Horatio by Hans Christian Andersen


First performed at the Royal Danish Theater in Copenhagen on February 3, 1840.

To King Christian Vlll
Your Majesty’s most humble and loyal subject,
the author

With tenderness did you listen to these verses
of the battle of the soul and its claim to victory: so exalted it resounds.
You worship the soul that springs from God,
therefore, dear King, do I grant you this song.



Horatio, a mulatto.
The master La Rebellière, owner of several plantations in Martinique.
Eleonore, his wife.
Cecilie, the Countess of Ratél, his ward.
Paléme, a mulatto and runaway slave from the plantation of La Rebelliére.
Femi, a black slave.
Pelag, a pedlar.
Kadu, overseer of the Countess’ estate.
A planter.
An auctioneer.
Guests at a ball, merchants, planters, servants, black slaves.

Scene: Martinique

Act 1

The House of Horatio. A large hall resembling an art gallery. Dried plants, wild animal hides, skeletons, and stuffed birds along with two portraits hang on the walls. Tapers burn in glass bowls. In the background, off to the right, a sleeping area is concealed within a drapery. There is a storm outside.

Scene One

(Eleonore and Cecilie (dressed in traveling clothes), Horatio)

How I do wish you might forget this misfortune!
The heavy storm will soon end,
Please make yourselves at home here in my abode.

My husband, La Rebellière, whom I think you know.

(Points to Cecilie)
His ward, née the countess of Ratél.
We are journeying towards the hot springs
and had hoped to reach them by this evening
but this weather has ruined all our hopes.
We beg leave to be your guests this night.

You grant me a rare honor! Your wish is my command!
Please! You are tired, I am sure.

Eleonore (throwing herself in an armchair):
Yes, indeed I am!

The storm and road grew only worse and worse.
Thank goodness we reached your home, good Sir!

A simple meal will be prepared which
you cannot refuse.

I do thank you!

Perhaps the table should be set in here?
Only plain meals will be served.

We would prefer to be served by our own negress!

As you wish! I shall call upon her immediately!
The large cottage near here is empty. She, along with your other people, arrived there.

I have many with me.

Our property by the hot springs is so isolated,
surrounded by mountains and woods.
It has been said that one can never feel safe there
without an able bodyguard.
Runaway slaves are said to live in the forest,
and “avengers” are especially to be feared.
Though we are 30, I do believe
that they will flee at the mere sight of us.

Oh, this area is safer than rumoured.
(bows and exits)


Scene Two

(Eleonore and Cecilie)

No, I have never seen such bad weather. The copper-colored clouds
hung low, bringing thunder and lightning with them,
as an inverted mountain that then slid away,
while floods showered down towards earth.
You surely have some intriguing material now,
you certainly have something to write in your diary.
But our adventure is amusing, is it not?
What more could one expect of a journey?

I am so tired, I shall sleep well tonight!
As usual, my eyes refuse to obey me, but I did
not allow them to close while lying
in the hammock.
I felt such an uneasiness,
the wretched road, it all seized hold of
me. Though I do not regret having
made the journey.

Nor do I.

My husband shall not always refuse me.
I too would like to have a say in matters.
He expects us to just sit at home patiently
while he spends his time at Fort-Royal
at the home of the governor
in pleasure and delight,
all the while we are not to
dare open the door, day in and day
out just stare at the same seashore,
the sugar mill, the Africans and suchlike–
it all grew more than dull.
Who in the world can endure such conditions?
Sick am I, sick! I know it best, and so I wish to
go to the hot springs,
nature is my physician and priest,
of that I am convinced.

He was, in fact, honest in what he told us,
the trip, he believed, would be
utmost difficult and the forest
wild and dead.

My thought was that he wished to frighten us.

Nothing evil has yet befallen us,
the hurricane could not have been foretold,
we have not yet encountered any runaway slaves.
How I do fear them! Oh, the wretched souls who
have bled under the whip, their attempt at escape
Is only to be expected.

There is only one from whom
we can fear the worst–

A black person?

No, a mulatto.
But it is all the same. The African
night has left its mark of stupidity on
them both. But they were granted
physical strength just as animals are.
Paléme was strong, he forgot momentarily
To respect authority and was therefore
whipped, possibly severely,
which he refused to tolerate and therefore
ran away.
I fear him, of his evilness I am aware,
I know the idle blood of revenge
burning within him.
An outlaw slave is capable of
anything, that was why I
advised my husband not to purchase
masterless slaves. That is what we call
black people or mulattos who
have not received their manumission
by lawful means. They
belong, in fact, to the government.
A dangerous lot, indeed!

