Wild(e) at Heart
Magnolia Grandiflora Bud - Resin -
H: 1.40m, W: 1.50m, L: 1.90m (Photograph: Zara Napier)
Image Information: "The Happy Prince;" illustration for the first edition by Walter Crane.
Magnolia Grandiflora Leaf - Resin - H: 1.20m, W: 1.30m, L: 2.40m
You must understand that time is hard to measure when one is no longer imprisoned by it. I remember, though, having lived for a long period of it by your standards. I quite possibly lived longer than anyone that you might know. I learned a lot about life on earth during this time. Wisdom comes with age, but only if you seek it. If you seek it, you will find it. I hope that my dear friends, a few of whom I have met here in heaven, can provide some insight to how to live life, and how to live it well. I hope that their words can help you make the most of your time while you are still captured by it.
What you are about to read is by no means ordinary. It is rare to read something written outside of time. There are only a few of these books left that can be found on earth. None of them, however, are like the one you are reading. Often, those in heaven (or hell) write in the third person. You are about to read first-hand entries captured in a shared diary. I’ve made the first entry, besides this introduction. After I wrote, I gave the journal to my close friend Sparrow. He passed it to Nightingale who passed it to Student. These are silly names to you, I know, but you must understand that names are unnecessary in heaven. On earth, it is necessary to give specific names in order to differentiate something. Here, individuality is natural. Therefore “Student” is the closest thing I can capture to a “name." Somehow, I remember my name. During my time on earth, I was most similar to the Sparrow; we are kindred souls. I’ve saved the Student for last because I think you will enjoy his perspective most of all, because he was once like you, and he is what you will become. He was human. I hope you enjoy all four of our perspectives.
The Happy Prince
The Flight of Keys: Sycamore - Resin - H: 1.60m; W: 1.50m; L: 1.70m
Appearances are not always accurate. In the beginning of my life as a statue, the people of the town looked at me as if I were the most beautiful creature they had ever seen. Because of my gold and because of my jewels, they thought that I was the happiest of all beings. They thought that I was beautiful. Ah, but it was not so. In the midst of my perceived beauty, I was morose. Standing tall above the city, I could see the brokenness of the world. When I was human, injustice was never introduced to me. At least, I never realized it. It broke my leaden heart to witness the brutality of life.
One day, as I cried alone, I met my dear friend Sparrow. He was sick with love, and I smile often when I remember meeting him for that first time. I became his home, like many friends do, and with only a little convincing. He was on his way to Egypt, but we became quick friends. From my high post, I saw the poor battling with life’s hardships. I desired to help in some way, but my immobility prevented me from doing so. At first, the Sparrow helped the poor out of pity for me. Then, he began to enjoy helping them on his own.
“To give is to receive.”
I’d heard the phrase before, but I never fully understood it until I came to heaven. However, I understood it more as a statue than a human, most assuredly. The Sparrow, at my command (and at times, unwillingly), took each of my sapphire eyes and gave them to those with struggling souls. Although I gave away my sight, I then saw clearer than ever before. I saw the world for what it really was. It was the first time I felt a sense of purpose.
My giving was pure. When I was a human, my family gave money to the poor. Yet, it wasn’t out of pity. It was out of guilt. When I was a statue, I was moved with pity. I was moved with compassion. I felt in my heart the same pain of those suffering, as if we were one. In their suffering I suffered. I think that is why that in their relief I shared their peace as well.
Finally, at my command, Sparrow plucked the golden leaves from my body. With each tug I felt a pain, but he gave them to the poor. The pain was worth it. My soul was sore, and my broken body was a remnant of what it once was. I was no longer beautiful, but I was finally happy. The Sparrow, with his kind and good heart, stayed with me. We grew to love one another very deeply. It was a rare friendship, and I doubt I have one like it ever again. He loved me so much that he forwent Egypt to remain with me in my blinded state. But the winter got the best of him, and the sweet Sparrow died at my feet. His death was bittersweet; I knew we would meet again.
As I said, appearances are not always accurate. The town councilors, upon seeing me no longer with splendor, decided that I looked more like a beggar than a prince (which is true, but a satisfied beggar at that). Thus, they melted my body, and I was no more. For a reason unknown by me, my lead heart would not melt. They laid it, I’m told, next to the body of the Sparrow.
That leads me to where I am today. God, who I will see soon after I finish writing to you, told one of His Angels to bring him the two most precious things in my city. With a humble and grateful heart, I will graciously tell you what he brought home: my leaden heart and my dear friend Sparrow’s body. I’m told that when the Angel did this, God said to him something that caused all of Heaven to sing. He said, “You have rightly chosen. For in my garden of Paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”
If Heaven were a part of time, some moments would have passed after I wrote what He said about me. Remembering His words always makes me forget mine. Part of my praise to Him is writing in this journal, so that you might join us. You would love Sparrow.
