to it, cleaned it, and supplied it with oil. The old people were thoroughly honest, they had never cheated the lamp of a single drop of the oil provided for it.

This was the lamp’s last night in the street, and to-morrow he must go to the town-hall,– two very dark things to think of. No wonder he did not burn brightly. Many other thoughts also passed through his mind. How many persons he had lighted on their way, and how much he had seen; as much, very likely, as the mayor and corporation themselves! None of these thoughts were uttered aloud, however. For he was a good, honorable old lamp, who would not willingly do harm to any one, especially to those in authority. As many things were recalled to his mind, the light would flash up with sudden brightness. He had, at such moments, a conviction that he would be remembered. „There was a handsome young man once,“ thought he; „it is certainly a long while ago, but I remember he had a little note, written on pink paper with a gold edge. The writing was elegant, evidently a lady’s hand: twice he read it through, and kissed it, and then looked up at me, with eyes that said quite plainly, ‚I am the happiest of men!‘ Only he and I know what was written on this his first letter from his lady-love. Ah, yes, and there was another pair of eyes that I remember,– it is really wonderful how the thoughts jump from one thing to another! A funeral passed through the street; a young and beautiful woman lay on a bier, decked with garlands of flowers, and attended by torches, which quite overpowered my light. All along the street stood the people from the houses, in crowds, ready to join the procession. But when the torches had passed from before me, and I could look round, I saw one person alone, standing, leaning against my post, and weeping. Never shall I forget the sorrowful eyes that looked up at me.“ These and similar reflections occupied the old street lamp, on this the last time that his light would shine. The sentry, when he is relieved from his post, knows at least who will succeed him, and may whisper a few words to him, but the lamp did not know his successor, or he could have given him a few hints respecting rain, or mist, and could have informed him how far the moon’s rays would rest on the pavement, and from which side the wind generally blew, and so on.

On the bridge over the canal stood three persons, who wished to recommend themselves to the lamp, for they thought he could give the office to whomsoever he chose. The first was a herring’s head, which could emit light in the darkness. He remarked that it would be a great saving of oil if they placed him on the lamp-post. Number two was a piece of rotten wood, which also shines in the dark. He considered himself descended from an old stem, once the pride of the forest. The third was a glow-worm, and how he found his way there the lamp could not imagine, yet there he was, and could really give light as well as the others. But the rotten wood and the herring’s head declared most solemnly, by all they held sacred, that the glow-worm only gave light at certain times, and must not be allowed to compete with themselves. The old lamp assured them that not one of them could give sufficient light to fill the position of a street lamp; but they would believe nothing he said. And when they discovered that he had not the power of naming his successor, they said they were very glad to hear it, for the lamp was too old and worn-out to make a proper choice.

At this moment the wind came rushing round the corner of the street, and through the air-holes of the old lamp. „What is this I hear?“ said he; „that you are going away to-morrow? Is this evening the last time we shall meet? Then I must present you with a farewell gift. I will blow into your brain, so that in future you shall not only be able to remember all that you have seen or heard in the past, but your light within shall be so bright, that you shall be able to understand all that is said or done in your presence.“

„Oh, that is really a very, very great gift,“ said the old lamp; „I thank you most heartily. I only hope I shall not be melted down.“

„That is not likely to happen yet,“ said the wind. „And I will also blow a memory into you, so that should you receive other similar presents your old age will pass very pleasantly.“

„That is if I am not melted down,“ said the lamp. „But should I in that case still retain my memory?“

„Do be reasonable, old lamp,“ said the wind, puffing away.

At this moment the moon burst forth from the clouds. „What will you give the old lamp?“ asked the wind.

„I can give nothing,“ she replied; „I am on the wane, and no lamps have ever given me light while I have frequently shone upon them.“ And with these words the moon hid herself again behind the clouds, that she might be saved from further importunities. Just then a drop fell upon the lamp, from the roof of the house, but the drop explained that he was a gift from those gray clouds, and perhaps the best of all gifts. „I shall penetrate you so thoroughly,“ he said, „that you will have the power of becoming rusty, and, if you wish it, to crumble into dust in one night.“

But this seemed to the lamp a very shabby present, and the wind thought so too. „Does no one give any more? Will no one give any more?“ shouted the breath of the wind, as loud as it could. Then a bright falling star came down, leaving a broad, luminous streak behind it.

