top of page

Søren Kierkegaard : "The wild goose" and other parables

Dernière mise à jour : 5 mai 2023

The wild goose

Anyone who knows even a little bit about bird-life knows that there is a kind of understanding between wild geese and tame geese, regardless of how different they are. When the flight of the wild geese is heard in the air and there are tame geese down on the ground, the tame geese are instantly aware of it and to a certain degree they understand what it means; this is why they also start up, beat their wings, cry out and fly along the ground a piece in awkward, confused disorder - then it is over.

There was once a wild goose. In the autumn, about the time for migration, it became aware of some tame geese. It became enamored of them, thought it a shame to fly away from them, and hoped to win them over so that they would decide to go along with him on the flight. To that end it became involved with them in every possible way, tried to entice them to rise a little higher and then again a little higher in their flight, that they might, if possible, accompany it in the flight, saved from the wretched, mediocre life of waddling around on the earth as respectable, tame geese.

In the beginning the tame geese thought it very entertaining and liked the wild goose. But soon they became tired of it, drove it away with sharp words, censured it as a visionary fool devoid of experience and wisdom. Alas, unfortunately the wild goose had become so involved with the tame geese that they had gradually gained power over it, their opinion meant something to it - and, summa summarum, the wild goose finally became a tame goose.

In a certain sense there was something splendid about what the wild goose wanted,

but it was, nevertheless, a mistake, for - this is the law - a tame goose never becomes

a wild goose, but a wild goose can certainly become a tame goose.

If what the wild goose did is to be commended in any way, it must above all

unconditionally watch out for one thing - that it hold on to itself ; as soon as it notices

that the tame geese have any kind of power over it - then away, away in migratory !

The law for genius is this : A tame goose never becomes a wild goose

but on the other hand a wild goose can certainly become a tame goose

- therefore watch out !

Journal, 1854


What is a poet ?

What is a poet ? An unhappy man who in his heart harbors a deep anguish,

but whose lips are so fashioned that the moans and cries which pass over them are transformed into ravishing music. His fate is like that of the unfortunate victims whom the tyrant Phalaris' imprisoned in a brazen bull, and slowly tortured over a steady fire;

their cries could not reach the tyrant's ears so as to strike terror into his heart;

when they reached his ears they sounded like sweet music.

And men crowd about the poet and say to him, "Sing for us soon again"- which is as much as to say, "May new sufferings torment your soul, but may your lips be fashioned as before; for the cries would only distress us, but the music, the music, is delightful."

And the critics come forward and say,

"That is perfectly done - just as it should be, according to the rules of aesthetics."

Now it is understood that a critic resembles a poet to a hair; he only lacks the anguish

in his heart and the music upon his lips. I tell you, I would rather be a swineherd,

understood by the swine, than a poet misunderstood by men.

"A" in Either/Or



The gods were bored, and so they created man.

Adam was bored because he was alone, and so Eve was created.

From that moment only boredom entered the world,

and increased in proportion to the increase of population.

Adam was bored alone; then Adam and Eve were bored together;

then Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel were bored en famille;

then the population of the world increased,

and the peoples were bored en masse.

To divert themselves they conceived the idea of

constructing a tower high enough to reach the heavens.

This idea is itself as boring as the tower was high,

and constitutes a terrible proof

of how boredom gained the upper hand...

I desire no disciples; but if there happened

to be someone present at my deathbed,

and I was sure that the end had come,

then I might in an attack of philanthropic delirium,

whisper my theory in his ear,

uncertain whether I had done him a service or not.

"A" in Either/Or


A Fire

It happened that a fire broke out backstage in a theater.

The clown came out to inform the public.

They thought it was just a jest and applauded.

He repeated his warning, they shouted even louder.

So I think the world will come to an end

amid general applause from all the wits,

who believe that it is a joke.

"A" in Either/Or


The Drunken Peasant

It is related of a peasant who came barefooted to the Capital, and

had made so much money that he could buy himself a pair of shoes and stockings,

and still had enough left over to get drunk on - it is related that as he was trying in his drunken state to find his way home, he lay down in the middle of the highway,

and fell asleep.