I also write so that you might learn from my human mistakes. I did not love. I did not give. Thus, I did not live. I hope, with all of my heart, that you love and give and learn to die. For it was in death that I finally found life.
I am abrupt. I find that there is no room for fluff. It is a waste of time to say things that one does not mean for reasons one does not have. I remember my first words to her. They are etched on the tablet of my heart, which I carry with me even now in eternity. “Shall I love you?” I asked. I couldn’t help myself, really. It was April, and the spring brings new life. That is what I desired most with Reed – a fresh, new life. So, we courted; others mocked, but I found myself content. At least I did, for a while.
Soon, after summer’s heat, autumn came. My comrades left for Egypt, and I was alone with Reed. I grew discontent with her. My heart longed for more. I loved her much, but I began to tire of her. Our conversations were sweet, but not deep. She was carefree but careless. Though her heart was mine, I decided to join my friends in Egypt. Adventure awaited me.
I found a place to stay for the night. I made my nest at the Happy Prince’s feet. Invigorated and excited, I remember how sleep escaped me. In my comfortable bedroom of golden leaves, the cloudless sky began to rain. Confused, I looked for the source of the water, but found only the prince. I saw that the rain came from his eyes, and my soul was stirred by his sadness.
I remember his beautiful face in the moonlight. The clear tear looked golden upon his smooth cheeks. Sometimes, I still wonder if his tears were actually gold, for sad tears are bitter, but pitiful tears are sweet. I thought him to be sad, but later I learned that the source of his rain was pity.
I wanted to ask what was wrong, but I hesitated. I was finally free of burden. I was not sure if I was capable of empathy at that moment, but I found his golden tears irresistible, and I asked him who he was.
“I am the Happy Prince,” he said, “but I am not happy.”
Confused, I prodded, “Why are you not happy, dear stranger?”
He explained to me that when he had a human heart, he did not know sadness. He met only shallow pleasures. Now, however, from his post high above the city, he could see life for what it was. He saw injustice. So, he asked me to stay with him and help him, for he was immobile.
He was truly beautiful to behold. His eyes were sapphires, the hilt of his sword was crested with a ruby, and his skin was adorned with leaves of gold, even much fine gold. His words were musical, dripping with honey. I could not take my eyes away from this stranger, and I found him so compelling that I could do nothing but listen to him.
After my first favor, where I delivered a jewel to a family in need, he asked for another favor. He has previously written humbly about his sacrifice, I’m sure, but I will do it more justice. He commissioned me to take his sapphire eyes and give them to more broken families. I figured there would be no pain in removing a gem from a statue, but even a statue’s body feels great pain.
I tried pulling his eyes out with my tiny feet, but they wouldn’t budge. After a few minutes, the prince asked me to use my beak. Reluctantly, I began pecking at the edges of the Sapphire. I saw him wince, and I stopped.
“Keep going,” he commanded.
I watched as he moaned in pain as I plucked his sapphire eyes, but he was determined. His passion to make life better for others moved me, and I sobbed as I carried the sapphires to the broken families. I watched his sacrifice heal families. In the Happy Prince’s brokenness, I saw healing in others. In carrying out the Happy Prince’s deeds, my heart began to change also. I began to care about the families. I felt their brokenness in myself.
The prince and I became close, and I stayed with him. I knew that the winter would kill me, but his compassion was contagious. One day, he said to me, “Swallow, you tell me often of marvelous things that you see, but more marvelous than anything is the suffering of men and of women. There is no Mystery so great as Misery. Fly over my city, little Swallow, and tell me what you see there.”
So I did. I returned, and recounted my flight. “I saw the rich rejoicing and the poor begging. Life passes both by,” I said. “The rich are ignorant, and the poor are without hope.”
The prince answered me and said, “Let them not be without hope any longer. Take the leaves of gold from my body, and give them to those in the city who suffer.”
So I did. I plucked each leaf from his beautiful body, watching the old Happy Prince grow more and more unrecognizable. His old self had passed away. He had transformed, and now he was dull and grey.
Finally, it was my time to die. I came to my dearest friend, a stranger no longer, and kissed his sweet, grey hand. Then, I kissed his lips, and slipped into a warm death.
The Flight of Keys: Sycamore - Resin - H: 1.60m; W: 1.50m; L: 1.70m
When I was on earth, the weight of the world’s brokenness was heavy on my tender heart. I was sensitive and empathetic, but I was hopeful nonetheless.
