In an African city


In an African city,
   In Cartagena where I live,
In the small and narrow street,
   So narrow you can barely believe it;
I can reach with my hand the balcony
   Of the neighbors across the street.
There, the lovely daughter sits
   Blossoming with youth,
So rich, powerful and fiery.
   Now the Mother loosens her braid
Of the long, coal black hair;
   It reaches down to her feet.
Her shoulders are like the antique,
   And her eyes like lightning bolts;
It is almost not possible
   To endure this sight.
From Africa the air burns
   And my blood contains fire; –
Now I will extinguish the lamp
   And every word with it.


With castanets they dance,
   their only music;
They gaze at each other in the eye,
   It is an intoxicating drink.
They whirl about as if Maenads,
   everything gracefully adept;
O what infinite beauty
   is there in the human race!
Both flowers: one a carnation, the other a garnet!
   In the dance they live and grow.
You two, who became the chosen subjects of art,
   are overcome in this dance.


How the heaven shines with stars! Each one I know;
Friends from home, how they sparkle here!
They send a breeze, so fresh and so mild,
A cool drink in the midst of burning fire,
A puff of wind over the glowing sand,
Seems like a kiss from the Danish land!


How my thoughts fly to tomorrow!
Eternal life is uncertain;
My body will become a sunken wreck,
But a drop in Eternity’s fount,
My life is on earth! A blink and it’s over!
My thoughts have fought a battle so great,
In it Our Lord was present.
– My childhood’s sacred “Lord’s Prayer”
Be now my resting comfort.
I close my eyes to eternal rest,
And to clarity in God and faith.

By Hans Christian Andersen
translated, from the Danish, by Arendse Lund

Arendse Lund is a writer and translator. Her current endeavor is to translate Hans Christian Anderson’s lesser-known works and make his poetry accessible to an English-speaking audience.

Hans Christian Andersen (1805 – 1875) was a Danish author best remembered for his fairy tales, though he also wrote novels, plays, travelogues, and poems.