The Nightingale and the Rose

02/01/2009 § Leave a comment

I think I enjoy fairy tales because of the ideas contained within them. I like that a guy can go into the woods and meet a bear or a gray wolf and have adventures. I like that birds can tell a person he’s being an idiot. I like that dragons not only eat people, but I also like that they can say funny stuff or ride on horseback.

I like witches and trolls and giants just over a hill. I like that they are sometimes misunderstood and sometimes they are understood perfectly. I like Babe the blue ox. I like giant fish spitting people out onto shores. I like that people run to and from home. I like that princesses get married to jerks and then get rescued by someone who is nice… or just another jerk. I like when evil stepmothers are horrible and then get their comeuppance.

As diverse as these stories can be, there is one common element that unites them all. And that is generally poorly written prose. It’s never boring or arduous, at least not to me, but it is usually simple, brief, and sometimes unclear. This is partially because most of these stories come from an oral tradition. I think it is also from a necessity to escape from the realities of the world, but to do so in a timely manner. Let’s face it, there were probably more pressing issues for folks hundreds and thousands of years ago than to get lost in a 1000 page meandering narrative.

Ideas and fantasy were needed but were needed immediately, not over the course of weeks or months. There are of course exceptions, The Iliad and The Odyssey. The Tain. The Aeneid. &tc. I’ll probably never write about these stories in this blog, with the possible exception of The Tain. And maybe only because of Cúchulainn and his incredible Salmon Leap! (+2)

I guess I’m taking a roundabout way of getting to the story I am writing about but that is because when I run across stories that include the elements that I listed at the beginning of this post and also include beautiful prose it is a single joy that this heart cannot handle. This heart of mine freaks out and can hardly stand it (+4). It blows apart from joy and melts back together like the T1000.

Wonderful ideas and beatiful prose are hard to come by. I’m not hating on contemporary books either; I enjoy many of them, but it is rare when I adore them. As I mentioned in an earlier post Italo Calvino is one of the authors that can make my heart freak out and T100o and all that(+4).

Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales are stories that are included in the heart-freaking-out category.

I remember that I had read some when I was in high school, probably after I read The Picture of Dorian Gray, and I enjoyed them. I recently revisited them and can’t believe how wonderful the little stories are. They are beautiful and original, but feel like older stories, and of course they remain typically Wilde-like.

The Nightingale and the Rose is the second story in The Happy Prince and Other Tales. It follows the lovely titular story The Happy Prince. Just like The Happy Prince, The Nightingale and the Rose involves a bird. In this story a bird hears a lover lamenting about how he needs a red rose because otherwise he cannot share a dance with the woman who owns his heart. This anguished individual is exactly what the bird has been singing about his whole life. The bird is so moved by his lamentations that he goes on a journey to find him a red rose. It takes him talking to three trees but he manages to find a red rose tree. The price is the birds life. He’ll have to sing all night and give his blood to make the rose.

The bird decides that his heart means nothing compared to a man’s love and goes off to tell the lovesick boy. In a comically tragic turn of events, it turns out that the bird is just chirping at the boy and the boy can’t understand a single word. The prose is effortlessly lovely, mirroring the nightingale’s song. The outcome is exactly opposite of how a reader would want it to end, making the prose all the more striking.

I won’t say what happens, but sufffice to say it ends with the fickleness of mankind. The beauty of nature is spoiled by idiot lovers.

I never really have a point. Never really a climax or a denouement. Unless my point and denouement can be to say “Go read this.” Sorry. That’s it for this post.

So. Go read it. It’ll take five minutes. You have nothing better to do. Read it here.

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