Oh, it is barbarity!

Remember, you yourself own slaves, dear girl,
And without them your wealth would
cease to exist.

Oh, in my homeland everyone is free!
My most belovéd, beautiful France!

The beauty of that country is something in which I cannot believe.
It is so cold, I would never care to live there.

No, it is warm there! It is the place where
great hearts blaze!

We shall not quarrel, I know your homesickness too well.
Moreover am I tired, yes, very tired.

(looking about her)
But how homely and neat everything is here!
And we are high above the tree tops.
This white house emerged as a beacon–light,
like Moses leading us through the
hard gale and storm that met us
out in the desert forest.
Look, there are dried plants
hanging from the walls,
and rare birds, the hide of wild
animals! Our host is most surely
a student of nature.
And two portraits! The costumes
and figures of which are not
out of fashion. I find this adventure
entertaining. It could have been worse.
I am fond of this house and
its master.

He is no master! He is a mulatto.

An impossibility! Then day is night. He is
almost as white as you or me.
And a cultured man, so polite and amiable.

And yet he is not worthy of the title “master.”
No, that is not suitable for a mulatto.
You see how, though he is our host, he has
chosen not to keep us company.
To dine with us is insolent and defiant,
he is well aware of his inferiority.

Oh, a pair of unwelcome guests
we must be! The polite, beautiful
young man! If only he resided in my homeland!
Where the attributes of spirit and beauty are
truly appreciated.
Here, he is merely ignored.

Don’t you believe that!
He can’t conceive of anything better.
Receiving us as guests
this evening must be a great
honor to him.

I would have preferred to sleep outdoors!

You are just as degenerate as your elders!
Keep in mind that this is not France but
Martinique! We follow other beliefs, customs, and
practices. A different type of climate claims a
different type of stamina.
This you too shall someday see!

No, my dear! Not for one moment!


Scene Three

(Cecilie, Eleonore and Femi, the latter setting the table)

Excuse me, but for how many people are you setting this table?

For you and the mistress.

Only for us two?

What is the name of the owner of this house?


I can well imagine that he owns a good number of blacks?

Only 8 or 9.
They praise him to the sky. It is
quite moving to listen to.

Eleonore (who has seated herself along with Cecilie at the table):
The meal is tasteful. Cut glass
glasses and delicate porcelain, it all exceeds
well beyond my expectations, only the best
retrieved from the sea and air: fish, plantain,
wildfowl and pineapple.
(to Femi)
What do the slaves have to say of their master?

They speak of nothing else. They hold him
dear to their hearts as they would a father.
He is so kind.

That says very little. In rank they are
but one another’s equal. What have
you yourself heard of the man?

Amongst the greatest names ever
known here was, long ago, that of
Enambuk the First. A richer lineage was
nowhere to be found, they owned land for
many a mile around
and slaves, yes, as many as the forest
has beans. All that was left of it, in the end,
were two sons who journeyed to Europe.
But out on the sea, before they reached land,
one died. The other took pleasure in the
blessing of his manhood and for many
years avoided his homeland.
Only later, when disease had
entered his blood, did he depart
the cheerful shores of
Europe, hoping that the air
of his home would prove better.
But it could not cure him of his suffering,
And so the rope of death wrapped itself
around his foot and dragged him into
his grave. His time had come. That was nearly a year and a half

And what of the man who inherited this

That was the dear sick old man
who always followed him and was his third eye–
the story has been carefully explained to me.

His mother was black, and slave-born.


And one who has bled under the whip. Such was
the misfortune of the mulatto’s mother.

Yet still, she was a king’s daughter from the
homeland of the lion and tiger.
I know a small poem that I truly cherish,
I learned it as a child and I never will
forget it. Strangely it thrills me, a heartfelt,
pronounced pain rests within it.

Naked, without gold nor diamonds,
only the hide of a panther about the shoulders,
returning home after the elephant hunt,
the prince of the Africans. Look,
flocks of people come
pouring from all corners
with shouts and songs.

The fetish priest, solemn and quiet
brings him his firstborn child,
the eyes blazing, smiles playing
upon her lips, never can he imagine
being parted from this, his gift,
The drums blending with the tunes
of the tube.

The king’s daughter! What an earthly joy!
Crimson robes will adorn her shoulders,
ostrich plumes in a crown will shadow her brow,
only a hero, a man of royalty dares to press
the pearl of the palm valley
against his chest!

