The Daily Work before Sunrise: A Fairy Tale

by Manfred Kyber

Cover art for Kyber’s fairy tales; courtesy

Once upon a time, there was a blacksmith’s workshop and a blacksmith who labored there each day.

This blacksmith was unique, because his daily work was finished before sunrise.

It is a very difficult kind of daily work, which this blacksmith does. A person doing this kind of work becomes weary and sad. And one becomes calm and patient because of it, too. This kind of labor takes a lot of strength. Because someone who does this kind of work lives alone, and hammers in the twilight.

Now it was night, and the blacksmith was not at his forge. The fire-spirit in the chimney slept too. Only the fire-spirit’s breath faintly glowed off and on, glimmering under the ashes, and now and then scattering sparks around in the darkness. But the sparkles soon went out. Only a small gleam of light remained, and when it flickered, it cast glowing light beams that seemed to hurry here and there on the floor and walls, as if wandering and seeking something in the darkness of the smithy.

The relaxed bellows let its great stomach hang in plain glum folds, though when it is folded it becomes slimmer. It reminds us of how a stout master can grow skinny all of a sudden. One could have laughed about this, but in the smithy there was no one who understood how to laugh.

The anvil turned his fat head with its sharp pointed nose slowly in each direction, and looked at the old pieces of iron which would be hammered today. It was not much to look at. Only a few worn pieces huddled together. They lay in a corner, and they were dirty and dusty, like folks who have a long and difficult journey behind them.

The anvil was irritated. “What a good for nothing rabble is assembled here! Just my luck, that first it will all be thrust into the fire, and then it will be dumped on my clean bare head! It’s really disgusting to think about it! Thank goodness at least that my own head is nice and clean.”

The anvil turned up his great big snout contemptuously and turned his back on the old scraps of iron. The anvil was a big lunkhead. He did not realize that he too was made of iron, and that those old pieces of iron having traveled so far would also become clean when it came time for the fire-spirit to enter them and the hammer to pound them. The anvil thought that there was pure, clean iron on the one hand, and dusty dirty iron on the other hand, each existing that way from the beginning, and he thought that was the way they would always remain. He was just a lunkhead, and he did not know all the troubles his master had suffered to gather that old iron so that he could hammer it in the twilight.

The pieces of old iron felt quite relieved when the anvil turned his back to them, and they stopped feeling his despising gaze. The iron had distinctly felt that glare, even though it was so dusty and dirty.

Then the pieces of iron began to talk to each other in whispers.

Because of their age, there were pieces that had been worked over many times. There were other pieces, extremely old, which really belonged in a curiosity shop. There were also quite young pieces among them, pieces having only been in the world a few years. But on the surface they all looked pretty much the same.

“You are so rusty,” said a chain sympathetically to an old sword. “That is a very serious illness. Do you feel like you’re very sick?”

The sword sighed, rattling at the hilt, and clanged. “It’s an old injury,” he said. “I’ve had it for many hundreds of years already. The stain of blood causes it. I have seen some horrible things in my lifetime. I have been passed from hand to hand, many times. One person killed another with me. Then another took me from that one to murder more people. All the blood and all the tears have stuck to me and corroded me. I have had very little rest. I am soaked in blood, and those who used me to shed the blood of others rang loud bells with the very same hands they used to murder people, celebrating what they happily called their ‘victory.’”

“I am only a few years old,” said a young sabre. “But I have experienced very much the same thing.”

“I have seen other victories,” said a rusty old sliding-bolt. “I saw men who had conquered themselves and the world with their ideas. I shut the door that held them locked up. They sat there and they rotted in the prison cell I bolted. But their ideas went through the jail door, past me, and those ideas traveled out, onto all the roads of the world.”

“I am far younger than you,” said another sliding bolt. “But I have had to do the same thing, and I have seen the same way the ideas traveled beyond my locked cell, too.”

The fire-spirit in the chimney breathed with more strength as the first beam of morning twilight fell on the old iron.

The pieces of iron began to feel very out of place and depressed, for now the many stains stood out all the more clearly in the light, as the fire-spirit breathed uneasily, stirring in the narrow hearth. The old pieces of iron looked sadly at their own dirty bodies and spoke wildly, complaining to one another.

“I have had to hold a murderer,” yammered a chain. “It was his last night. Close to him sat a man in a minister’s gown, and he had a book in his hand, and on it a golden cross was embossed.”

“I have had to work in a slaughterhouse,” said a long knife. “I have looked into the horrified eyes of thousands of creatures before they died. I have seen a thousand animal souls wandering here and there in a house full of blood and dread. Not only that, but a piece of me was once a pearl in the rosary of a quiet old man. That was in India, and the quiet old man cleared his path with feeble arms before he walked, so that he wouldn’t step on any creature. He called the worm his brother, and he prayed to his gods for their blessing on the worm. He spoke of the great chain of beings. He marked out a sacred sign in the sand, and in meditation he repeated his rosary when the winds blew. The foreign priests from the West sneered at the faith of the old man.”

“We have here the West, and its culture,” said the saber grimly, and he shook off a foolish golden tassel, which hung from his handle.

“We must wander in many forms,” said the knife. “I know that from the old man in India. But I don’t know what we’ll turn into.”

“We can’t remain in these forms!” they all cried, anxious and confused. “We are dirty and full of stains. We want to be hammered into something else! We want to go to the fire-spirit and ask for another form. But we don’t want to wait until the sun rises. We don’t want the sun to find us like this. Then our dirt and stains would be too apparent. But the smith won’t come so soon. He’s still asleep, no doubt.”

Just then, out flew a spark from the chimney right into the midst of the old iron. “The smith is not asleep. He will be here immediately,” hissed the spark. “He is a unique smith. His daily work is finished before the sunrise.” Then the spark died out.

The door opened and the smith came in. He was a serious man with compassionate eyes. That came from his daily work. He worked the bellows so that all its stomach ruffles opened and swelled up quite fat. The fire-spirit woke up in the narrow hearth, and the smith hauled all the old iron to the fire.

Then, when it was ready, he lifted the iron from the baptism of fire, and laid it all out upon the anvil.

“What shall we become—which form, which form?” asked the old pieces of iron, and the knife thought of the poor old man in India.

The smith hammered away. The sparks flew about. He hammered only one form—the latest of all forms. He hammered the soul of the iron.

It was his daily task.

When he was finished a gleaming ploughshare stood on the wet-with-dew earth before the smith.

Then the sun rose.

Unfortunately this is only a fairy tale.

A NOTE ON THE TEXT: The German original of this story, “Das Tagewerk vor Sonnenaufgang”, was published in, Märchen, Stuttgart/Heilbronn: Walter Seifert Verlag, 1922.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Besides the information given in the Preface, we might also recommend this informative German language site on Kyber’s life and writings. There is also an page listing some of Kyber’s English language editions. “Daily Work” has been newly translated from the German by our Literary Editor, William J. Jackson. For further information about William, and links to his other postings, please click on this Author’s page link.

“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi