A nightingale photographed in Offenbach am Main, Germany in 2007.

"The Nightingale and the Rose" is a short tragic fantasy story for children by the Irish author Oscar Wilde. It was first published in 1888 in the anthology The Happy Prince and Other Tales, which, as well as its title story, also includes "The Selfish Giant", "The Devoted Friend' and "The Remarkable Rocket".

The story's plot is set in motion when a nightingale overhears a young student express his fears about losing the young woman he loves forever. The young woman threatens to abandon the student unless he gives her a red rose. Taking pity on the student, the nightingale sacrifices her life in order to procure a red rose for the young man. However, the birds' sacrifice proves to be in vain.

There have been five different operatic adaptations of the story and four different ballets based on the work.


The Nightingale and the Student among the roses. 1888 illustration by the British artist George Percy Jacomb-Hood.

A ball is to be held by the Prince. The Professor's daughter has promised to dance with the Student at the ball but only on the condition that he gives her a red rose first. Unfortunately for the student, there are no red roses in his garden. He cries over how he is certain to lose the love of the Professor's daughter forever.

The Student's lament is overheard by the Nightingale. The bird is deeply moved by the young man's expression of emotion, believing that the love which he is speaking of to be the same love which she had been singing about her entire life without realizing it. She is determined to find a single red rose for the Student. She asks the three rose trees in the Student's garden if they can provide her with one. The first tree says that he cannot because his roses are white. The second says that he cannot because his roses are yellow. The third tree, which happens to be directly beneath the Student's bedroom, says that, although his roses are red, he has been damaged by storms and cold weather and is unable to produce any roses. When the Nightingale persists in her demand for a single red rose, the rose tree says that there is one way that could be arranged. The Nightingale would have to pierce her heart on one of the rose tree's thorns and sing all night by moonlight while the blood flowed out of her body and into the tree. The Nightingale does not want to die. However, remembering the love of the Student, she says, "Love is better than Life, and what is the heart of a bird compared to the heart of a man?"

A red rose photographed in 2007.

At night, the Nightingale presses her chest against one of the tree's thorns. She continues to sing as the thorn goes deeper into her body and her blood flows into the tree. A rose appears on the tree. The flower is white at first, then changes to pink. Morning has almost come before the rose has turned red. However, the Moon herself lingers to hear the Nightingale's beautiful song and prolongs the night. When morning comes, the Nightingale is dead and the tree has produced a beautiful red rose.

When the Student wakes up, he takes it as a lucky coincidence that the tree has suddenly produced a single red rose. He picks the flower and goes directly to the Professor's daughter. However, the Professor's daughter tells the Student that she is no longer interested in roses or in him. The Chamberlain's nephew has promised to give her jewels. She will be dancing at the ball with the Chamberlain's nephew, who has much better prospects than the poor Student. The Student throws the rose away and it is crushed by the wheel of a wagon. He declares love to be silly and, "not half as useful as Logic". He returns to his studies, beginning to read a "great dusty book".

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