Hans only wants to marry Clever Elsie if she is really clever. Everybody seems to think she is clever, but is she really?
Clever Elsie is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a young woman. Hans wants to marry her. When she gets into the cellar she imagines great tragedy. Soon everybody ends up crying with her. Hans marries her. Confronted with her laziness, he tricks her and she ends up too clever for her own good and leaves.
Complete text Clever Elsie
Hans wants to marry Clever Elsie if she really is wise
Once upon a time there was a man who had a daughter who was called Clever Elsie. When she had grown up her father said, “We will get her married.”
“Yes,” said the mother; “if only any one would come who would have her.”
At last a man came from far away and wooed her. He was called Hans and he only wanted to go through with the wedding if Clever Elsie was really wise.
“Oh,” the father said, “she’s sharp enough.”
The mother said, “Oh, she can see the wind coming up the street and hear the flies coughing.”
“Well,” said Hans, “if she is not really wise, I won’t have her.”
When they were sitting at dinner and had eaten, the mother said, “Elsie, go into the cellar and fetch some beer.”
Clever Elsie fetches some beer from the cellar
Clever Elsie took the pitcher from the wall, went into the cellar and tapped the lid briskly as she went, so that the time might not appear long. When she was below she fetched herself a chair and set it before the barrel so that she had no need to stoop and did not hurt her back or do herself any unexpected injury. She placed the can before her and turned the tap.
While the beer was running she would not let her eyes be idle, but looked up at the wall. After peering here and there she saw a pick-axe exactly above her, which the masons had accidentally left there.
Suddenly Clever Elsie began to weep. She said, “If I get Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and we send him into the cellar here to draw beer, then the pick-axe will fall on his head and kill him.”
She sat and wept and screamed with all the strength of her body over the misfortune which lay before her. Upstairs they waited for the drink, but Clever Elsie did not come.
The woman said to the servant, “Just go down into the cellar and see where Elsie is.”
The maid goes to the cellar
The maid went and found her sitting in front of the barrel, screaming loudly. “Elsie, why are you weeping?” asked the maid.
“Ah,” she answered, “have I not all reason to weep? If I get Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and has to draw beer here, the pick-axe will perhaps fall on his head, and kill him.”
The maid said, “What a clever Elsie we have!”, and sat down beside her, also loudly weeping over the misfortune.
After a while, as the maid did not come back, those upstairs were thirsty for the beer. The father said to the boy, “Just go down into the cellar and see where Elsie and the girl are.”
The boy goes to the cellar
The boy went down, and there were Clever Elsie and the girl sitting, weeping together. He asked, “Why are you weeping?”
“Ah,” said Elsie, “have I not reason to weep? If I get Hans, and we have a child, and he grows big, and has to draw beer here, the pick-axe will fall on his head and kill him.”
“What a clever Elsie we have!” the boy said and sat down by her. He also began to howl loudly.
Upstairs they waited for the boy. When he still did not return, the man said to the woman, “Just go down into the cellar and see where Elsie is!”
Mother goes to the cellar
The woman went down, found all three in the midst of their lamentations and inquired what was the cause. Elsie told her also that her future child was to be killed by the pick-axe, when it grew big and had to draw beer and the pick-axe fell down.
And so also her mother said: “What a clever Elsie we have!” and sat down and wept with them.
Father upstairs waited a short time, but as his wife did not come back and his thirst grew ever greater, he said, “I must go into the cellar myself and see where Elsie is.”
Father goes to the cellar
When he got into the cellar they were all sitting together crying. He heard the reason that Elsie’s child was the cause, and that Elsie might perhaps bring one into the world some day, and that it might be killed by the pick-axe, if it should happen to be sitting beneath it, drawing beer just at the very time when it fell down.
And so he cried, “Oh, what a clever Elsie!”, sat down and wept with them.
The bridegroom stayed upstairs alone for a long time. When no one would come back he thought, “They must be waiting for me below. I too must go there and see what they are about.”
Hans goes to the cellar
When he got down, five of them were sitting, screaming and lamenting quite piteously, each outdoing the other.
“What misfortune has happened then?” he asked.
“Ah, dear Hans,” said Elsie, “if we marry each other and have a child, and he is big, and we perhaps send him here to draw something to drink, then the pickaxe which has been left up there might dash his brains out if it were to fall down. Don’t we have reason to weep!?”
“Come,” said Hans, “more understanding than that is not needed for my household. Since you are such a clever Elsie, I will marry you.”
He seized her hand, took her upstairs with him and married her.
Elsie goes to the field to cut corn
After Hans had lived with her some time, he said, “Wife, I am going out to work and earn some money for us. Go into the field and cut the corn that we may have some bread.”
“Yes, dear Hans, I will do that.”
After Hans had gone away, she cooked herself some good broth and took it into the field with her. When she came to the field she said to herself, “What shall I do; shall I cut corn first, or shall I eat first? Oh, I will eat first.”
She emptied her cup of broth. When she was fully satisfied, she once more said, “What shall I do? Shall I cut corn first, or shall I sleep first? I will sleep first.”
She lay down among the corn and fell asleep.
Hans had been at home for a long time, but Elsie did not come. Then he said, “What a clever Elsie I have; she is so industrious that she does not even come home to eat.”
Hans goes to the field to look for Elsie
However, she still stayed away. When it was evening, Hans went out to see what she had cut, but nothing was cut and she was lying among the corn asleep.
Hans hastened home and brought a fowler’s net with little bells. He hung it round about her and she still went on sleeping. He ran home, shut the front door, sat down in his chair and worked.
When it was quite dark, Clever Elsie awoke. When she got up there was a jingling all around her. The bells rang at each step which she took.
Am I Elsie, or not?
She was alarmed and became uncertain whether she really was Clever Elsie or not. She said, “Am I Elsie, or not?”
She knew not what answer to give to this question. After standing in doubt for a while, she thought, “I will go home and ask if I am Elsie, or not. For sure they will know.”
She ran to the door of her own house, but it was shut. She knocked at the window and cried, “Hans, is Elsie within?”
“Yes,” answered Hans, “she is within.”
She was terrified and said, “Ah, heavens! Then I am not Elsie!”
She went to another door, but when the people heard the jingling of the bells they would not open it. She could get in nowhere and ran out of the village. No one has seen her since.
Tips for Telling Clever Elsie
- This is a story with two parts. You don’t need to tell them together. Personally, I find the first part quite funny, but the second part not so much. For you it might be different. When telling stories, remember that you can never hide behind ‘what is written’. In the moment you tell it, it’s your story.
- The repetition in this story works really well for a comedic effect. Try not to shorten it, you will lose the funny effect. However, when your listeners get bored, speed and spice it up. Always be aware of your audience.
- What do you think about this Elsie? Is she clever? Or not? Or maybe too clever? Think about it beforehand.
All Questions Answered
The latter part of this tale was published by the Brothers Grimm in the first edition of their Grimms’ Fairy Tales under the name “Hans’s Trina”. In later editions the first part was added and it came to be named ‘Clever Elsie’. Source: unknown.
The Brothers Grimm included it in the second edition (1819) of their Grimm’s Fairy Tales.
More useful information
Photo credits: Steve Buissinne from Pixabay
The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales on this website are based on the authentic translation of Margaret Hunt. They were edited and reformatted for pleasant reading and telling by Storyteller Rudolf Roos.
See the complete list of The Brothers Grimm Fairy Tales (link to internationalstoryteller.com).