From Anderson’s “The Nightengale”

I had to type this segment up for another project, and even though it is an incomplete story, it is still neat/thought-provoking, and maybe will remind you of the real-thing.This is an excerpt from Has Christian Anderson’s “The Nightingale” and begins in the emperor’s palace, just before the emperor hears that bird sing for the first time.

Everyone was dressed in their finest clothes and they were all looking at the little gray bird, toward which the emperor nodded very kindly.

The nightingale’s song was so sweet that tears came into the emperor’s eyes; and when they ran down his cheeks, the little nightingale sang even more beautifully than it had before. His song spoke to one’s heart, and the emperor was so pleased that he ordered his golden slipper the be hung around the little bird’s neck. There was no higher honor. But the nightingale thanked him and said that he had been honored enough already.

“I have seen tears in the eyes of an emperor, and that is a great enough treasure for me. There is a strange power in an emperor’s tears and God knows that is reward enough.”

Then, as you who know the story will remember, the plain nightingale is eventually banished from the palace, because a beautifully jeweled mechanical bird is given to the emperor. It only sings one song, and the real bird never sings the same song twice. The court sees no value in the living creature, and instead heap honors on the gift, and uses it until it is no longer able to sing.

And now the emperor is very ill, everyone thinks he has died, and he has been left all alone. The emperor awakes to a weight on his chest, and it is Death, wearing and holding the emperor’s marks of rank and identity: his saber, banner, and crown.

Death kept staring at the emperor out of the empty sockets in his skull; and the palace was still, so terrifyingly still.

All at once the most beautiful song broke the silence. It was the nightingale who had heard of the emperor’s illness and torment. He sat on a branch outside his window and sang to bring him comfort and hope. As he sang… the blood pulsed with greater force through the emperor’s weak body. Death himself listened and said, “Please little nightingale, sing on!”

Will you give me the golden saber? Will you give me the imperial banner? Will you give me the golden crown?”

Death gave each of his trophies for a song; and then the nightingale sang about the quiet churchyard, where white roses grow…and where the grass is green from the tears of those who come to mourn. Death longed so much for his garden that he flew out of the window, like a white cold mist.

“Thank you, thank you, whispered the emperor, “you heavenly little bird, I remember you…. When you sang…Death himself left my heart. How shall I reward you?”

“You have rewarded me already,”said the nightingale. “I shall never forget that, the first time I sang for you, you gave me the tears from your eyes; and to a poet’s heart, those are jewels.”


My speech next week is about elements of storytelling, and one of those elements is repetition. These selections from “The Nightingale” are an example of a more sophisticated form of repetition (the most basic being something like the Gingerbread Man’s taunt, “Run, run as fast as you can…”) This type of repetition is different because it adds something new to the listener’s understanding…

Anyway, Anderson is great, and maybe someday I’ll actually memorize a 25-minute story like this.

Probably not a near someday. But ’till then it’s still neat without being quite word-for-word.

“This story happened a long, long time ago; and that is just the reason why you should hear it now, before it is forgotten.”