Then along came a wagon, and the driver shouted to him to move or he would

run over his legs. Then the drunken peasant awoke, looked at his legs,

and since by reason of the shoes and stockings he didn't recognize them,

he said to the driver,

"Drive on, they are not my legs."

Anti-Climacus in The Sickness unto Death



It is like the woman who offered to sell to Tarquin a collection of books,

and when he would not give the sum she demanded burned one-third of them,

and demanded the same sum; and when again he would not give the sum

she demanded burned another third of them, and demanded the same sum,

until, finally, he gave the original sum for the last third.

Judge William in Either/Or


A Pilot

Let us imagine a pilot, and assume that he had passed every examination with distinction, but that he had not as yet been at sea. Imagine him in a storm; he knows everything he ought to do, but he has not known before how terror grips the seafarer when the stars are lost in the blackness of night; he has not known the sense of impotence that comes when the pilot sees the wheel in his hand become a plaything for the waves; he has not known how the blood rushes to the head when one tries to make calculations at such a moment; in short, he has had no conception of the change that takes place in the knower

when he has to apply his knowledge.

What fair weather is to the sailor, that for the ordinary person is to live at the same pace with others and with the race, but the moment of decision, the dangerous moment of reflection when he takes himself out of the environment to be alone before God, to become a sinner, this is the stillness that upsets the customary order like a storm at sea. He knew all this, knew what would happen to him, but he did not know how anxiety would seize him, as he felt himself deserted in the manifold wherein he has his soul; he did not know how the heart beats when help from others, and the guidance from others, and the standards and the distractions afforded by others, vanish in the stillness; he did not know the trembling

of the soul, when it is too late to shout for human aid, since no one can hear him:

in short, he had no idea of how knowledge is changed when he needs to apply it.

Thoughts on Crucial Situations in Human Life


Two Artists

Suppose there were two artists, and the one said,

"I have travelled much and seen much in the world, but I have sought in vain to find

a man worth painting. I have found no face with such perfection of beauty that I

could make up my mind to paint it. In every face I have seen one or

another little fault. Therefore I seek in vain."

Would this indicate that this artist was a great artist ?

On the other hand, the second one said,

"Well, I do not pretend to be a real artist; neither have I travelled in foreign lands.

But remaining in the little circle of men who are closest to me, I have not found a face

so insignificant or so full of faults that I still could not discern in it a more beautiful side

and discover something glorious. Therefore I am happy in the art I practice.

It satisfies me without my making any claim to being an artist."

Would this not indicate that precisely this one was the artist, one who by bringing a certain something with him found then and there what the much - travelled artist did not find anywhere in the world, perhaps because he did not bring a certain something with him !

Consequently the second of the two was the artist.

Would it not be sad, too, if what is intended to beautify life could only be a curse upon it,

so that art, instead of making life beautiful for us, only fastidiously discovers that not one of us is beautiful. Would it not be sadder still, and still more confusing, if love also should be only a curse because its demand could only make it evident that none of us is worth loving,

instead of love's being recognized precisely by its loving enough to be able to find some lovableness in all of us, consequently loving enough to be able to love all of us.

Works of Love


The Letter

If a man possessed a letter which he knew, or believed, contained information bearing upon what he must regard as his life's happiness, but the writing was pale and fine,

almost illegible - then would he read it with restless anxiety and with all possible passion,

in one moment getting one meaning, in the next another, depending on his belief that, having made out one word with certainty he could interpret the rest thereby; but he would never arrive at anything except the same uncertainty with which he began.

He would stare more and more anxiously, but the more he stared, the less he would see.

His eyes would sometimes fill with tears; but the oftener this happened, the less he

would see. In the course of time, the writing would become fainter and more illegible,

until at last the paper itself would crumble away, and nothing

would be left to him, except the tears in his eyes.

"A" in Either/Or

* * *


PayPal ButtonPayPal Button
bottom of page