Saturday, October 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Oscar Wilde

The Irish writer Oscar Wilde is best known for his plays, like "The Importance of Being Earnest," and his novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.

But to me, he is cherished as the author of some of the most beautiful fairy tales to grace the English language, including The Selfish Giant and The Happy Prince.

High above the city, on a tall pedestal, stood a statue known as "The Happy Prince." The statue was covered with gold. It had sapphires for eyes and a ruby in the hilt of its sword. The statue had been raised in commemoration of a prince who had lived a happy life but was now dead.

A swallow, en route to sunny Egypt for the winter, befriended the Happy Prince. The prince confided in his new friend that he had lived his life in isolation and luxury, without a thought to the hardships endured by his subjects, but now that he was standing in the center of town, he could see how the poor people suffered.

Although the swallow was determined to leave for Egypt, the Happy Prince persuaded the bird to pluck the ruby from his sword and carry it to a poor woman with a sick son. The nights were growing cold, and yet the swallow felt strangely warmed by helping the woman.

Night after night, the prince pleaded with the swallow to carry his treasures to help the poor--even plucking out his sapphire eyes and stripping off his gold plating. Many hungry children were fed because of the generosity of the prince.

At last, the cold grew too severe, and the swallow lay dead at the feet of the prince. The statue--no longer beautiful--was torn down and melted for scrap, but the metal proved to be unusable. Both the metal and the dead bird were thrown in a trash heap.

God looked down on the city of the prince. He asked an angel to bring him the two most precious things in the city. The angel flew all over the city and returned with the dead swallow and the melted statue.

"You have rightly chosen," said God, "for this little bird shall sing forever in my Garden of Paradise, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me."

Happy birthday to one of my favorite authors, Oscar Wilde, born October 16, 1854. Unlike the Happy Prince, Wilde's life was short and often very sad. After serving a prison sentence, he died destitute at the age of 46. But much like the prince, he has continued to touch hearts long after his passing, through the lasting legacy of his stories.

A Statue of Oscar Wilde

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