The Nightingale and the Rose by Oscar Wilde
About the author … Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was born in Dublin. His literary life flourished in England. In his short span 0f 45 years, Oscar Wilde rose to great fame as a playwright and novelist. His novel, The Picture of Dorian Grey’ propelled him to the zenith of popularity among the literature lovers of his times. The novel’s enduring charm continues to attract the reading public around the world. Oscar Wilde was treated very shabbily by the legal system that prevailed during his days. He was jailed for two years of hard labour for obscenity which the society of today accepts as perfectly normal. He fled to Paris to avoid further ignominy, where he led a solitary life drowning himself in alcohol. In his last days, he had become a pauper despite his large number of novels and plays that were relished by readers by scores of readers. Meningitis crippled him, and he succumbed to it when he was just 45. Some of his other works are ‘The Woman of No Substance’, ‘A House of Pomegranates’,’The Soul of Man under Socialism’, ‘The Importance of being Earnest’.
The Nightingale and the Rose is a simple poem of deep philosophical undertones. It is a part of Oscar Wilde’s ‘The Happy Prince and Other Tales’.
The Poem and its explanation ..
The poem is about an adolescent boy besotted with a young girl, and wants to dance with her in a ball, but she would oblige only if he gives her a red rose. The boy lies in his garden distraught and crestfallen, because there are no red roses in the it.
Readers may find the way the story unfolds a bit childish and silly, but a closer analysis of it plunges the reader’s mind in deep philosophical contemplation. The dame scoffs at the boy even after he gives her a red rose that has been obtained in a very painful and sacrificial way. The girl is churlish, aloof, and vainglorious. The lovelorn boy realizes his folly in dreaming to dance with the girl.
The Nightingale which sacrifices its life for the red rose emerges as the real hero of the poem. It pierces its hear with the thorn of a red rose plant, so that the red blood can flow into the rose plant and colour the rose red. The empathy, and sacrifice of the nightingale for the student’s pleasure stirs the soul of the readers. Seldom do we see such extraordinary instances where a stranger undures excruciating pain and death so that, a young student’s romantic dreams come to fruition.
How the story unfolds…
A young lover and a foolish attraction ….A student develops an infatuation with a young girl with whom he wants to dance, if he gives her a red rose. The young student looks around his garden, but finds no red rose. He feels dejected and begins to weep in sadness.
A nightingale can’t bear the pain, and flies off to get a red rose ..A nightingale sits on the branch of an oak tree standing in the garden. It sees the plight of the young student, and understands his predicament. ‘Only a red rose can make the student cheerful again,’ the bird knows. It is overwhelmed with grief seeing how the handsome face of the young student has turned pale in anguish. The nightingale can’t stand the suffering of the young lover whom it had eyed many times earlier in admiration. It understands what is going on in the mind of the young lover. The sight of his cherished young beauty dancing with others as he sits looking jealously breaks his heart. The nightingale understands the lover’s pain.
A green lizard, a butterfly, and a daisy happen to be around. They see the weeping young student, but don’t understand why the young lad is so sad. They ask the nightingale about it, and the bird discloses the reason — the red rose and the young beauty.
The nightingale spread its brown wings and flew off to the sky to fetch a red rose. After a while, it spots a rose bush at the center of a field, and approaches the rose tree to give it a red rose. The rose tree disappoints the nightingale saying it has only white roses.
The nightingale takes to the skies again, and spots another rose tree growing near a Sun-dial. When asked for a red rose, it too declines the request saying it has only yellow roses.
Finally, a red rose tree, but no flower..The nightingale makes a third attempt. It locates a rose tree growing near the student’s window. It repeats the request, but tragically, the tree says it has no red roses to offer now, as the harsh winter’s chill and the storm have dried its veins, and mauled its branches. The petals can’t get their supply of pigment because of the choked veins. The nightingale beseeches the red rose tree for just one single flower, but the tree only repeats its inability.
A fatal advice .. A little later, the red rose tree offers a solution, but cautions the nightingale that the choice might be very cruel. The red rose tree tells the nightingale that the flower must come to bloom during moonlight hours, and its red colour must come from the blood oozing out of the bird’s heart. It was a grotesque idea, but the nightingale readily agreed to shed the blood from its heart. It was asked to press its heart against a sharp thorn, so that the skin gets ruptured and the blood flows out.
The nightingale relents .. The nightingale declared its life is inconsequential when compared to the young man’s love. So, it finds it a deeply satisfying to bear the excruciating pain, and shed its life.
The nightingale flew back to the young student to inform him that he would soon get his red rose. It narrated how it had managed to convince a red rose tree to produce a flower drawing blood from its heart. The nightingale asked the student to be faithful to the beloved, and ensure that the romance never died. Sadly, the young lover didn’t understand the nightingale’s last words of advice, but the oak tree did. It requested the nightingale to sing a song that would be the last one in its life. The nightingale obliged.
The ultimate sacrifice on the altar of love …The nightingale flew back to the red rose, perched itself in the branches and pressed its chest against one of the thorns in the branch. It pierced the heart causing excruciating pain to the nightingale, but the bird bore the pain with fortitude and a sense of sacrifice. The blood flew into the veins of the tree, and overnight a spectacularly beautiful red rose blossomed. However, the nightingale had no energy to fly again. Its demise was moments away.
The rose tree told the student about the red rose in its branch. The young student’s excitement knew no bounds, as it plucked the flower, fixed it to his hat, and hurried off to the Professor’s house to meet the girl.
The anti-climax, and the heart-break …Alas, the girl appeared aloof and disinterested. The red rose didn’t impress her. To rub salt on the young lover’s wound, she declared that Chamberlain’s nephew had sent her some nice jewels, and she had decided to dance with him instead.
The young student remonstrated, but the girl remained unmoved. Crestfallen and defeated, the student trudged back home. He pondered how silly and stupid it was to chase a love that never existed. With deep circumspection, he decided to forget the matter and spend his time studying Metaphysics and Philosophy. He had become pragmatic and wise.
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Questions and answers ….
Question .. Write the analysis of the poem. (To be posted on request)