Religious motifs : Overview. Search. About religious motifs

See also Hymn book, hymnal


Song, church

Description of this motif:

Psalms are religious songs. A remarkable example of the motif in the fairy tales and stories of Hans Christian Andersen is At the Uttermost Parts of the Sea. The title is a quote from psalm 139 of the bible's book of Psalms, a psalm by David.

Example :

It was just at the holy Christmastime that the Oak dreamed its most beautiful dream-and this we shall hear.


Then it seemed that a new and stronger current of life flowed through the Oak, down into its smallest roots, up into its highest twigs, even out into the leaves! The tree felt that it was stretching; it could feel how life and warmth stirred down in the earth about its roots; it felt the strength increase and that it was growing taller and taller. The trunk shot up; there was no rest for the tree; it grew more and more; its crown became fuller; it spread and towered. And as the tree grew, its strength grew also, as did its ardent yearning to reach higher and higher toward the bright, warm sun.


It was a blessed moment, so full of joy! And yet in all its joy the Oak felt a longing, a great desire that all the other trees below, all the bushes, plants, and flowers of the forest, might be lifted up with it, to share in its glory and gladness. Amid all its dream of splendor, the mighty Oak could not be fully happy without all the others, small and great, sharing in it, and this yearning thrilled through boughs and leaves as fervently, as strongly, as it would within a human heart.


Yes, and now the green tops of the forest peeped up through the clouds. The Oak saw that the other trees below were growing and lifting themselves up as it had; (...) song and happiness were everywhere, right up into heaven.


"We are here! We are with you!" they sang and rang out.


"No, this is too wonderful to be true!" rejoiced the Oak. "I have them all with me; small and great, not one is forgotten! How can all this blessedness be conceivable and possible?"

"In the kingdom of God all things are conceivable and possible," came the mighty answer.

And the tree, which continued to grow, felt its very roots loosening themselves from the earth. "This is the best of all," it said. "Now no bonds shall hold me; I can soar upward to the heights of glory and light! And my loved ones are all with me, small and great-all with me!"


That was the dream of the Oak tree, and while it dreamed on that holy Christmas Eve, a mighty storm was sweeping over land and sea. The ocean piled its heavy billows onto the shore; the tree cracked, groaned, and was torn up by the roots, at the very moment when it was dreaming that its roots were freeing themselves from the earth. It fell. Its three hundred and sixty-five years were now as a day is to the May fly.

Christmas morning, when the sun rose, the storm was past. All the church bells rang, while from every chimney, even the smallest one, on the peasant's hut, the blue smoke curled upward, like sacrificial steam rising from the altars of the ancient Druids. The sea became more and more calm, and aboard a big vessel that had weathered the storm of the night before all flags were hoisted now in greeting to the Yuletide. "The tree is gone-the old oak tree that was our landmark!" said the sailors. "It must have fallen during the storm last night. What can ever replace it? Nothing!"

That was the tree's eulogy, brief but sincere. There it lay, stretched out on the carpet of snow near the shore, while over it sounded the hymn sung on the ship, sung in thanksgiving for the joy of Christmas, for the bliss of the human soul's salvation through Christ, for the gift of eternal life:

Sing loud, sweet angel, on Christmas morn.
Hallelujah! Christ the Saviour is born.
In joy receive His blessing.
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

Thus sounded the old hymn, and everyone aboard the ship felt himself lifted heavenward by the hymn, and by prayer, even as the old tree had lifted itself in its last, most beautiful dream that Christmas Eve.

Comment on this quote:

The marvellous dream of the oak tree is, in Johan de Mylius' opinion, at the very core of Andersen's oeuvre, which Mylius conceives as focused on transformations – in death and resurrection – and the drive towards this transformation. Cf. the book The Price of Transformation - Hans Christian Andersen and his Fairy Tales.

The merging of sky, heaven, sun, God, light and spirit parallels among others The Little Mermaid, whose striving and destiny points in the direction of both Gods heaven and the sun. Nature and the divine are merged by the parallel use of these wordings.