A drop of water

By Hans Christian Andersen, 1848


A magnifier, for surely you must know what that does? A round glass that makes everything about 100 times larger than it is. If you keep it in front of your eyes and look at a drop of water from the pond, you can see thousands of marvellous animals that you would never see otherwise. But they really are there! It looks almost as a teeming plate of crayfish. And it looks grim: they are pushing and pulling at each other, even eating from each others arms and legs. Nevertheless, they seem happy and content in their own way.

Once upon a time there was an old man. People called him SquiglyItch, because that’s how they felt around him.

Whatever he did, he wanted to do it in the best way possible. And if it didn’t work quickly, he used wizardry!

One day he took the magnifying glass and looked at a drop of water from the pond near by. My, my, how it all slithered and crawled. Thousands of little critters hopped and jumped, pushed and pulled, even tearing each others arms and legs off!

‘But that’s awful’, said SquiglyItch, ‘can’t they live together in peace?’

And he thought and thought, but he couldn’t think of a solution. So he had to resort to wizardry.

‘I’ll have to give them colour, so that they can see each other more easily’ he thought, and he poured a red drop from a tiny bottle into the pond water. It wasn’t red wine of course; it was witches’ blood of the finest and most expensive sort which cost more than two florins a drop! And all those odd little animals became pink, all over their bodies. It looked like a city full of savages in the nude.

‘What you got there?’ asked an old Wizard, who has no other name (and which was just as well).

‘If you can tell me that’ said SquiglyItch, ‘then I will give it to you. But I have to warn you, it is not easy to guess’.

And the Wizard without a name looked through the magnifying glass. It really looked like a big city, in which all the people were running around naked. Hideous, that’s what it was! But it was even more awful to watch them jumping and bumping into each other. What was up was being pulled down, and what was down a moment ago, now wanted to go up.

Look, that one has a longer leg than me. Bam, get rid of it! There’s one with a lump, a small innocent lump near his eye. And they pulled and pushed and then ate him, just because of that little lump. And there was a quiet one, like a little princess, only wanting peace and quiet. But suddenly she had to face up to it, and they pushed into her and devoured her!

‘That’s extraordinarily funny!’ said the old Wizard.

‘Sure’, said SquiglyItch ‘but what do you think it is?’

‘Oh, that’s easy’, said the old Wizard, ‘it is London or Amsterdam. All those big cities look alike’.

‘It is pond water’, said SquiglyItch.


The story taken from ‘Das Leben im Wassertropfen’ and translated from German (via Dutch) to English by René van Wezel. As the story originally has been written in Danish, undoubtedly differences exist with the original version.


Hans Christian Andersen, paper art for Mrs Melchior (42 x 26,5 cm)

Comments to the translator Rene van Wezel are welcomed.


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