A Handful of Clay

HENRY VAN DYKE

There was a handful of clay in the bank of a river. It was only common clay, coarse and heavy; but it had high thoughts of its own value, and wonderful dreams of the great place which it was to fill in the world when the time came for its virtues to be discovered.

Overhead, in the spring sunshine, the trees whispered together of the glory which descended upon them when the delicate blossoms and leaves began to expand, and the forest glowed with fair, clear colours, as if the dust of thousands of rubies and emeralds were hanging, in soft clouds, above the earth.

The flowers, surprised with the joy of beauty, bent their heads to one another, as the wind caressed them, and said: “Sisters, how lovely you have become. You make the day bright.”

The river, glad of new strength and rejoicing in the unison of all its waters, murmured to the shores in music, telling of its release from icy fetters, its swift flight from the snow-clad mountains, and the mighty work to which it was hurrying–the wheels of many mills to be turned, and great ships to be floated to the sea.

Waiting blindly in its bed, the clay comforted itself with lofty hopes. “My time will come,” it said. “I was not made to be hidden forever. Glory and beauty and honour are coming to me in due season.”

One day the clay felt itself taken from the place where it had waited so long. A flat blade of iron passed beneath it, and lifted it, and tossed it into a cart with other lumps of clay, and it was carried far away, as it seemed, over a rough and stony road. But it was not afraid, nor discouraged, for it said to itself: “This is necessary. The path to glory is always rugged. Now I am on my way to play a great part in the world.”

But the hard journey was nothing compared with the tribulation and distress that came after it. The clay was put into a trough and mixed and beaten and stirred and trampled. It seemed almost unbearable. But there was consolation in the thought that something very fine and noble was certainly coming out of all this trouble. The clay felt sure that, if it could only wait long enough, a wonderful reward was in store for it.

Then it was put upon a swiftly turning wheel, and whirled around until it seemed as if it must fly into a thousand pieces. A strange power pressed it and moulded it, as it revolved, and through all the dizziness and pain it felt that it was taking a new form.

Then an unknown hand put it into an oven, and fires were kindled about it–fierce and penetrating–hotter than all the heats of summer that had ever brooded upon the bank of the river. But through all, the clay held itself together and endured its trials, in the confidence of a great future. “Surely,” it thought, “I am intended for something very splendid, since such pains are taken with me. Perhaps I am fashioned for the ornament of a temple, or a precious vase for the table of a king.”

At last the baking was finished. The clay was taken from the furnace and set down upon a board, in the cool air, under the blue sky. The tribulation was passed. The reward was at hand.

Close beside the board there was a pool of water, not very deep, nor very clear, but calm enough to reflect, with impartial truth, every image that fell upon it. There, for the first time, as it was lifted from the board, the clay saw its new shape, the reward of all its patience and pain, the consummation of its hopes–a common flower-pot, straight and stiff, red and ugly. And then it felt that it was not destined for a king’s house, nor for a palace of art, because it was made without glory or beauty or honour; and it murmured against the unknown maker, saying, “Why hast thou made me thus?”

Many days it passed in sullen discontent. Then it was filled with earth, and something–it knew not what–but something rough and brown and dead-looking, was thrust into the middle of the earth and covered over. The clay rebelled at this new disgrace. “This is the worst of all that has happened to me, to be filled with dirt and rubbish. Surely I am a failure.”

But presently it was set in a greenhouse, where the sunlight fell warm upon it, and water was sprinkled over it, and day by day as it waited, a change began to come to it. Something was stirring within it–a new hope. Still it was ignorant, and knew not what the new hope meant.

One day the clay was lifted again from its place, and carried into a great church. Its dream was coming true after all. It had a fine part to play in the world. Glorious music flowed over it. It was surrounded with flowers. Still it could not understand. So it whispered to another vessel of clay, like itself, close beside it, “Why have they set me here? Why do all the people look toward us?” And the other vessel answered, “Do you not know? You are carrying a royal sceptre of lilies. Their petals are white as snow, and the heart of them is like pure gold. The people look this way because the flower is the most wonderful in the world. And the root of it is in your heart.”

Then the clay was content, and silently thanked its maker, because, though an earthen vessel, it held so great a treasure.

