The Old Grave-Stone (Fairy Tale Fridays)

The Old Grave-Stone by Hans Christian Andersen is not a story with which I was familiar, but seeing as how the title evokes a plethora of Halloween images, I happily read through it for this week's edition of Fairy Tale Fridays!  (FTF is a weekly meme hosted by Tif of Tif Talks Books.)  The fable is a relatively short one and recounts the story of a house in a provincial town with a large stone in front of it.  The rock has become a fixture of the landscape and children play on it, but the tale goes on to reveal that it is actually a grave marker relocated from an old cemetery.

The story proceeds with an old-man recalling some details of the lives of the man and woman - Preben and Martha Schwane - whose graves the stone was on.  Sadly, the repeated sentiment is, "Forgotten! Ah, yes, everything will be forgotten!" but in the midst of this, the very act of talking about the lives of the Schwanes passes their story on to younger generations.  At the end of the story, a young boy who has been listening to the old man hears the following words in his heart:

“Preserve carefully the seed that has been entrusted to thee, that it may grow and thrive. Guard it well. Through thee, my child, shall the obliterated inscription on the old, weather-beaten grave-stone go forth to future generations in clear, golden characters. The old pair shall again wander through the streets arm-in-arm, or sit with their fresh, healthy cheeks on the bench under the lime-tree, and smile and nod at rich and poor. The seed of this hour shall ripen in the course of years into a beautiful poem. The beautiful and the good are never forgotten, they live always in story or in song.” 

This is a beautiful way to end the story as it brings the hopeful and beautiful to light the sadness of  forgotten life.  It extols the virtue of oral traditions as the way to honor and remember those that have come before us.  I love the line, "they live always in story or in song."  Interestingly, this ending brought to mind a trip I took in high school to Salem, Massachusetts.  One of our stops was the church and graveyard that was the site and burial ground of many people involved with the Salem Witch Trials.  I remember how several of the crooked, dilapidated grave markers had barely legible inscriptions, and yet because of the history passed down - and likely because of Arthur Miller's The Crucible - family names such as Williams, Corey, and Proctor had a much greater significance to our group of travelers seeing them hundreds of years after they were inscribed. 

What are your thoughts on this story?  Have you ever traced a family genealogy or a lineage of a historical figure through tombstones?  Have you ever shared stories of friends or relatives no longer living with a younger generation?

I'd love to hear your comments here or feel free to create your own post and join in the fun of Fairy Tale Fridays by linking up over at Tif Talks Books!

3 Response to "The Old Grave-Stone (Fairy Tale Fridays)"

  1. Anonymous Says:
    October 22, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    I like how you focused on the oral tradition of story-telling.

    I'm not much on genealogy, but I do love looking at old tombstones. Some of them just have so much character.

  2. Alex Daw says:
    October 23, 2010 at 4:31 PM

    Ooh - I think I need to read that story. When I first read your blog I didn't understand..but re-reading it I now get it. I am a great believer in the importance of story-telling and a sucker for gravestones. I love family history and am always really excited if I find the gravestone of an ancestor.

  3. Tif Sweeney says:
    November 7, 2010 at 1:05 PM

    What a great review of this tale!! This one has really been sticking with me, even after reading it weeks ago! It has such a beautiful message . . . but, also has such potential for the macabre!! :)

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