Reading Comprehension - Literature: 'The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream'

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This is a beautiful story about the life of an old oak tree that has stood at the edge of a wood, on a cliff above the seashore for 365 years. The oak had seen much in his life and was a landmark for sailors from around the world. When a tiny insect lands on one of his leaves, the old oak expresses sorrow because the insect only has a lifecycle of just one day. However, the tiny insect argues that they do have the same time to live, only they reckon it differently. "You may have thousands of my days, but I have thousands of moments in which I can be merry and happy”
1. The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream
Hans Christian Andersen
In the woods, on a high bank near the open seashore, there stood such a very old oak
tree. It was exactly three hundred and sixty-five years old, but this long span of years
seemed to the tree scarcely longer than as many days do to people like us. A tree's life is
not the same as a man's. We are awake during the day, and sleep at night, and we have
our dreams.
It is different with a tree; it is awake throughout three seasons, and not until winter comes
does it go to sleep. Winter is its time for sleeping; that is its night after the long day which
we call spring, summer, and autumn.
Many a warm summer day the May flies danced around its crown, lived happily and felt
fortunate as they flitted about; and if one of the tiny creatures rested from its blissful play
for a moment on a large oak leaf, the tree always said, "Poor little insect! Your whole life is
but one day long! How sad!"
"Sad?" the little May fly always answered. "What do you mean by that? Everything is so
bright and warm and beautiful, and I am so happy!"
"But only for one day, and then all is over."
"Over?" said the May fly. "What does over mean? Is it also over for you?"
"No, I shall live perhaps thousands of your days, and a day for me lasts a whole year. That
is something so long you can't even figure it out."
"No, I don't understand you at all. You have thousands of my days to live, but I have
thousands of moments in which to be happy and joyous. Will all the beauty of this world
die when you die?"
"No," said the tree. "It will probably last longer, infinitely longer, than I am able to imagine."
"Well, then, we each have an equally long lifetime, only we figure differently."
And so the May fly danced and glided in the air, with its fine, artistic wings of veil and
velvet, rejoicing in the warm air that was so perfumed with delicious scents from the clover
field and the wild roses, elders, and honeysuckles of the hedges, not ot speak of the
bluebells, cowslip, and wild thyme; the fragrance was so strong that the tiny insect felt a
little intoxicated from it. The day was long and beautiful, full of happiness and sweet
experiences, and by sunset the little May fly was pleasantly weary from all the excitement.
Its dainty wings would no longer support it; very gently it glided down onto the cool,
rocking blades of grass, nodded its head as a May fly can, and fell into a very peaceful
slumber; it was dead.
"Poor little May fly," said the Oak; "that was really too short a life!"
And every summer day was repeated the same dance, the same question, the same
answer, and the same peaceful falling asleep; it happened through many generations of
May flies, and all of them were lighthearted and happy.
The Oak stood wide-awake through its spring morning, its summer noon, and autumn
evening; soon now it would be sleeping time, the tree's night, for winter was coming.
Already the winds were singing, "Good night! Good night! There falls a leaf; there falls a
leaf! We plucked it, we plucked it! See that you go to sleep! We will sing you to sleep, we
will rock you to sleep! Surely it will do your old limbs good. They crackle from pure
contentment. Sleep sweetly, sleeep sweetly! This is your three hundred and sixty-fifth
night, but you are really only a yearling! Sleep sweetly! The skies are sprinkling snow; it
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3. will spread a warm coverlet over your feet. Sleep sweetly and have pleasant dreams!"
And now the great Oak stood stripped of its foliage, ready to rest throughout the long
winter, and in its sleep to dream of something that had happened to it, just as men dream.
The tree had once been very small; yes, an acorn had been its cradle. According to
human calculation, it was now in its fourth century; it was the tallest and mightiest tree in
the forest; its crown towered high above all the other trees and could be seen far out at
sea, where it served as a landmark to ships. The Oak had never thought of how many
eyes sought it out from the watery distance. High up in its green crown the wood doves
had built their nests, and there the cuckoo made its voice heard; and in the autumn, when
its leaves looked like hammered-out copper plates, the birds of passage rested awhile
there before flying on across the seas. But now it was winter; the tree was leafless, and
the bowed and gnarled branches showed their dark outlines; crows and jackdaws came to
gossip about the hard times that were beginning and how difficult it was to find food in the
It was just at the holy Christmastime that the Oak dreamed its most beautiful dream-and
this we shall hear.
The tree had a distinct feeling that it was a holiday season. It seemed to hear all the
church bells ringing round about, and at that the day was mild and warm, like a lovely
summer day. The Oak spread its mighty crown; sunbeams flickered among the leaves and
branches, and the air was filled with the fragrance of herbs and blossoms. Colored
butterflies played tag, and the May flies danced, which was the only way they could show
their happiness. All that the tree had encountered and witnessed through the many years
passed by as if in a holiday procession.
Knights and ladies of bygone days, with feathers in their caps and hawks on their wrists,
rode gaily through the forest; dogs barked and the hunting horn sounded. The tree saw
hostile soldiers, in shining armor and gaily colored garments, with spears and halberds,
pitching their tents and then striking them again; the watchfire blazed, and they sang and
then slept under the tree's protecting boughs. It saw lovers meet in quiet happiness there
in the moonlight, and carve their names, or their initials, on the gray-green bark. At one
time, many years before, a guitar and an Aeolian harp had been hung up in the Oak's
boughs by carefree traveling youths; now they hung there again, and now once more their
lovely music sounded. The wood doves cooed, as if they were trying to express what the
tree felt, and the cuckoo announced many more summer days it had to live.
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.
Already it was high above the clouds, which drifted far below it, like a troop of dark
migratory birds or like flocks of white swans.
And every leaf of the tree could see as if it had eyes; the stars became visible to them by
daylight, large and bright, all shining, like very clear, mild eyes. They reminded the Oak of
dear, kindly eyes it had known, the eyes of children, the eyes of lovers, who had met
beneath the tree.
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,
4. and this yearning thrilled through boughs and leaves as fervently, as strongly, as it would
within a human heart.
The crown of the tree bowed and looked back, as if it sought someting it had missed.
Then it felt the thyme and soon the still stronger scent of honeysuckle and violet, and
imagined it could hear the cuckoo talking to itself.
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; bushes and
plants rose high into the air, some even tearing themselves loose from their roots, to soar
up all the faster. The birch grew the most rapidly; like a white flash of lightning its slender
stem shot up, its boughs waving like green gauze and banners. The whole forest, even the
feathery brown reeds, grew high into the sky; the birds followed and sang, and on the
grass that waved to and fro like long, green silken ribbons, the grasshopper sat, and
drummed with his wings against his lean legs. The cockchafers hummed and the bees
buzzed and every bird sang to the best of its ability; song and happiness were
everywhere, right up into heaven.
"But the little red flower by the water-that should come along!" said the Oak tree. "And the
bluebell flower, and the little daisy!" Yes, the Oak wanted to have them all with it.
"We are here! We are with you!" they sang and rang out.
"But the pretty anemones of last summer-and the mass of lilies of the valley of the year
before that-and the wild crabapple tree that bloomed so beautifully-and all the beauties of
the forest, throughout the many years-if only they had lived on and remained till now, then
they also could have been with us!"
"We are here! We are with you!" they sang and rang out, even higher up; it seemed that
they had ascended before the others.
"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
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:
5. 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.
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