„What was that?“ cried the herring’s head. „Did not a star fall? I really believe it went into the lamp. Certainly, when such high-born personages try for the office, we may as well say ‚Good-night,‘ and go home.“

And so they did, all three, while the old lamp threw a wonderfully strong light all around him.

„This is a glorious gift,“ said he; „the bright stars have always been a joy to me, and have always shone more brilliantly than I ever could shine, though I have tried with my whole might; and now they have noticed me, a poor old lamp, and have sent me a gift that will enable me to see clearly everything that I remember, as if it still stood before me, and to be seen by all those who love me. And herein lies the truest pleasure, for joy which we cannot share with others is only half enjoyed.“

„That sentiment does you honor,“ said the wind. „But for this purpose wax lights will be necessary. If these are not lighted in you, your particular faculties will not benefit others in the least. The stars have not thought of this. They suppose that you and every other light must be a wax taper: but I must go down now.“ So he laid himself to rest.

„Wax tapers, indeed!“ said the lamp, „I have never yet had these, nor is it likely I ever shall. If I could only be sure of not being melted down!“

The next day. Well, perhaps we had better pass over the next day. The evening had come, and the lamp was resting in a grandfather’s chair, and guess where! Why, at the old watchman’s house. He had begged, as a favor, that the mayor and corporation would allow him to keep the street lamp, in consideration of his long and faithful service, as he had himself hung it up and lit it on the day he first commenced his duties, four-and-twenty years ago. He looked upon it almost as his own child. He had no children, so the lamp was given to him. There it lay in the great arm-chair near to the warm stove. It seemed almost as if it had grown larger, for it appeared quite to fill the chair. The old people sat at their supper, casting friendly glances at the old lamp, whom they would willingly have admitted to a place at the table. It is quite true that they dwelt in a cellar, two yards deep in the earth, and they had to cross a stone passage to get to their room, but within it was warm and comfortable and strips of list had been nailed round the door. The bed and the little window had curtains, and everything looked clean and neat. On the window seat stood two curious flower-pots which a sailor, named Christian, had brought over from the East or West Indies. They were of clay, and in the form of two elephants, with open backs. They were hollow and filled with earth, and through the open space flowers bloomed. In one grew some very fine chives or leeks. This was the kitchen garden. The other elephant, which contained a beautiful geranium, they called their flower garden. On the wall hung a large colored print, representing the congress of Vienna, and all the kings and emperors at once. A clock, with heavy weights, hung on the wall and went „tick, tick,“ steadily enough. Yet it was always rather too fast, which, however, the old people said was better than being too slow. They were now eating their supper, while the old street lamp, as we have heard, lay in the grandfather’s arm-chair near the stove. It seemed to the lamp as if the whole world had turned round; but after a while the old watchman looked at the lamp, and spoke of what they had both gone through together,– in rain and in fog; during the short bright nights of summer, or in the long winter nights, through the drifting snow-storms, when he longed to be at home in the cellar. Then the lamp felt it was all right again. He saw everything that had happened quite clearly, as if it were passing before him. Surely the wind had given him an excellent gift. The old people were very active and industrious, they were never idle for even a single hour. On Sunday afternoons they would bring out some books, generally a book of travels which they were very fond of. The old man would read aloud about Africa, with its great forests and the wild elephants, while his wife would listen attentively, stealing a glance now and then at the clay elephants, which served as flower-pots.

„I can almost imagine I am seeing it all,“ she said; and then how the lamp wished for a wax taper to be lighted in him, for then the old woman would have seen the smallest detail as clearly as he did himself. The lofty trees, with their thickly entwined branches, the naked negroes on horseback, and whole herds of elephants treading down bamboo thickets with their broad, heavy feet.

„What is the use of all my capabilities,“ sighed the old lamp, „when I cannot obtain any wax lights. They have only oil and tallow here, and these will not do.“ One day a great heap of wax-candle ends found their way into the cellar. The larger pieces were burnt, and the smaller ones the old woman kept for waxing her thread. So there were now candles enough, but it never occurred to any one to put a little piece in the lamp.

