The Nightingale’s Rose – a short story

This story picks up at the conclusion of Oscar Wilde’s short story “The Nightingale and the Rose.” Oscar Wilde’s story is a beautiful, hauntingly sad tale it can be found on this link: Wilde’s story tells of a nightingale who voluntarily impales herself on a fatal rose bush thorn and sings all night until death to enable the bush to produce a red rose for a young student to give to his beloved. The concluding pathos comes when the student picks the rose and offers it to his beloved to have it, and his love, rejected and thrown aside.

Presently a wind came up from the west. It had begun far away as a gentle breeze, but when the white moon lingered in her delight at the nightingale’s death love song, it had intensified. Now it rustled all in its path. When it came upon a crushed, abandoned red rose in the gutter, it marveled at such vibrant beauty and the intensity of color, for the wind understood romantic love. First it caressed the remnants of the rose in a swirling eddy, then it lifted it and separated the red petals, swirling them into a brilliant blood-red column. As it carried them, love permeated its essence and it knew that it had to return them to their origin.

When it came to the garden, the wind heard the rose bush moaning, “The little nightingale gave her life-blood to pigment my rose. It was my best flower, a rose so red, so beautiful, that it was plucked at noon by the student to give to the professor’s daughter that she might dance with him at the Prince’s ball.” The rose bush shook all its branches in disbelief and continued, “She rejected his rose, rejected the rose of nightingale’s blood, in favor of the Chamberlain’s nephew’s jewels, and now the student is lost. Lost, for he has abandoned romance in favor of the dry logic of philosophy.”

While the wind played in the rose bush’s branches, it wept on, “Oh, wind, I weep for the heroic little nightingale, for the sweet nocturnal singer lying dead in the long grass. Tell me, you who move everywhere, was this, indeed, all for nothing?” The wind whistled soothingly and rocked the rose bush in an embrace and gently deposited the petals in the long grass over the nightingale’s tiny body. One loose petal draped over the thorn in her breast, the thorn which had penetrated her heart.

A young maid servant lived in a garret over the student’s room. All night she had listened to the nightingale’s romantic love song. She heard and understood the song of the heart of love, the song of a boy and a girl. At times she stood at her open window gazing into the night air, trying to see the bird. The song intensified her own love, and she cried soft tears into her pillow. She prayed to the bird,

“Oh, Nightingale, may your song touch the student’s heart so that he may see me. You sing outside his window, might not your song alert him of my love?”

In the morning, she sadly got up and went to work. After her daily duties were completed she slipped down into the garden. First she visited the holm-oak tree and asked it where she could find the nightingale, for she wished to thank the bird for its song. The holm-oak responded, “The little nightingale, who sang of love, sacrificed her life to create a red rose for the student to give to his love, the professor’s daughter, so that she would dance with him at the Prince’s ball.” It waved its leaves and wept because it was fond of the little nightingale who had nested it its branches. “Perhaps the rose bush can help you.”

The girl went to the rose bush under the student’s window and found the dead nightingale lying in the long grass under a mound of blood-red rose petals. She cradled the dead body in her hand and stroked the soft brown feathers on its tiny head, and brushed its body with the silken red rose petals. Then she touched its throat and beak with her long finger and lifted its body to her face, “Oh, nightingale,” she said, “your song of love and your sacrifice of your life cannot have been in vain. I shall bury you shrouded in the blood-red rose petals of love.”

The girl fetched a small trowel and dug a grave under the rose bush, and, as she knelt and worked she sang a eulogy to the little nightingale, her voice crystal and clear, echoing into the purple cavern in the hills and floating through the reeds of the river to be carried down to the sea.

Her song echoed that of the nightingale, and she also sang of the birth of love in the heart of a boy and a girl. She sang of the birth of passion in the soul of a man and a maid. Fervently, and sadly, she repeated the message that the little nightingale had given, and she sang of the love which is perfected by Death, the Love that dies not in the tomb.