Writing About It!

1. Summarize the story in your own words.
2. How did the trees, the flowers, and the river in this story display their glory and honor?
3. How did the clay go through all the tribulations and trials and reach its glory finally?
4. The clay said to itself, “The path to glory is always rugged.” How do you think a great success is often followed by affliction and adversity?
5. If you were a handful of clay, into what would you desire to be made? Why?

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16 Comments Add yours

  1. 馬思婷 says:

    1. A Handful of Clay, by Henry Van Dyke, is a short parable about a piece of clay that was and always knew it was made for something big. In beginning of the story nature flaunts all its wondrous beauty in front of the clay, but the clay remains humble because it reiterates to itself that when the time comes it will be used to make something great. As time passed the clay still remained a clay.

    Then when the time came the clay was taken with the others to be made into something. The clay was joyous and filled with excitement for it had high hopes for what it was destined for. The clay endured pain and hardships for the next several days, and in the end the clay was turned into a plain, ugly, red vase for a flower.

    The clay lost hopes for all its dreams for greatness. The clay felt nothing but a disgrace and a failure. It wasn’t until many people were gazing upon the clay that it realized it was holding a royally rare lily, and the seed was a heart of gold placed perfectly at the heart of the clay.

    2. The trees, flowers, and river displayed their glory and honor by ravishing their colors and beauty through the sunlight, allowing the forest to glow ever so brightly.

    3. The clay went through trials and tribulations because not only did it endure physical pain but it also had to endure mental hardships, to which in the end made the clay even stronger than ever.

    4. I believe to achieve greatness you will always be faced with many rugged pathways. As Thomas Carlyle said, “The block of granite which was an obstacle in the pathway of the weak becomes a stepping-stone in the pathway of the strong.”

    5. I don’t particularly have anything in mind that I would want to be made into, because I don’t believe that will happen to me anytime soon; but if I were to be a handful of clay, I would love to be made into something that will hold great value and be remembered for years.

    1. TJ says:

      Good answers to all the questions.

  2. Unlike the other objects in the bank of the river, the handful of clay withstood many trials and tribulations to be rewarded its destination. While the trees, the flowers, and the river enjoyed their glory with fine leaves, blossoms, and marvellous missions, the handful of clay positively believed itself that the time of it will come someday. Being mixed, beaten, stirred, and trampled, it convinced itself those were necessity of being a noble work.
    If I was a handful of clay, I would like to be made for a tea cup. As a tea cup, I could try numerous tastes of drinks, whether rich or not. However, I do not agree with the saying “The path to glory is always rugged.” I think there’s no absolute adversity, but relative fortune. A change of mind may lead us to a greater future.

    1. TJ says:

      Being a tea cup would be a good thought.

  3. A9827103 says:

    As the trees, the flowers, and the river were displaying their glory and honor, a hand of clay still awaited his time. After several days gone, its patience had result that it was picked up to make into something. The process was full of great pains and hardships; however, it had passed through with determination. But it was disappointed when it saw itself as a red and ugly vase. It was so depressed that it ignored a new hope. Finally, its paid out has paid back by displaying on the church and a royal sceptre of lilies has made it feeling thankful.
    I would like to be a part of great building if I were turned into a hand of clay magically. As a part of great building, I could contribute my body to accomplish the building which would be a symbol and provide human beings a living place. It also could remind people about their pass.

  4. 葉馨 says:

    1.There was a handful of clay which had a dream that it’s virtues would be discovered one day. The clay was then taken away and suffered a lot of pain, but he encouraged himself and waited. after all the suffering, the clay saw the reflection of himself which was an ugly flower pot from the river. Being distressed and disappointed,the clay gave up his dream. One day the clay was taken to a place which people looked at it admiringly. It’s company told the clay that they were all carrying a royal sceptre of lilies, the most wonderful flower in the world.

    2.The tress and the flowers were were expand with their beautiful colors and appearance. The river released from icy fetters and was ready for the great ship to floated on it.

    3.At first, he encourage himself instantly. After he realized what he had turned into, he gave up his hope. Finally, he found his own value and glory.

