Kierkegaard: Agnete and the Merman

I find this portion of Kierkegaard curious without quite understanding it, but then it is about the folksong “Agnete from Holmegaard” by Jens Baggesen and made into Hans Christian Anderson into an unsuccessful play. It is a trifle sexist, but it is arresting nonetheless,

The merman is a seducer who rises up from concealment in the depts, and in wild desire grasps and breaks the innocent flower (Agnete) standing in all its charms by the shore, pensively bending its head of the ocean’s roar. That is what the poets made of it. Let us make a change. The merman was a seducer. He has called out to Agnete, with his smooth talk has coaxed from her her secret thoughts. She has found the merman what she was seeking, what she gazed down to find in the depths of the sea. Agnete is willing to follow him down. The merman has taken her into his arms. Agnete twines hers about his neck trustingly and with all her soul she abandons herself to the stronger. He is already on the sea edge, bending over the water to follow him down with his prey. Then Agnete looks at him again, not fearfully, not questioningly, not proud of her good luck, not intoxicated with desire, but in absolute faith, with absolute humility, like the humble flower she deemed herself to be; with absolute confidence she entrusts to him her entire fate. And look! The ocean roars no more, its wild voice is stilled, nature’s passion–which is the merman’s strength–deserts him, the sea becomes dead calm. And still Agnete is looking at him in this way. Then the merman collapses, he is unable to resist the power of innocence, his element becomes unfaithful to him, he cannot seduce Agnete. He leads her home again, he explains to her he only wanted to show her how beautiful the sea was calm, and Agnete believes him. Then he turns back alone, and the ocean rages, but more wildly still rages the merman’s despair.

Despite my cynicism of any young girl have Agnete’s level of naïveté or many seducers balking in awe of it where it exists, I still believe the story has this strength: every woman wishes for such a story. She wishes that there was a man over whom she has Agnete’s powers over the merman. This is why romances sell so well, I guess, and why the hero of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre is a bad man and not a good. Rothschild is more moving to women than Don Juan; it is men who bear “stud’s” a grudging respect, while women want to believe their hearts are like domestic gardens which contain the single rose planted by a man whose heart is good–but not too good. Why do we sympathize so with evil? I am not sure. I read the first two and last cantos of Don Juan and left hating Lord Byron for good, yet even my head is partly turned by “She Walks in Beauty.” Of course, his actual wife (his cousin) did not feel this way. She left making accusations of abuse. Chances are they were real. More, there is a Louisa May Alcott novel taking up the cause of Mrs. Byron. Though Byron could be a lover he was not good husband material. I personally hope he was lonely.

I guess I think of love as one “unlucky in love,” there have been no men beating down my door, with tears in their eyes, begging to be their beloved forever. Yet occasionally my imagination fools me about one… could the spark be there? Am I not forever destined to maidenhood? Conrad writes in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, that the narrator meets the elderly spinster who asked her fiancé’s last words. In reality the rogue’s last thoughts had to do with money or escaping an angry mob of African tribesmen. Yet pity moved this man about this woman who waited half her life with nothing to show for it. “He whispered–your name!” She sighed, content.

I sigh in discontent. Yet I write a letter–besides this–to my beloved. Hopefully if he reads this on-line he shall not find it–or the letter–inconvenient or embarrassing.

Published by hadassahalderson

I am a professional author who lives in Wichita, KS. I went to Friends University and spent one year at Claremont Graduate University. My published work includes: The Bible According to Eve I-IV and Faust in Love.

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