„Here I am now with my rare powers,“ thought the lamp, „I have faculties within me, but I cannot share them. They do not know that I could cover these white walls with beautiful tapestry, or change them into noble forests, or, indeed, to anything else they might wish for.“ The lamp, however, was always kept clean and shining in a corner where it attracted all eyes. Strangers looked upon it as lumber, but the old people did not care for that. They loved the lamp. One day– it was the watchman’s birthday– the old woman approached the lamp, smiling to herself, and said, „I will have an illumination today in honor of my old man.“ And the lamp rattled in his metal frame, for he thought, „Now at last I shall have a light within me,“ but after all no wax light was placed in the lamp, but oil as usual. The lamp burned through the whole evening, and began to perceive too clearly that the gift of the stars would remain a hidden treasure all his life. Then he had a dream; for, to one with his faculties, dreaming was no difficulty. It appeared to him that the old people were dead, and that he had been taken to the iron foundry to be melted down. It caused him quite as much anxiety as on the day when he had been called upon to appear before the mayor and the council at the town-hall. But though he had been endowed with the power of falling into decay from rust when he pleased, he did not make use of it. He was therefore put into the melting-furnace and changed into as elegant an iron candlestick as you could wish to see, one intended to hold a wax taper. The candlestick was in the form of an angel holding a nosegay, in the centre of which the wax taper was to be placed. It was to stand on a green writing table, in a very pleasant room; many books were scattered about, and splendid paintings hung on the walls. The owner of the room was a poet, and a man of intellect; everything he thought or wrote was pictured around him. Nature showed herself to him sometimes in the dark forests, at others in cheerful meadows where the storks were strutting about, or on the deck of a ship sailing across the foaming sea with the clear, blue sky above, or at night the glittering stars. „What powers I possess!“ said the lamp, awaking from his dream; „I could almost wish to be melted down; but no, that must not be while the old people live. They love me for myself alone, they keep me bright, and supply me with oil. I am as well off as the picture of the congress, in which they take so much pleasure.“ And from that time he felt at rest in himself, and not more so than such an honorable old lamp really deserved to be.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The old street lamp“

„The Old Street Lamp“ is a lesser-known fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1847. This story focuses on the life and experiences of an old street lamp, which is personified and given human-like thoughts and feelings.

The backgrounds and inspirations behind this fairy tale are not as well documented as some of Andersen’s more famous works. However, it is believed that Andersen’s intention was to use the street lamp as a symbol to explore themes of transformation, purpose, and the passage of time. The story also reflects Andersen’s ability to bring inanimate objects to life and imbue them with human emotions, which is a recurring theme throughout his body of work.

„The Old Street Lamp“ demonstrates the author’s keen observation of everyday life and his ability to find beauty and meaning in seemingly mundane objects. By using a street lamp as the protagonist, Andersen offers a unique perspective on the world, as the lamp witnesses the lives of various people who pass by and the changes that occur in the city over time.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The old street lamp“

„The Old Street Lamp“ by Hans Christian Andersen can be interpreted in several ways, exploring various themes and offering valuable life lessons:

Transformation and renewal: The street lamp undergoes several transformations throughout the story, from being a source of light on the street to becoming a decorative piece in a garden and finally a flower pot. This can be seen as a metaphor for the changes that people experience in their lives and the potential for renewal, growth, and adaptation.

Appreciation of life’s simple pleasures: The street lamp finds joy in witnessing the small, everyday moments of the people who pass by, such as children playing, lovers meeting, and the changing seasons. This can be interpreted as a reminder to appreciate the simple pleasures in life and to find beauty in the ordinary.

The passage of time: The story follows the life of the street lamp over a considerable period, during which the city and its people change. This can be seen as a reflection on the passage of time, the impermanence of things, and the constant evolution of society.

The importance of purpose: Throughout the story, the street lamp seeks to find a new purpose and meaning in its existence after being replaced by a more modern lamp. This theme emphasizes the importance of having a purpose in life and the potential for finding meaning even when circumstances change.

Empathy and understanding: By giving the street lamp human-like thoughts and feelings, Andersen encourages readers to empathize with an inanimate object, promoting the idea that even seemingly unimportant things can have a story and a perspective. This can be a reminder to approach life with an open mind and to try to understand and empathize with others, even when they might appear insignificant at first glance.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The old street lamp“

While there may not be many direct adaptations of „The Old Street Lamp“ by Hans Christian Andersen, the story has been referenced or included in various forms of media:

Animated films: Some short animated films have been created based on „The Old Street Lamp,“ as part of collections of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. These films bring the story to life with colorful visuals and sound, making the story more accessible to younger audiences.

