What Happened to the Thistle by Hans Christian Andersen
AROUND a lordly old mansion was a beautiful, well-kept garden, full
of all kinds of rare trees and flowers. Guests always expressed their
delight and admiration at the sight of its wonders. The people from far
and near used to come on Sundays and holidays and ask permission to see
it. Even whole schools made excursions for the sole purpose of seeing
Near the fence that separated the garden from the meadow stood an
immense thistle. It was an uncommonly large and fine thistle, with
several branches spreading out just above the root, and altogether was
so strong and full as to make it well worthy of the name thistle
No one ever noticed it, save the old donkey that pulled the milk
cart for the dairymaids. He stood grazing in the meadow hard by and
stretched his old neck to reach the thistle, saying: You are
beautiful! I should like to eat you! But the tether was too short to
allow him to reach the thistle, so he did not eat it.
There were guests at the Hall, fine, aristocratic relatives from
town, and among them a young lady who had come from a long
distanceall the way from Scotland. She was of old and noble family
and rich in gold and landsa bride well worth the winning, thought
more than one young man to himself; yes, and their mothers thought so,
The young people amused themselves on the lawn, playing croquet and
flitting about among the flowers, each young girl gathering a flower to
put in the buttonhole of some one of the gentlemen.
The young Scotch lady looked about for a flower, but none of them
seemed to please her, until, happening to glance over the fence, she
espied the fine, large thistle bush, full of bluish-red, sturdy-looking
flowers. She smiled as she saw it, and begged the son of the house to
get one of them for her.
That is Scotland's flower, she said; it grows and blossoms in our
coat of arms. Get that one yonder for me, please.
And he gathered the finest of the thistle flowers, though he pricked
his fingers as much in doing so as if it had been growing on a wild
She took the flower and put it in his buttonhole, which made him
feel greatly honored. Each of the other young men would gladly have
given up his graceful garden flower if he might have worn the one given
by the delicate hands of the Scotch girl. As keenly as the son of the
house felt the honor conferred upon him, the thistle felt even more
highly honored. It seemed to feel dew and sunshine going through it.
It seems I am of more consequence than I thought, it said to
itself. I ought by rights to stand inside and not outside the fence.
One gets strangely placed in this world, but now I have at least one of
my flowers over the fenceand not only there, but in a buttonhole!
To each one of its buds as it opened, the thistle bush told this
great event. And not many days had passed before it heardnot from the
people who passed, nor yet from the twittering of little birds, but
from the air, which gives out, far and wide, the sounds that it has
treasured up from the shadiest walks of the beautiful garden and from
the most secluded rooms at the Hall, where doors and windows are left
openthat the young man who received the thistle flower from the hands
of the Scottish maiden had received her heart and hand as well.
That is my doing! said the thistle, thinking of the flower she had
given to the buttonhole. And every new flower that came was told of
this wonderful event.
Surely I shall now be taken and planted in the garden, thought the
thistle. Perhaps I shall be put into a flowerpot, for that is by far
the most honorable position. It thought of this so long that it ended
by saying to itself with the firm conviction of truth, I shall be
planted in a flowerpot!
It promised every little bud that came that it also should be placed
in a pot and perhaps have a place in a buttonholethat being the
highest position one could aspire to. But none of them got into a
flowerpot, and still less into a gentleman's buttonhole.
They lived on light and air, and drank sunshine in the day and dew
at night. They received visits from bee and hornet, who came to look
for the honey in the flower, and who took the honey and left the
The good-for-nothing fellows, said the thistle bush. I would
pierce them if I could!
The flowers drooped and faded, but new ones always came.
You come as if you had been sent, said the thistle bush to them.
I am expecting every moment to be taken over the fence.
A couple of harmless daisies and a huge, thin plant of canary grass
listened to this with the deepest respect, believing all they heard.
The old donkey, that had to pull the milk cart, cast longing looks
toward the blooming thistle and tried to reach it, but his tether was
too short. And the thistle bush thought and thought, so much and so
long, of the Scotch thistleto whom it believed itself relatedthat
at last it fancied it had come from Scotland and that its parents had
grown into the Scottish arms.
It was a great thought, but a great thistle may well have great
Sometimes one is of noble race even if one does not know it, said
the nettle growing close byit had a kind of presentiment that it
might be turned into muslin, if properly treated.
The summer passed, and the autumn passed; the leaves fell from the
trees; the flowers came with stronger colors and less perfume; the
gardener's lad sang on the other side of the fence:
Up the hill and down the hill,
That's the way of the world still.
The young pine trees in the wood began to feel a longing for
Christmas, though Christmas was still a long way off.
Here I am still, said the thistle. It seems that I am quite
forgotten, and yet it was I who made the match. They were engaged, and
now they are marriedthe wedding was a week ago. I do not make a
single step forward, for I cannot.
Some weeks passed. The thistle had its last, solitary flower, which
was large and full and growing down near the root. The wind blew coldly
over it, the color faded, and all its glory disappeared, leaving only
the cup of the flower, now grown to be as large as the flower of an
artichoke and glistening like a silvered sunflower.
The young couple, who were now man and wife, came along the garden
path, and as they passed near the fence, the bride, glancing over it,
said, Why, there stands the large thistle! it has no flowers now.
Yes, there is still the ghost of the last one, said her husband,
pointing to the silvery remains of the last flowera flower in itself.
How beautiful it is! she said. We must have one carved in the
frame of our picture.
And once more the young man had to get over the fence, to break off
the silvery cup of the thistle flower. It pricked his fingers for his
pains, because he had called it a ghost. And then it was brought into
the garden, and to the Hall, and into the drawing room. There stood a
large picturethe portraits of the two, and in the bridegroom's
buttonhole was painted a thistle. They talked of it and of the flower
cup they had brought in with themthe last silver-shimmering thistle
flower, that was to be reproduced in the carving of the frame.
The air took all their words and scattered them about, far and wide.
What strange things happen to one! said the thistle bush. My
first-born went to live in a buttonhole, my last-born in a frame! I
wonder what is to become of me.
The old donkey, standing by the roadside, cast loving glances at the
thistle and said, Come to me, my sweetheart, for I cannot go to you;
my tether is too short!
But the thistle bush made no answer. It grew more and more
thoughtful, and it thought as far ahead as Christmas, till its budding
thoughts opened into flower.
When one's children are safely housed, a mother is quite content to
stay beyond the fence.
That is true, said the sunshine; and you will be well placed,
In a flowerpot or in a frame? asked the thistle.
In a story, answered the sunshine. And here is the story!