March 16, 2021

#08-059: The Happy Prince

drawing of a statue of a boy in armor, standing in front of a medieval-looking city with a bird on his shoulder
The statue of the Happy Prince

Note: The 19th-century Irish author Oscar Wilde was one of the strangest mélanges of cynic and optimist that the literary world has ever seen. A good example of this is "The Happy Prince," a bittersweet story that depicts the best and worst of humanity.

Get Ready: How do we bear knowing that the world is filled with suffering? Is it okay to ignore it--as long as we're happy--like the Prince does during his life?

The "Happy Prince" of the title is a statue standing on a tall column. "He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold," we are told; "for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt." Most people admire the statue and the Prince it portrays, though some feel disappointed when comparing their lives to his.

Now, a Swallow had fallen in love with a beautiful Reed that grew by the riverbank, and when the Swallow's relatives all flew south to Egypt for the winter, he stayed behind to be near his beloved. He became lonely without his flock, and in the end grew disappointed with the Reed who never said a word to him.

While flying belatedly toward Egypt, he stops to rest on the statue of the Prince. As he readies himself to go to sleep, a drop falls on him; then another, and another. To his surprise, the statue is crying!

For, though he is called "The Happy Prince" (which in life he had indeed been), since he was placed above the city he has witnessed the misery of its inhabitants. He describes some examples to the Swallow, and asks if the bird will not pluck the ruby from his sword-hilt and take it to a poor mother whose child is ill.

The bird puts up an argument, but at last agrees to be the Prince's messenger for just one night.

As he flies toward the woman's home, the Swallow, too, witnesses the life of the city, and when he reaches the ill boy's home, flies around his head to fan his face and cool his fever. Returning to the statue, the Swallow comments on the warm feeling he had, which the Prince says was because he had done a good deed.

The following night, as the Swallow again prepares to leave for Egypt, the Prince once again begs him to stay and perform another act of charity. This time it is a sapphire from one of his eyes, to help a poor young playwright build a fire and warm up enough to finish his play.

Again, after objecting, the Swallow comes to the Prince's aid. And yet a third night, he does the same, to help a little match-girl.

The Prince now being blind (having lost both of his sapphire eyes), the Swallow wishes to stay with him always. The Swallow sits on his shoulder and tells him stories of the places he has been and the things he has seen--as well as of the suffering of the men and women of that very city.

Upon hearing these tragedies, the Prince asks the Swallow to begin stripping him of his gold leaf, until at last the statue is dull and gray. Snow comes, and at last the Swallow says farewell to the Prince, and, after kissing his beloved Prince on the lips, dies of the cold.

The townspeople decide to pull down the now-shabby statue with the dead bird at its feet, and melt it down. But the statue's heart, made of lead, will not burn, and is thrown on a dust-heap near the body of the Swallow.

In a postscript, God asks an Angel to bring him "the two most precious things in the city"; when the Angel brings "the leaden heart and the dead bird," God approves, and says that the bird shall live in his "garden of Paradise," and the Prince in his "city of gold."


Read more:

Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. belatedly
  2. bittersweet
  3. cynic
  4. dull
  5. gilded
  6. hilt
  7. mélanges
  8. optimist
  9. postscript
  10. shabby

  1. not shiny
  2. after it should have happened
  3. both pleasant and painful
  4. not in good condition
  5. mixtures
  6. something written after a story or letter
  7. a person who thinks ill of others
  8. a person who always believes the best
  9. covered with gold
  10. a kind of handle

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for March 16, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. b; 2. c; 3. g; 4. a; 5. i; 6. j; 7. e; 8. h; 9. f; 10. d