The wind heard her song and lifted one of the loose rose petals and carried it into the window of the student’s room. It landed on his open philosophy book. The student touched the petal and, as he listened, he opened his heart to the joy of life, to the delight in living, to the enchantment of romance and art. “This voice has form and feeling,” he said to himself, as he walked towards his open window, “the world seems to have stopped to listen, just as I do now. Surely, after all there is a practical use for art.” He looked out of his window and saw the servant girl silhouetted by the setting sun as she knelt and sang at her task. The wind lifted her hair and it shone brilliantly.

He was about to call to her when he heard the sound of a carriage rattling down the road. There was the bejeweled professor’s daughter riding next to the Chamberlain’s nephew with his silver buckled shoes. Their angry voices carried in the evening air, for they were quarreling about the need for a shawl. The student understood the logic of needing a shawl on a cool evening, but, he said to himself, “They quarrel on the way to the ball; their night is doomed by practicality.”

For a while the student was silent as he opened his mind to new possibilities and then he spoke to himself again, “I, on the other hand,” and he gazed down at the singing girl, “I, on the other hand, have true beauty, love, and art at my feet.”

© Copyright, Jane Stansfeld, November 18, 2013

9 thoughts on “The Nightingale’s Rose – a short story

  1. It’s been a long time since I read and thought about the various literary romances of the rose. I like your story for the side trips on which it sends me, both emotional and philosophical…e.g. what is “the love that is perfected by death? ( some have said it is the crucifixion)…and ought there to be “a practical use for art?” among others. I am also put in mind of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale, one of my favorite poems, and the wish—if one could choose–“to cease upon the midnight with no pain”. Not exactly the romantic love-sickness of adolescence that we started with here, but then, I am old, and hardly a romantic. A most provocative read, Jane, for which I am always grateful.

    • Hi Cynthia, Thank you for your thoughts. I agree that Oscar Wilde probably did mean to refer to the crucifixion with his reference to “the love that is perfected by death” but some of the sadness of his story is that it was in vain. My story attempts at a resurrection with the servant girl singing the same song. (I thought that bringing the nightingale back was too Hollywood).
      Your comments inspired me to go off and re-read Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale. I agree a wonderful poem – one of his best!
      Cheerio, Jane

  2. This is poetic prose, I would say. Philosophy, practicality and possibility – all in full play here. Enjoyed this immensely.

    I recall studying “The Nightingale and the Rose” and the grief it brought upon me in school. Asked to write and present a critique, I vexed lyrical (almost) but also pointed out the impracticality of a bird pierced in the heart, no less, that sang all night long. Pierced anywhere on the body that allowed slow bleeding to death, yes, but not in the heart as that meant almost instantaneous death. The teacher roundly scolded me, exclaimed with outrage that I – YOU! – dared to criticize a luminary of such a standing as Oscar Wilde. I was unimpressed but realized much later, what she meant.

    We learn – I certainly did 🙂

    • It is sad that much of the literature which we studied in school was too adult for us to fully appreciate and I’m sure that the smart little Eric was very cross with his teacher. One of our best things in school was that we were asked to memorize so many poems. We hated doing so at the time but I am now glad that we did.
      As always I thank you for your visit.
      Cheerio, Jane

      • Your comment to Eric about memorizing poetry gave me a really good chuckle, Jane, as I tried to imagine the current iTunes generation being required to do so. The National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation do sponsor a National Recitation Contest called Poetry Out Loud. I saw the finals on PBS recently—how lovely it was to see and hear today’s teenagers delivering beautiful oral renditions of good poetry, old and new.

  3. Oh my! Your writing has everything! The use of language is majestic, you pull emotions into the story as one reads it and it is so visual. I envy your ability to use words in the way you do.

    • Ian, coming from a writer such as yourself, this is a most cherished comment and I sincerely thank you.
      Cheerio, Jane

Leave a Reply to JaneS Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s