Story collections: „The Old Street Lamp“ is often included in collections of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales. These collections might be illustrated, providing visual representations of the story and its characters, making it more engaging for readers of all ages.

Theater productions: The story has been adapted for the stage, sometimes as part of a larger theatrical production featuring multiple Andersen tales. These adaptations can involve creative storytelling techniques, costumes, and set designs, offering a unique interpretation of the original story.

Audio recordings: „The Old Street Lamp“ can also be found in audiobook collections of Andersen’s fairy tales, narrated by voice actors who bring the characters to life through their performances.

Though not as widely adapted as some of Andersen’s other fairy tales, „The Old Street Lamp“ continues to be a part of Andersen’s body of work that is enjoyed by readers and audiences around the world.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The old street lamp“

There have been various adaptations and retellings of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale „The Old Street Lamp“ over the years. Some examples include:

„The Last Lamp“ by Aliki: This picture book adaptation tells the story of a gas lamp that is the last of its kind in a busy city. The lamp is eventually replaced by a modern electric lamp, but not before it has had a chance to reflect on its long life and the memories it has helped create.

„The Old Street Lamp“ by Carlos de la Fuente: This animated short film retells the story of the old street lamp, but with a twist. In this version, the lamp is haunted by the ghosts of the people it has helped guide over the years. The ghosts are eventually able to help the lamp find a new purpose and a new home.

„The Lightkeeper’s Daughter“ by Jean E. Pendziwol: This children’s book tells the story of a lighthouse keeper’s daughter who must keep the light burning when her father becomes sick. The book draws inspiration from „The Old Street Lamp“ and explores themes of tradition, community, and the importance of preserving history and heritage.

„The Street Lamp“ by Nick Gentry: This short film tells the story of a young girl who befriends an old street lamp. The lamp is eventually replaced by a new, modern lamp, but not before the girl has had a chance to say goodbye and thank it for all the memories it has helped create.

These adaptations and retellings of „The Old Street Lamp“ offer fresh takes on the classic tale and explore its themes in new and interesting ways.

Summary of the plot

„The Old Street Lamp“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen that tells the story of an old street lamp that is about to be discarded. The lamp has spent many years illuminating a small street corner, witnessing the lives of people who pass by.

One day, the lamp is replaced by a new, modern gas lamp, and it is taken away to be sold as scrap metal. Feeling sad and unwanted, the lamp reminisces about its years on the street corner, the people it has seen, and the stories it has been a part of.

In the attic where it is temporarily placed, the lamp encounters a series of objects, each with its own story, such as a pair of old boots and a quill pen. They all share their experiences and histories, giving the lamp a new sense of purpose and appreciation for its own life.

Before the lamp is sold for scrap, a man finds it in the attic and recognizes its beauty and potential. He purchases the lamp, cleans it, and gives it a new home in his study. In its new place, the lamp continues to provide light and warmth, as it once did on the street corner, now illuminating the world of books and knowledge. The story concludes with the message that everyone and everything has a purpose and value, even when it seems like they have been forgotten or cast aside.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The old street lamp“

„The Old Street Lamp“ is a short story written by the famous Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Born on April 2, 1805, and passing away on August 4, 1875, Andersen is best known for his fairy tales, which have become an integral part of children’s literature and have been translated into numerous languages.

Hans Christian Andersen’s stories often contain moral messages and address themes of love, friendship, perseverance, and the power of dreams. Some of his most famous works include „The Little Mermaid,“ „The Ugly Duckling,“ „The Emperor’s New Clothes,“ and „The Snow Queen.“ Throughout his lifetime, Andersen published a total of 156 fairy tales, and his work continues to be enjoyed by children and adults alike.

„The Old Street Lamp“ was first published in 1844 as part of Andersen’s collection „New Fairy Tales.“ Like many of Andersen’s stories, „The Old Street Lamp“ explores themes of change, the passage of time, and the importance of appreciating the past. The story revolves around an old street lamp that, upon being replaced by a more modern lamp, finds itself in new and unfamiliar surroundings. Over the course of the narrative, the lamp grapples with its own aging and obsolescence while reminiscing about the people and memories it has encountered during its time on the street corner.