    4.Well, I think we have to make mistakes or suffer and learn from it.

    5. If I were a clay, I would like to become a statue which was made by a talented artist. Then, maybe I would become a masterpiece of the artistic circle.

  5. 張婷婷 says:

    Through A Handful of Clay, Henry Van Dyke wants to tell us that our present circumstance doesn’t define our future. The story begins with ordinary clay which has high expectations of its own value. The clay stayed optimistic and believed its glorious day would come.
    Waiting for so long, the clay finally was taken and got through the hardest time; only to find out in the end that it was only a failure.
    “In the end, you don’t know what you’ll get.” With a new hope, the clay’s dream was coming true after all. Carrying the most wonderful flower in the world, with its root in the heart of the clay, both of them played a great part in the world.

  6. a9827095黃庭怡katy says:

    I think the concept that the story want to express is really clearly. I know the concept since I was a child and the concept are usually express by different contents of stories. The clay is just like the person, if it encounters some frustrates, it would tell itself never give up, because it will become a glory eventually. Even if the clay is very tiny and ugly, it would always have something it can be. So the story tells us that do not look down upon ourselves, although we can not like many people who are contribute to the society or the world. We just have to keep working hard and maybe we will become a useful person in the future as the end of the clay.

  7. A9827125 Amy Kung says:

    The story tells about a handful of clay in the river bank who always dreamed of becoming big and valuable although It was only a common clay, coarse and heavy. In contrast with the clay, its surroundings were the glorious trees, flowers, and the river which naturally has their own flair and beauty. The Clay waits and comforts itself that its time will come when it is its turn. Then one day, the clay was taken from its place to change its form. It faced hardships along the journey but the clay had faith and believes that a great reward awaits at the end. The clay’s new shape was then revealed but it was not its desired form. Soon all its dreams and hope had lost. With the days pass by, it became brown and dead-looking. One day, a new hope came, the clay was carried into a church and its dreams were coming true after all. The roots of royal lillies were in its heart and people gazed upon its glory.

    If I were a handful of clay, I would want to be made into something that has value, im sure it goes for the same with all people. But I dont necessarily mean something like a teacup that a Queen uses, or a beautiful ornament for people to admire. Those were naturally valued because of its form. I can be joyful being as a simple lover’s mug as I can feel the persons happiness when they use me to drink, or a sculpture that a person made with all their heart for gifting someone.

  8. A9727125 YOYO LI 李卓瑤 says:

    A Handful of Clay, by HENRY VAN DYKE, is a story told us can not abandon their own dream, even if their status was lowly, but someday someone will discover your good. This story used the clay to describe people. In this story clay had a lot of difficulties to overcome, and ultimately to become a useful item. If I were a handful of clay, I would want to be a common items, maybe I would like to become a flower pot but I just want to carry a common flower because I don’t want to compete with other, I just want to live happily without trouble.

  9. 馮偉業 says:

    1.The story is about a clay which is with heart, it grew day by day, passed through the pain and depression, and it dreamed about being a great and value decoration. One day, the clay had waited for the chance with euphoria. But it felt distress after it came because it hadn’t been made to be the ornament of a temple, or a precious vase for the table of a king. It frustrated for the dream didn’t come true. The clay lived with hopelessness. When it though it was in the deepest abyss, an unknown new hope pull it out of the dilemma. Finally, the clay felt thankful with its maker and destiny.

    2.the trees blossomed in bright color; the flowers surprised by its own beauty; the river released by the icy fetter and show its energy through hurrying wheels and great the boat.

    3.the clay finally abandon all the hope and realized its own value.

    4.as a idiom “If you wish to be the best man, you must suffer the bitterest of the bitter.”

    5.if i were a handful of clay, i want to be refined to be my beloved’s watch.

  10. a9827113 Carina says:

    there was a handful of clay having a dream of becoming a valuable part of this world, it just hold this faith and waited so long until there was somebody took him off. He thought that he was meant to be something big so all the suffering was bearable. But the suffering was nothing compared with the disappointing result that came after it. He became a ugly vessel. With full of discontent, he was so depressed. Not paying any attention of what he carried, he was token to a great church. Then he knew, he was carrying a royal scepter of lilies! Holding a heart filled with thankful, he realize the true value of him is to held the world’s treasure.

