Wednesday, 21 August 2013

drawing with light 24 | Karen Blixen

This is author Karen Blixen at her desk in Rungstedlund in Denmark, the house she grew up in and returned to when she had to give up her farm in Africa. This is the house where she wrote all her stories and lived in until the day she died, 7 September 1962. Those of you who follow my blog probably know that I have been reading Blixen's books this summer and biographies of Blixen. I'm so consumed with her that when I give A his morning kiss he usually asks me: "How is Lisa Blixen today?" I thought about posting this photo without any text but I wanted to include a story from her book Shadows on the Grass, a short, beautifully written book. The story is about the powers of a king's letter.

Blixen had received a thank-you letter from King Christian X of Denmark after sending him a lion skin as a gift.
A letter from home always means a lot to people living for a long time out of their country. They will carry it about in their pocket for several days, to take it out from time to time and read it again. A letter from a king will mean more than other letters ... I stuck the letter into the pocket of my old khaki slacks and rode out on the farm.
A moment later there was a horrible accident in the woodland on the farm. A big tree fell on one of the natives, Kitau, and badly crushed his leg. He was lying in great pain and moaning when she arrived on the scene. A runner was sent for the car so Kitau could be brought to hospital in Nairobi and while waiting Blixen sat with him. She had morphine on the farm in case of injuries but out there in the woods, miles away from the house, she had nothing to relieve his pain.

Blixen always carried bits of sugar in her pockets and gave them to boys who herded their goats and sheep on the plain. She fed Kitau with the sugars while they were waiting. As his hands were bruised after the accident, he let her place the sugar on his tongue. "It was as if this medicine did somehow relieve his pain; his moans, while he had it in his mouth, changed into low whimperings." When she ran out of sugar all she could do was watching him suffer while he kept asking for more.
In my distress I once more put my hand into my pocket and felt the King's letter ... 'I have got something more. I have got something mzuri sana' — very excellent indeed. 'I have got a Barua a Soldani' — a letter from a king. 'And that is a thing which all people know, that a letter from a king, mokone yake' — in his own hand — 'will do away with all pain, however bad.' At that I laid the King's letter on his chest and my hand upon it. I endeavoured, I believe — out there in the forest, where Kitau and I were as if all alone — to lay the whole of my strength into it.
It was a very strange thing that almost at once the words and the gesture seemed to send an effect through him. His terribly distorted face smoothed out, he closed his eyes. After a while he again looked up at me. His eyes were so much like those of a small child that cannot yet speak that I was almost surprised when he spoke to me. 'Yes,' he said. 'It is mzuri,' and again, 'yes, it is mzuri sana. Keep it there.'
When the car finally arrived he asked her to sit with him and keep on holding the letter, which she did until they arrived at the hospital. To make a long story short, Kitau's leg healed well and the accident only left him with a permanent limp.

The rumour of the powers of that king's letter soon spread on the farm and the natives brought sick people and people in pain to the farm in the hope of having the letter laid on them. Some even wanted to borrow it for a day or two to bring relief to some relative. Eventually it was decided that "it must be made use of solely in uttermost need."

- from the chapter Barua a Soldani

I don't really know why I felt the need to tell you this story. It has been about three weeks since I read the book and this story hasn't left my mind. Maybe the reason is that this king was the king of Iceland until it gained independence from Denmark in 1944. This same king infuriated Adolf Hitler back in 1942 - during the German occupation of Denmark in WWII - when he replied to Hitler's birthday greeting with a short thank you, which he signed Chr. Rex.

The powerful words of a king.

photo credit:
Lindequist via 1001 Stories of Denmark


  1. That photo is so expressive. And what a wonderful read! I'm glad you shared the story too.

  2. This story is so moving and lovely. I'm going to have to get to know Lisa Blixen better :) Thank you for sharing it and I love that photo.

    xo Mary Jo


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