I am going to tell you what I can remember about my encounter with Student. I met him in the garden. It was dark there, and I knew his heart was sad. I was in my nest in the holm-oak tree when I heard him cry out. “She said that she would go to the dance with me if I brought her red roses! Alas, but I have none.” His happiness depended on the rose.
I said to myself, “Here at last is a true lover.” I identified myself with Student. I thought us to have kindred souls. I had watched him often as he studied his books and sought knowledge. He was handsome. His hair was dark and his lips were red.
His sorrow was my own, and I was called to aid his quest for love. He dreamed of her aloud, with fat words full of life, describing his desire. “Though clumsy, she is graceful, and her clumsiness makes her all the more real. Her eyes are compelling, and her smile attractive. I would do anything in the world to have her lay her head upon my shoulder as we dance.” The ball was soon, and her acceptance of his invitation relied on the red rose.
I searched the city for a red rose. From rose bush to rose bush I flew, saying, “If you give me a red rose, I will sing you the sweetest song you have ever heard.” I found white roses and yellow roses, but there were no red roses to be found.
There was an old and wise Tree; it was a Tree that had many rings inside and had seen much of life. I inquired of its roses, and it answered sadly. It said, “My roses are red, they are as red as passion and redder than a kiss. But alas, winter has come and chilled my veins. The thief of frost has stolen my buds, and I shall have no blooms at all this year.”
My heart sunk. “One rose, O Tree, is all I need,” I pleaded.
“There is one way, but it is too terrible to tell you.” I demanded the way to the rose. Hesitantly, the Tree spoke. “To conceive a rose, you must have the right heart. It must be built from music and moonlight, and it must be stained with your own heart’s blood. Throughout the night, you must sing to me your sweetest song. My thorns must pierce your heart. Your lifeblood must flow into my veins, and become my own blood. That is how you create a rose.”
I was fearful, but I had peace. Death is a high price to pay for anything, especially a rose. Some souls only see the brokenness of life. I understand that. The world is a cruel place to live sometimes. I, however, chose to see (what I now know to be glimpses of heaven) the good in the world. I was sad to leave behind a beautiful world, where days are capped by sunrises and sunsets. But love is better than life, and the heart of Man is more worthy than the heart of a bird.
It is hard for me to speak of what happened next. It is almost inexplicable in finite terms. I learned much of my sacrifice when I came here to heaven, but I didn’t understand why I was so peaceful. A stab to the heart with a thorn is not the way one would choose to die if there were options. But the peace I had transcended any pain I felt.
Before I pierced my heart, I flew to the Oak Tree outside Student’s window. The Oak Tree was sorrowful that I wouldn’t be returning, so I sang him the sweetest lullaby. The Student listened to my song, and I was ecstatic. But I heard his critique: “She sings such beautiful notes. It is too bad she is merely a shell. She loves only music, and her thoughts are not deep. She isn’t capable of sacrifice, and she doesn’t do any practical good.”
Brokenhearted, I understood his lack of thankfulness. I knew he would not be grateful, but my knowledge of this made my sacrifice even more powerful.
I flew to the old Tree, and I pressed the thorn against my breast. The moon came to listen, and the stars joined in. Deep calls to deep, and my song called to the oceans and seas. They listened as I sang of the birth of love and the romance of life. Then, the rose came like the morning. It started small, as the sun’s rays often peak over the horizon.
“Press closer, little Nightingale,” whispered the sweet old Tree. I pressed the thorn further in my breast. My song grew louder and louder and sweeter and sweeter. I sang of the birth of passion in the soul of man and woman. I sang of the beauty of two becoming one.
Finally, a bitter, bitter pain filled me as the thorn pricked my heart. Death approached me, and I was cold.
I sang of a love perfected by death. I sang of a love that has no tomb. The red rose bloomed like the sunrise.
The crimson rose matched my crimson blood, and my song became faint.
I remember nothing after this. At least, nothing in what was my life. The next thing I knew, a kind gardener, like the one who planted the Oak Tree and the old Tree and all of the rose bushes, was holding me into my hands. He bandaged my breast. His voice was powerful, but sweet. It was commanding, but a whisper. He said to me, “O Nightingale, great was your sacrifice, but greater now is your glory. Earth fades, but Heaven is forever. Welcome home. We are kindred hearts. Things are better now. We are together.”
He told me how he built the garden for me. He knew my heart. He told me of how the Student wasn’t grateful now, but that he would be someday. He is here today, in the garden I live in, and we built it together.
