As part of an assignment for English Language & Culture, students read Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid” and Sabrina Orah Mark’s “The Silence of Witches,” and were then asked to respond to the themes in the former using the creativity and stylistic audacity of the latter.
Below is student Yolanda Zhang ’23’s stirring response about her love of music. When asked about her intention with the essay, Zhang told Miss Hall’s Makes, “I was inspired by the courage of the Little Mermaid in Anderson’s story. Her courage, which allowed her to pursue her love, reminds me of my experience in pursuing my dream, which is singing. I hoped I could convey the power of courage in this story in order to encourage others to achieve their dreams.”
Every night when the moon rises, the song of silence begins. Counting the stars, I lie on the bed, feeling the melody gradually flowing into my heart. That’s the music: the only thing I could never give up in my life. She is my twin sister who has accompanied me for such a long time; since I was born, in fact. Slowly closing my eyes, her graceful sound turns into several strings which tenderly weave a soft cloud, carrying me to my delicate dream. In my dream, there is a little mermaid singing in front of me. “Follow me,” she murmurs, “follow me, follow me!” She is calling. Her ethereal sound is full of power that conveys courage to me to follow her to be dragged into an unknown place with the whole spinning world.
I come into her world, not the world described by Andersen, but the world deeply inside her heart. In this lovely world, she eventually becomes who she truly is. Neither the word “mermaid” nor “human” can describe her: that pure soul that contains so much energy does not belong to either of them. Dispelling those labels which were added to her by people, opening the shell she uses to protect herself; I find out the secret she hoards in her body: she is not what people think. What I have seen is that this little mermaid has the power of courage which constantly allows her to pursue her love. And that’s the cause of her being misunderstood for hundreds of years, hiding under her selfish appearance as she was labeled by readers. Pursuing love really requires courage. It’s the same for me.
I’ve been addicted to music since it first rang in my mind. Each single note contains the power of beauty, composing a huge landscape and bringing me into its world. Since then, I have realized where my true love is: it’s always there, around me, melting into the music, coming from my throat, hiding in my heart. I love music, even more than I think. The range of my music gradually expands, from myself to other people, and finally reaching the world. I no longer have to sing to the wall, waiting for the only audience—silence with her candid opinion. I can stand on the stage to sing; the people, even the world, are listening. I can feel their breath when I’m singing; breath so gentle that I’m almost going to fall asleep. That’s the quietest moment in the world that I ever have, when I am the only person left in the world. That’s the second that time stops passing by me, when I am so far away from the crowd, immersed in my own world. I aspire to this feeling, like when the little mermaid takes her first step on land, and is overwhelmed by the sense of accomplishment, heedless to the pain of walking on knives that follows.
I’m prohibited from singing; I lose my voice. When the little mermaid loses her silvery voice and has to tread on her suffering every day, she doesn’t cry. It’s apparently useless to her. She knows what the outcome will be if she fails in the war of love; however, she chooses to hide her pain and keep on going. She smiles at everyone, although she can’t speak; she accompanies the prince, going anywhere he wants, though her feet are aching. Transmitting courage to her continuously, love sustains her to stay with the prince day after day.
I never stop singing, even though the doctor has warned me to be careful. I can’t stop; I still have a lot of things that need to be improved in my music, and I haven’t reached my goal. I can’t stop it; we were born together, and we belong to each other. Music grows in my heart like a deeply rooted flower which is too complicated for me to pull it out. I’m addicted to the music more, completely losing control. My mother used to say that when one can’t control one’s love anymore, it becomes a belief. Likewise, the courage in one’s heart gives one the power to persist in belief. Growing stubborn and strong, like the insistent vine, the belief can never be shaken off. Just as the little mermaid loves the prince more and more during the period of time that she spends with him, she can never stop herself from loving him. When the door to getting rid of the control over her love is closed, a window in a narrow place slowly opens up. That’s the way the little mermaid and I have chosen, to sacrifice ourselves, and love is the only reason to cause one to sacrifice.
When the little mermaid becomes a transparent bubble, gradually rising in the sky, the glaring sunshine penetrates her body, shining on the surface of the frigid ocean, warming and waking all of the lives in the world. Her courage, which is accelerated by love, finally impels her to give up herself to prevent anything from disrupting her pure love. That’s where her courage is; as a seed though it might have been covered by several layers of ground, it’s always with her; and as soon as she finds out the stimulation for the seed, it grows. That stimulation is love.
The condition of my throat becomes worse, bleeding and aching. I keep on practicing, day by day. Time is rotating, the dark no longer following the light. Instead, the daytime seems to be longer than the night. Birds can sing all day without getting tired, and the sun will never set again. Love gives me the courage to be able to do the thing which might not have a good outcome. I can’t estimate how long my throat can last. Nonetheless, I know that time will give me the answer, and before then, continuing to practice is the only thing I can do. I consistently assert that love carries the strength of courage which supports me to achieve my dream.
When I was little, I thought the best representatives of courage were superheroes. They became the moon which always hung in that dark curtain of the sky, accompanying and illuminating people’s dreams. I had a dream about them; a dream about an innocent little girl who wanted to touch the moon. But it was too far away. The moon was moving, steadily and endlessly. Someday it would leave, moving out of our sight. Someday it would not be in our world anymore. So, what will replace it? If you can’t become the moon, then be your own star. The light of the stars will never be gone: though each of them only shines for a moment, then is flooded by the stars of the future, they choose to live in that sparkling second. That’s where true courage is. Like the stars that will never end and are still there, in our hearts. That’s what true courage is; not like the fearless moon which always shines so dazzlingly without caring about the day, when it might disappear. These stars know that there is a day they will be forgotten by history. However, they still choose to shine, using their faint light to try to warm the cruel world a little bit. That’s where courage belongs, taking the fear with you, facing your own way.