The Greenies by Hans Christian Andersen
A ROSE TREE stood in the window. But a little while ago it had been
green and fresh, and now it looked sicklyit was in poor health, no
doubt. A whole regiment was quartered on it and was eating it up; yet,
notwithstanding this seeming greediness, the regiment was a very decent
and respectable one. It wore bright-green uniforms. I spoke to one of
the Greenies. He was but three days old, and yet he was already a
grandfather. What do you think he said? It is all truehe spoke of
himself and of the rest of the regiment. Listen!
We are the most wonderful creatures in the world. At a very early
age we are engaged, and immediately we have the wedding. When the cold
weather comes we lay our eggs, but the little ones lie sunny and warm.
The wisest of the creatures, the ant,we have the greatest respect for
him!understands us well. He appreciates us, you may be sure. He does
not eat us up at once; he takes our eggs, lays them in the family ant
hill on the ground floorlays them, labeled and numbered, side by
side, layer on layer, so that each day a new one may creep out of the
egg. Then he puts us in a stable, pinches our hind legs, and milks us
till we die. He has given us the prettiest of names'little milch
All creatures who, like the ant, are gifted with common sense call
us by this pretty name. It is only human beings who do not. They give
us another name, one that we feel to be a great affrontgreat enough
to embitter our whole life. Could you not write a protest against it
for us? Could you not rouse these human beings to a sense of the wrong
they do us? They look at us so stupidly or, at times, with such envious
eyes, just because we eat a rose leaf, while they themselves eat every
created thingwhatever grows and is green. And oh, they give us the
most humiliating of names! I will not even mention it. Ugh! I feel it
to my very stomach. I cannot even pronounce itat least not when I
have my uniform on, and that I always wear.
I was born on a rose leaf. I and all the regiment live on the rose
tree. We live off it, in fact. But then it lives again in us, who
belong to the higher order of created beings.
The human beings do not like us. They pursue and murder us with
soapsuds. Oh, it is a horrid drink! I seem to smell it even now. You
cannot think how dreadful it is to be washed when one was not made to
be washed. Men! you who look at us with your severe, soapsud eyes,
think a moment what our place in nature is: we are born upon the roses,
we die in rosesour whole life is a rose poem. Do not, I beg you, give
us a name which you yourselves think so despicablethe name I cannot
bear to pronounce. If you wish to speak of us, call us 'the ants' milch
cowsthe rose-tree regimentthe little green things.'
And I, the man, stood looking at the tree and at the little
Greenies (whose name I shall not mention, for I should not like to
wound the feelings of the citizens of the rose tree), a large family
with eggs and young ones; and I looked at the soapsuds I was going to
wash them in, for I too had come with soap and water and murderous
intentions. But now I will use it for soap bubbles. Look, how
beautiful! Perhaps there lies in each a fairy tale, and the bubble
grows large and radiant and looks as if there were a pearl lying inside
The bubble swayed and swung. It flew to the door and then burst, but
the door opened wide, and there stood Dame Fairytale herself! And now
she will tell you better than I can about (I will not say the name) the
little green things of the rosebush.
Plant lice! said Dame Fairytale. One must call things by their
right names. And if one may not do so always, one must at least have
the privilege of doing so in a fairy tale.