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C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
 
An Evening’s Aurora
By Fridtjof Nansen (1861–1930)
 
From ‘Farthest North’

DECEMBER, 1893.—As we were sitting at supper about 6 o’clock, pressure suddenly began. The ice creaked and roared so along the ship’s sides close by us that it was not possible to carry on any connected conversation; we had to scream, and all agreed with Nordahl when he remarked that it would be much pleasanter if the pressure would confine its operations to the bow instead of coming bothering us here aft. Amidst the noise we caught every now and again from the organ a note or two of Kjerulf’s melody, ‘I Could not Sleep for the Nightingale’s Voice.’ The hurly-burly outside lasted for about twenty minutes, and then all was still.  1
  Later in the evening Hansen came down to give notice of what really was a remarkable appearance of aurora borealis. The deck was brightly illuminated by it, and reflections of its light played all over the ice. The whole sky was ablaze with it, but it was brightest in the south; high up in that direction glowed waving masses of fire. Later still Hansen came again to say that now it was quite extraordinary. No words can depict the glory that met our eyes. The glowing fire masses had divided into glistening, many-colored bands, which were writhing and twisting across the sky both in the south and north. The rays sparkled with the purest, most crystalline rainbow colors, chiefly violet-red or carmine and the clearest green. Most frequently the rays of the arch were red at the ends, and changed higher up into sparkling green, which, quite at the top, turned darker and went over into blue or violet before disappearing in the blue of the sky; or the rays in one and the same arch might change from clear red to clear green, coming and going as if driven by a storm. It was an endless phantasmagoria of sparkling color, surpassing anything that one can dream. Sometimes the spectacle reached such a climax that one’s breath was taken away; one felt that now something extraordinary must happen,—at the very least the sky must fall. But as one stands in breathless expectation, down the whole thing trips, as if in a few quick, light scale-runs, into bare nothingness. There is something most undramatic about such a dénouement, but it is all done with such confident assurance that one cannot take it amiss; one feels one’s self in the presence of a master who has the complete command of his instrument. With a single stroke of the bow he descends lightly and elegantly from the height of passion into quiet, everyday strains, only with a few more strokes to work himself up into passion again. It seems as if he were trying to mock, to tease us. When we are on the point of going below, driven by 61 degrees of frost (–33.9 C.), such magnificent tones again vibrate over the strings that we stay until noses and ears are frozen. For a finale, there is a wild display of fireworks in every tint of flame,—such a conflagration that one expects every minute to have it down on the ice, because there is not room for it in the sky. But I can hold out no longer. Thinly dressed, without a proper cap and without gloves, I have no feeling left in body or limbs, and I crawl away below.  2
 
 
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