Through its exploration of themes such as the passage of time, the power of dreams, and the potential within each individual, „The Old Street Lamp“ offers readers a poignant and thought-provoking journey into the human experience.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The old street lamp“

„The Old Street Lamp“ by Hans Christian Andersen offers various interpretations and themes that touch on aspects of human nature, society, and the passage of time. Some of the main interpretations of this story include:

The importance of appreciation and valuing the past: The old street lamp has a strong emotional attachment to the watchman and his wife, who have taken care of it over the years. Despite the lamp’s anxiety about its uncertain future, it takes solace in the memories it has created and its connection to the watchman. This theme highlights the importance of appreciating the people and things that have played a role in our lives, even when their roles are changing or coming to an end.

The passage of time and the inevitability of change: Throughout the story, the old street lamp must confront its own aging and obsolescence. Its struggle to accept its uncertain future speaks to the universal human experience of grappling with change and the passage of time. The story encourages readers to embrace change and accept that everything, including ourselves, must eventually evolve or fade away.

The potential within each individual: The old street lamp is granted extraordinary powers by the wind, moon, and clouds, giving it the ability to share its memories and experiences with others. However, these gifts remain hidden due to the limitations of its surroundings. This theme serves as a reminder that everyone has untapped potential and unique gifts, but we may need the right environment and opportunities to realize and share them with others.

The nature of happiness and sharing joy: The old street lamp’s ability to share its memories and insights with others is a significant part of its happiness. The lamp learns that true joy comes from sharing experiences and connecting with others, and that happiness is only fully realized when it is shared.

The power of dreams and imagination: The old street lamp dreams of being transformed into an elegant candlestick that brings beauty and light to a poet’s home. This demonstrates the power of dreams and imagination to create a sense of hope and possibility, even in difficult circumstances. The story reminds readers of the importance of holding onto dreams and using our imaginations to envision a better future.

Overall, „The Old Street Lamp“ provides a poignant exploration of themes such as change, the importance of connection, the potential within each individual, and the power of dreams and imagination. The story serves as a timeless reminder of the value of appreciating the past while embracing the possibilities of the future.

Summary of the plot

„The Old Street Lamp“ is a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen about a lamp that has served for many years and is about to retire. On the last night of its service, the lamp becomes anxious about the next day when it has to appear before the mayor and the council to determine if it’s still useful or if it should be melted down.

As the lamp reflects on its many years of service, the wind comes along and gives it a special gift – the ability to understand and remember everything said and done in its presence. The wind also promises the lamp a memory that will allow it to enjoy its old age, as long as it isn’t melted down. Various elements offer their own gifts, but none are as impressive as the wind’s.

The next day, the lamp is given to the old watchman as a retirement gift. The watchman and his wife care for the lamp, and it becomes a fixture in their home. The lamp is pleased with its new life, but it longs to share its newfound knowledge and understanding with the couple. It dreams of being able to display beautiful scenes and stories on the walls, but it cannot do so without a wax candle.

One day, the old woman decides to illuminate the lamp in honor of her husband’s birthday, but instead of using a wax candle, she uses oil as usual. The lamp resigns itself to the fact that its special abilities will remain hidden. Eventually, it dreams of being melted down and transformed into an elegant candlestick, which ends up in the room of a poet. In this new form, the lamp is finally able to share its gift with others, lighting the room and enhancing the poet’s creativity.

This fairy tale is a story of change, adaptation, and the desire to share one’s gifts with others. The old street lamp goes through a transformation, both physically and mentally, and ultimately finds a new purpose in life.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
TranslationsDE, EN, DA, ES, FR, IT
Readability Index by Björnsson32.1
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index77.1
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level7.5
Gunning Fog Index10.3
Coleman–Liau Index8.1
SMOG Index9.3
Automated Readability Index7.8
Character Count15.003
Letter Count11.606
Sentence Count141
Word Count2.853
Average Words per Sentence20,23
Words with more than 6 letters338
Percentage of long words11.8%
Number of Syllables3.682
Average Syllables per Word1,29
Words with three Syllables158
Percentage Words with three Syllables5.5%
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