Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry, THE LITTLE MATCH-GIRL, by HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN



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THE LITTLE MATCH-GIRL, by             Poet's Biography
First Line: Little gretchen, little gretchen wanders up and down the street
Last Line: How much of happiness there was after that misery.
Variant Title(s): New Year's Eve
Subject(s): Adversity; Girls


LITTLE Gretchen, little Gretchen wanders up and down the street;
The snow is on her yellow hair, the frost is on her feet.
The rows of long, dark houses without look cold and damp,
By the struggling of the moonbeam, by the flicker of the lamp.
The clouds ride fast as horses, the wind is from the north,
But no one cares for Gretchen, and no one looketh forth.
Within those dark, damp houses are merry faces bright,
And happy hearts are watching out the old year's latest night.

With the little box of matches she could not sell all day,
And the thin, tattered mantle the wind blows every way,
She clingeth to the railing, she shivers in the gloom,—
There are parents sitting snugly by the firelight in the room;
And children with grave faces are whispering one another
Of presents for the New Year, for father or for mother.
But no one talks to Gretchen, and no one hears her speak;
No breath of little whisperers comes warmly to her cheek.

Her home is cold and desolate; no smile, no food, no fire,
But children clamorous for bread, and an impatient sire.
So she sits down in an angle where two great houses meet,
And she curleth up beneath her for warmth her little feet;
And she looketh on the cold wall, and on the colder sky,
And wonders if the little stars are bright fires up on high.
She hears the clock strike slowly, up high in a church-tower,
With such a sad and solemn tone, telling the midnight hour.

She remembered her of stories her mother used to tell,
And of the cradle-songs she sang, when summer's twilight fell,
Of good men and of angels, and of the Holy Child,
Who was cradled in a manger when winter was most wild;
Who was poor, and cold, and hungry, and desolate and lone;
And she thought the song had told her he was ever with his own,
And all the poor and hungry and forsaken ones were his,—
"How good of him to look on me in such a place as this!"

Colder it grows and colder, but she does not feel it now,
For the pressure on her bosom, and the weight upon her brow;
But she struck one little match on the wall so cold and bare,
That she might look around her, and see if he was there.
The single match was kindled; and, by the light it threw,
It seemed to little Maggie that the wall was rent in two.
And she could see the room within, the room all warm and light,
With the fire-glow red and blazing, and the tapers burning bright.

And kindred there were gathered round the table richly spread,
With heaps of goodly viands, red wine, and pleasant bread.
She could smell the fragrant odor; she could hear them talk and play;
Then all was darkness once again—the match had burned away.
She struck another hastily, and now she seemed to see,
Within the same warm chamber a glorious Christmas-tree.
The branches all were laden down with things that children prize;
Bright gifts for boy and maiden they showed before her eyes.
And she almost seemed to touch them, and to join the welcome shout;
Then darkness fell around her, for the little match was out.
Another, yet another, she has tried,—they will not light;
Then all her little store she took, and struck with all her might.
And the whole place around her was lighted with the glare:
And lo! there hung a little Child before her in the air!
There were blood-drops on his forehead, a spear-wound in his side,
And cruel nail-prints in his feet, and in his hands spread wide.
And he looked upon her gently, and she felt that he had known
Pain, hunger, cold, and sorrow,—ay, equal to her own.

And he pointed to the laden board and to the Christmas-tree,
Then up to the cold sky, and said, "Will Gretchen come with me?"
The poor child felt her pulses fail, she felt her eyeballs swim,
And a ringing sound was in her ears, like her dead mother's hymn:
And she folded both her thin white hands and turned from that bright board,
And from the golden gifts, and said, "With thee, with thee, O Lord!"

The chilly winter morning breaks up in the dull skies
On the city wrapt in vapor, on the spot where Gretchen lies.
In her scant and tattered garments, with her back against the wall,
She sitteth cold and rigid, she answers to no call.

They lifted her up fearfully, and shuddered as they said,
"It was a bitter, bitter night! the child is frozen dead:"
The angels sang their greeting for one more redeemed from sin;
Men said, "It was a bitter night; would no one let her in?"
And they shivered as they spoke of her, and sighed: they could not see
How much of happiness there was after that misery.





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