Africa owns its Aphrodite.
The swan seeks thither where she
used to bathe and curtseys deeply,
the shade of night gained beauty’s victory.
The hero of the desert she will choose
as husband and mate.

The swan seeks–alas!
Drops of blood and tears have rounded
the shores.
The slave ship has conquered the trade winds
and a passage to the New World discoveréd,
black girl, cease to care for your homeland.
Here in the cane fields shall you crop
where crimson will yet again adorn your shoulders
embossed by lashes of crimson borders,
work hard–though you bring pleasure!
The shopkeeper’s son pinched your

Let only the memory of Africa resound
where the king and his daughter would sing
while upon his grave with leaden feet
the elephant tramps with its child
the king’s daughter is now slave-born.

What’s this? Is Femi weeping? It seems she fancies
herself the heroine of your poem. Tell the owner that we wish
to see him.

Just a shade darker, and he would be a star!


Scene Four

(Eleonore and Cecilie)

I fear your admiration for the mulatto will
barely last an hour into the evening. Now,
speak with him and I will listen, the
profit of which I doubt will be rewarded.

The dried plants, the books over there,
all make their stand as muted witnesses against you!

Most possibly the first owner,
not the present, collected them, that is the
case, believe me!
The conversation will soon reveal all to you,
But it cannot last for too long.
I am so tired, I need to rest.
Oh, how your expectations make me smile.


Scene Five

(Eleonore, Cecilie, and Horatio)

We wish, once again, to express our
heartfelt gratitude for all of
your hospitality. It is regrettable to see that
you must live so secludedly.
It must be difficult to
pass the time?

No, not at all! Lake and forest and valley
are my own great, luxuriant banqueting rooms.
Each flower shoot, until it blooms, contains its own
life story. I contemplate the fleeting fish in the creek,
I comprehend the conversation of birds behind
the hedge, even the anthill tells me daily an interesting
story from everyday life.

Yet, this poetry of woodland scenery, does it not
end in monotony?

No, not if I look at the grub in all its beauty,
I seek the soul in every scent and tint. To me,
it is no spiritual victory to merely
perceive rotating hands,
no, the mechanism behind the
clock’s components is what I wish
to know to understand the

I see you have a collection there, of books!

There is history, philosophy, and the best
of French poetry.
One poet is there, the least sought after,
regretfully, I do not own his full collection, only
Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet, though they are
still like crown jewels, rich treasures,
They can replace a dozen others.

And paintings!
(points towards one painting)
This one is beautiful!
A rich and dignified man, it would seem
to appear.

For me, he was a benefactor, indeed,
a father, his mild eyes have been shut by
death. Enambuk, the family name still echoes
here on Martinique but has lost the
meaning its lineage held in their earlier days.
In the end, fortune could no longer be contained.
He was the last of his stock. This plantation was all
that he left behind when we, I accompanied him
as a child, left for Europe, the home of ingenuity.

To which country?

To lovely France, The City of Lights, the lively

My home! My beloved home! Oh joy!
Yes, that is what we all cherish the most!

For twenty-one years we resided there.
I was five years old, and enrolled
in a school and, now,
as a grown man, I consider France
to be my homeland.

Oh, Paris! The life, the treasures
That the city borders encompass and
which Europe so highly praises,
I see it all before me–in
my dreams, only.

Often, I would walk
through the palace hallways
there where paintings speak
and where even
the ancient gods
children to fall on their knees.
When the prayer bells would ring,
always preferring the Tuileries Garden, I would
savour the gentle air,
inhale the fragrance of orange
trees, see flickering lights from the quay
reflected in the waters of the Seine
as I would dream with pride and
in silence of my future achievements
as a grown man.

Yes, in my melancholy dream
I would often sail on the stream,
in the distance the organ faded,
The church beckoning us to the island,
Notre Dame–!

On slender pillars
arches splendidly ascending
tones of the organ carried my
thoughts where my heart never
grew cold.

Faintly would I hum the
tones of psalms under my breath,
as I walked in
where the white banners would Float
below, above and all around
the words ringing: Here is God’s shrine!
My heart claimed peace and hope as its own.

How I would
often in such youthful delirium
follow the great swarms
beneath the trees of boulevards
hearing jubilances distant and near.

Yes, how I would often come there,
pictures and tones spoke.
The swarms there–in lengthy multicolored streaks
and arabesques never before painted.