    The flowers, the trees and the rivers display their beauty through the sunshine.

    I think we shouldn’t bent to any failure because those mistakes make us more strong and we can learn from it.

    If I’m a handful of clay, I wouldn’t expect what I will be. Because whatever i become has its meaning.

  11. A9827129 Allie Chow says:

    1. The short story, A Handful of Clay, written by Henry Van Dyke is about a handful of clay that holds very high hopes in itself to become something great in the world. Surrounded by the beauty of the earth, the clay stayed humble because it knows that its time will come a little bit later.

    When the time came for the clay to be made into something else, the clay was very excited and grateful. Except that it was made into the ‘something big’ like the clay had hoped for. It was made into an unappealing vase for a flower.

    Since then, the clay gave up its hope and dreams. Until one day, the clay asked another clay like itself and realized that it’s actually holding royal lilies. The clay has finally fulfilled its dream in the end.

    2. The tress shine its glory by blossoming and growing, which brings a shine to the forest. The flowers sway with the wind to show their pride of beauty. Last but not least, the river flows from the icy mountain to the gigantic sea to demonstrate its honor to the earth.

    3. The clay was really confident in itself of that it will become something big at first, before going through the physical pain of transforming. Then, it went through mental pain of thinking that it’s wish has failed. In the end, the clay’s hope came true and it was as confident as ever because of a life lesson that’s learned throughout this process of transformation.

    4. I believe that to achieve something big, a person has to go through something big or difficult also, to get to the goal. Yet throughout this process, the person may also grow from the experience.

    5. If i were a handful of clay, I would like to be a part of a statue or an ornament in a great big church that people worship at. I, also like the handful of clay, believe that I will become something big in the future. Even if that means handwork through my younger years of life.

  12. A9827137 Monkey Yang says:

    This story is about a handful of clay that has a faith to it’s future. No matter what kinds of torture it had been suffered, the clay still keeps what it believed and got it’s dream come true in the end.
    It’s true that the path of success is hard to reach. Almost everyone has to struggle for their goal of life. But if we have faith and keep up, we may reach our goal in return.
    If I were a handful of clay, I would like to stayed the way I used to be. Because I’m afraid that if I turned into something that is valuable, I might become arrogant and forgot I used to be a handful clay in the bank of river.

  13. 黃雅珮LouiseA9827111 says:

    1.This story is talking life experiments of the clay. At a bank of river, there is a clay that it always dreams about its future. It looks forward to be special in the world. In the beginning, the clay encourage itself to be brave, so that its dreams will come true. But it found that it just become a ugly vase and be put in a normal farm. How disappoint it is! It is angry with its maker. Some days passed by, suddenly, there is a new hope grows up inside of the clay. Then, it was taken to a church. It understood for the purpose of its maker. It thanks him forever.
    Comments:
    2.The spring comes, trees, flowers, and the river are all proud themselves. Blooms and leaves show up. Everyone tries hard to tell others about its glory.
    3.The clay tells itself be brave. Hard times will pass by. It is not afraid to go through the processes of making a vase.
    4.“Where there is a will, there is a way.” This story tells us this idea. If you want your dream comes true, then you have to be persistent. If we can pass the difficult days. Then, you will achieve the goal some day.
    5.I want to be a potter’s clay that children can play with me. Because I want to be useful. Not only be a vase or decorations, but be a clay that children can create anything by their hands.

  14. A9827101 Amber says:

    The trees and the flowers show their colorful appearances. The river was released from icy fetters and floated ships to the sea.

    At first, the clay always comfort itself that its time will come. After going through all the tribulations and trials, it became pessimistic and thought it was a failure. At the end, the clay found its own glory and honor, it was not unnecessary anymore.

    No pain, no gain. If you want to receive something, you have to give something first. Maybe there will be some people always live smoothly and get what they want easily. But for most people, you need to go through the challenges and endurance then the happy ending will wait for you in the end.

    I want to be made into a coffee cup. I like the smell of coffee, so it will be great if there is lots of coffee inside of me. And I will be useful if the user is a coffee drinker.

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