Hans Christian Andersen had a particular capacity for using the typical fairy tale genre’s device of giving ordinary objects personality and character. The Teapot is one of his later stories, written in December 1863. One can imagine him warming his hands on his tea cup as he wrote in the freezing Danish winter.
This is a story about the inner and outer adventures and self-reflections over the life of a dainty porcelain teapot ‘who’ was part, indeed the queen, of an elegant tea service which did not appreciate her.
The teapot knew her-self, inside and out. She knew her virtues as well as her defects. She could adjust to poorer times. And even in old age, she clung to all she had left – her memories.
“You need only claim the events
of your life to make it yours.
When you truly possess all you
have been and done, which may
take some time, you are fierce
— Florida Scott Maxwell
Some people don’t bother with teapots any more, but the ritual of preparing tea in a pot does make it all the more enjoyable.
“…. the spirit of the tea beverage is one of peace, comfort, and refinement. As these qualities are all associated with the ways of women, it is to them, therefore, the real rulers of the world, that tea owes its prestige and vogue.”
— The Little Tea Book
When Michael Leunig, I would say Australia’s favourite cartoonist, ended his political cartoonist career in 1969, “he drew a man riding towards the sunset on a large duck, with a teapot on his head. Leunig later stated, "...the man was most definitely me and the teapot, worn like a fool's cap, symbolised warmth, nourishment and domestic familiarity," while the duck, "represented feelings of primal freedom and playfulness." Leunig’s website is well worth a look, and his books are treasures of down-to-earth philosophical whimsy.
Porcelain – a ceramic material fired at very high temperatures to produce “table, kitchen, sanitary, and decorative wares; objects of fine art; and tiles.Its high resistance to the passage of electricity makes porcelain an excellent insulator.” It is usually translucent, very strong, but brittle.
“the one who gives forth, the adviser” – It used to be quite common to ‘read’ the tea-leaves in the bottom of the cup. “Tasseography (also known as tasseomancy or tassology) is a divination or fortune-telling method that interprets patterns in tea leaves”
The most delicate hand – but awkward – Hans Christian Andersen was very class conscious; he aspired to be accepted by the upper class of his day, and felt his lower status keenly.
The others laughed at it, not the hand that broke it – a typical example of ‘blame the victim’ mentality.
One is one thing and then becomes quite another. – She embraced her changed circumstances.
They put earth in me – She became close to nature – she had come from clay herself after all – and experienced a new life of giving, and receiving from the plant.
Then they threw me out. – The pain and inevitability of old age and decrepitude comes to all who live their full allotment of time.
These questions are for your own personal reflections on the story. Perhaps not all of them are relevant to you, so answer only the ones which call to you. And if you find a question disturbing, do seek out a wise and trusted friend or therapist to talk it over with.
I would encourage you as you reflect on these questions to have your favourite creativity materials or a visual journal nearby. Be open to any images that may come to you and concretize your reflections in some sort of art-making.
- What feelings does this story bring up for you personally?
- What stage are you at on your life’s journey?
- How much do you reflect on what is going on around you, and where you fit in the scheme of things?
- How happy or unsatisfied are you with your current status in society?
- How do you ‘make do and mend’? How do you recycle and re-use? I have fond memories of growing African Violets in old teapots.
- Even in poverty we can find or make beauty like the beggar-woman did. How do you find this so?
- How important is it for you to be useful? How does being useful get in the way of just being?
- How do you keep in touch with nature?
- Have you ever picked up a pretty shard from a beach or a field, and wondered about its provenance?