Along the trimmed hedges of Versailles
in similar repetitive lines
every time the Sunday’s clock chimed.
Do you recall the great hall
in front of the castle by the fountain,
where art taught the Seine
how it might be shattered in effluvium
just as a dog learns his tricks
leaping high in thick spurts
to be crushed against marble bowls.

Those were happy hours for me!

The splendor of the Court
has been described to me. Martinique
is really such a grave.

Feast upon feast, an ocean of stars!
One in particular which I recall
held by Mrs. Polignac,
where music was played and there
was singing, poems were read aloud.

One about the king of Africa’s daughter?–

–which caused much attention
due to a child, I can still see her now
before me,
never had I seen such beauty!
A delightful little girl
recited the poem for us
with such softness, her voice so moving,
never will I forget
her, I see her every feature
distinct before me–

–that you no longer recognize them.

Naked, without gold nor diamonds
Only the hide of a panther about the shoulders,
Returning home from the elephant hunt,
the prince of the Africans.

You were the little girl?

Now grown.

This insignificant poem
still lingers in your thoughts?
I was one evening strangely carried away
and wrote this small poem.

You wrote it?

Everyone is granted one poetic moment.

And you have surely been granted many!
You wrote several such songs!
What joy! You are a bard!
What a great and celestial call.

The ordinariness of life passes us
by daily,
its misty picture floats before the eyes of most,
but poetry, wherein the pearl lies deeply,
only the poet, diving daringly, can raise.
Nature granted me what it granted many,
to find amidst pebbles and seaweed a little amber
flung by the waves along the shore.

It was a sign from the spirits that
you would be the man
to raise the pearl from the sea.

But the heavens did not grant me this gift.
Every land and every century owns, just
barely, one great mind true in its victory.
For that mind must own more than
the wit of his day
as he
stands at the edge of his time,
standing for its existence.
In this place of honor only
one may glory,
to be among the remaining throngs
of lyrists, born year after year,
harping the news of their day upon
old strings,
that is an honor one would prefer
to dismiss!

How glorious to take part as
a small link in this,
beauty’s chain!

To be the gold calf of the masses
is not a difficult task.
Easily convinced, they believe
that the flame of poetry is held only
by the one
who stitches daily scenarios of life
together in bland everyday portions,
sensibly, neatly.
Easily convinced, they believe that
brilliance has made its rightful
claim on the one who
ether in ether paints, on the
one who cannot think nor speak
Dimness appears as rooted in deep wisdom,
and his audience comprehends that which he could not.
Oh, to be the gold calf of the masses
is no difficult task.
They believe that genius blazes
its sharp rays upon the many leaves
of folios leaving only an
air of diligence.
A revelation they call his painting,
a true picture of the Age of Chivalry.
And believe me, were the dead to return here,
not one would recognize himself therein, much less
the era of his yonder days.
Through talent and diligence a name may
be gained
but not for him through time
will the ribbons of laurel wreaths
be tied, his glory will be lost In dust
and effluvium.
One is either great or never an artist!
And do you think that being such
guarantees a place in the sun?
The coulter of the era cuts across the man.
While spreading light, he himself stands in the shade.
What was Camoens’ and what was Tasso’s joy?
The mountain peak reaches its heaven
and seems to touch the sun’s orb and
could not be further away. In the night winds
it owns neither bird nor flower.
–Alas, it is late! Art will be art!
Here are your hammocks!
Safe as if you had slept at home.
I commend myself to the favor of my


Scene Six

(Eleonore and Cecilie)

He left! Oh, why did you let him go?
For a brief instant I saw my belovéd France
once again.
The drone of insects here and there behind the window screen
were transformed into humming droves.
The coconut palm and the tamarind
soughed round me as there the oak and linden.

And opposite the stuffy gatherings of St. Pierre,
known as company, was raised by the man’s spell
Paris, where the flowers of the soul and ingenuity
frame a social life of immensity.

His look and speech had mystical charms.
Your husband lauds you, never ceases,
bringing you many gifts, fashion in abundant magnificence
however, don’t get cross, just as beautiful and amiable

Our mulatto!

Cecilie (kisses Eleonore):
No, I never said that.

And it never crossed your mind?

Listen to the story I now shall tell you.
An Indian once sat at the bank of the Thames.
The thick haze of stone coal hung low.
A flower was shown to him, dead and desiccated:
a lotus that had once floated on the Ganges
and though faded and without scent
waved winds to him from Hindustan.
His homeland slid afar before his eyes
with palms and beauteous hummingbirds.
If the flower, dried and faded, has such power,
then how much more the force must be
in a shepherd’s song upon the lips of a friend and brother!
Remember: France is our common mother.
Good night! I will now dream of my France!

Sleep well and dream, happy girl!
(Cecilie follows Femi behind the curtain)


Scene Seven


How the sun does reign, even in the wave of winds,
it owns the moon of the night in its vaporous gleam.
You, who dare to slumber in its rays, woe betide you!
The pallid Hecate shall kiss you.
Neither the upas tree, nor any herb in the forest
has more poison than the rays from above,
the cold rays! One knows their venom.
The sun injects a fearsome poison into the blood
that slowly takes effect, yet burns intensely.
Fiery blood has power over will
like Lacöon it feels encompassed,
oh, there are thoughts in our hearts
that have been abolished
that even we do not know by name–
from the first pulse beat, from the year of the child,
deep within our hearts lies paradise
alongside the heaven of innocence and cherubim hymn
alongside the Tree of Knowledge, alas, but also with the serpent.
Oh, this thought harbours something vile!
I love my husband as no one else,
only, with a certain kind of devotion, a fear,
as an animal loves its master
who has broken it with the shrewdness of the day-to-day spirits.
I am bored in the home he has given me,
my blood has grown slack in this grave.
The little will, defiance he says, that remains in me
makes my blood once again flow healthily!
That which thoughts perceive as muslin and gold
demands more from drops of wine from the soul.
He could not grant me those! Oh, looks and speech
can as heavy mist bring solace to the soul.
But he! –his words– how magical was the power!

Well then, I have now gone to bed! Good-night!
(shows her face behind the curtain)

I am coming! –How quickly the evening has passed, and he that spoke–?
(places her hand on her heart, sighs deeply and suddenly says with contempt)
He is a mulatto!

*          *          *


This translation was sponsored by the Danish Arts Council’s Committee for Literature.



Hans Christian Andersen

Hans Christian Andersen was born on April 2, 1805 in the one-room apartment where his impoverished parents (his father was a shoemaker and his mother a washerwoman) lived in Odense, Denmark. As a child, Andersen showed a keen interest in books and the theater, and could retell the stories and fairytales he heard from the local inhabitants of Odense. After several unsuccessful attempts by his mother to apprentice him to, among others, a weaver, Andersen decided at the age of 14 to move to Copenhagen in hopes of finding and pursuing his dreams. He arrived there penniless and alone in 1819, and struggled in poverty for the following three years. Finally, at the age of 17, Andersen caught the attention of the philanthropist Jonas Collin, who saw potential talent in the young artist. Collin soon helped finance a formal education for Andersen (who had hardly gone to school as a child) with the aid of King Frederik Vl. After Andersen attained his university entrance exams, he began to publish poems and novels. He later worked as a playwright at the Royal Danish Theater, but the harsh criticism from certain intellectuals left him unsucessful. Nevertheless, his share of the profits from The Mulatto enabled him to make one of his first long voyages in Europe, where he travelled as far as Greece and Eastern Europe. The trip would provide great sources of inspiration for his later travelogues and fairy tales.

Andersen wrote and published fairy tales throughout his career, but not until their publication and subsequent popularity in Germany and England did he gain acknowledgement in his native Denmark. Andersen's style of writing (for example, his use of a more colloquial register) revolutionized the Danish written word in ways that remain detectable even today but are seldom acknowledged due to the perception of Andersen as a mere writer of fairy tales. Andersen died on August 4, 1875, unmarried and childless.

Nina Sokol

Nina Sokol is a poet and translator in the midst of translating a series of plays and poems by contemporary Danish writers. She earned a master's degree in English from Copenhagen University. She was awarded a poetry residency at the Vermont Studio Center (2011) and attended the Bread Loaf School of English (2013). Most recently, she received a grant from the Danish Arts Council and the Danish Writer's Guild to translate several modern Danish plays into English. Her poems have received honorable mentions for the Emily Dickinson Award for Poetry and have appeared in the anthology The Write Stuff and, most recently, the journals Ardent!, Nite-Writers International Literary Arts Journal, Convergence, Eye on Life MagazineJerry Jazz Musician, Miller's Pond, and the Hiram Poetry Review (the last three forthcoming in 2014). A new collection of her poetry entitled Escape and Other Poems is also forthcoming in 2014, from Lapwing Publications in Belfast, Ireland.

English translation copyright (c) Nina Sokol, 2014.