La Promesse: Iris Foetida Seed Pod - Resin - H: 1.57m; W: 1.25m L: 1.55m
I think you will understand me more than the others. The Happy Prince was a statue. Sparrow and Nightingale were birds. But me… I was human. I was like you. I am today what you will become tomorrow.
The Prince, from what I am told, affected Sparrow deeply. He helped him see the heart of life. Little Nightingale did the same for me. Her heart was pure and sweet. I was ignorant of her deep love for me. I’ll begin there.
It was spring, a time when humans love to throw dances and parties and celebrations of life. Things love to bloom in the spring. It brings new life. The air grew warmer, and my heart did also. I fell in love that spring.
Sometimes, I still see her in my afternoon dreams. We don’t need naps in Heaven, but I still take them. Sometimes, I take them just to see her face. Her beauty was peculiar. The things of earth – the former things – are a little hazy. But her face is always with me. She moved gracefully and with a guarded passion. Her hair was dark but handsome. Her eyes were radiant with kindness. Her smile was natural and trusting. Innocence was her companion.
My hair was dark. It complemented her's nicely. My jaw was square. I was handsome, but I didn’t compare to her light. She told me that if I found a red rose she would accompany me to the dance.
As you may know, Nightingale did much for me. What she did was profound, but I didn’t learn of it until much later. She gave her life for a red rose. She gave her life so that I could be loved. She has told me many times, usually as we sit in our rocking chairs on my porch, that love is better than life. I didn’t understand that when she died, but I do now. It’s true. She said my life was worth more than a bird’s, but she proved herself wrong with her sacrifice.
I was lying in the soft green grass under the oak tree in my backyard when she returned. The air was cool, but the spring sun warmed my skin. The tears had dried, leaving me with a sticky face and a runny nose and puffy eyes. I looked up to see Nightingale holding the most beautiful rose. It was crimson, as if stained with blood, and her song was sweet, but I focused only on the rose. I snatched it from her beak, and without a thank-you, I went inside.
I listened to her song and began to write in my journal. I was intelligent, but I lacked understanding. I wrote, saying, “Her song is beautiful, but it is merely a song. She is pleasant, but she lacks sincerity. She would not sacrifice herself for others; she is incapable.” How wrong I was.
As she lay dying on the soft grass, unknown to me, I went on my way to the girl’s home. I giddily floated to her doorstep. With such sincerity and unwavering assurance, I presented her with the crimson rose.
Someone had reached her first, and she had chosen him. Brokenhearted, I bitterly sulked back to my home. I resented love. A broken heart is powerful. It became my guide, and my heart’s protection became priority. The girl’s ungratefulness was second only to mine, but I was ignorant of this fact.
Instead of love, I chose logic. I reasoned, saying, “Love proves nothing, especially compared to logic. In fact, love is quite impractical. Forget love.” I moved on from the girl, or so I thought.
I lived for many years alone with my brain. I resented my heart, and I grew more and more bitter as the years went by.
One day, as I was reading on the porch swing on the back porch, I was awoken by a knock at the door. The doors and windows were open, for it was a comfortable spring morning. I entered the back door, went through the kitchen, and walked towards the front door. It was open, but the screen door was not.
“Hello, Ivan,” she said sweetly, calling me by name. It was she. (The Prince, Sparrow, and Nightingale have trouble remembering their names. The only reason I know mine is because I remember the way each letter dripped from her lips like honey.)
“H-hi, Isabelle,” I stammered.
“May I come in?” she asked, looking at me with her innocent blue eyes.
She came inside, I poured her some coffee, and we sat on the back porch. She had sweet tears in her eyes as she told her story.
In a dream, she had met a man – she couldn’t describe him, but could only convey to me the peace she felt with him – and he told her the story of Nightingale’s sacrifice. She had the dream a day earlier, and she came to see me on the very next train.
My heart softened with every word.
Without Isabelle, and especially without sweet Nightingale, I wouldn’t be here in heaven today to write this to you. Sometimes the distance from heaven and hell is the distance between one’s head and one’s heart.
We became friends. Then we became lovers. I forgave her, and I prayed for Nightingale’s forgiveness. By showing grace, grace was shown to me. We married, and we had a family. The love she showed me redeemed me. Her love replaced my ignorance with thankfulness, and I am forever grateful to Nightingale.
In the original story, The Nightingale and the Rose, Oscar Wilde tells a miraculously fascinating story concerning a nightingale, a rose, and a student. The nightingale, who lives outside his window in an oak tree, listened to the student often. The student listened also to the nightingale. However, the student listened only to the song of the bird. The nightingale listened to the student’s heart.
The student was in love. He asked the girl to a dance, but she said she would only go with him if he brought her a red rose. The bird hears this, and moved by the student’s sorrow, searches high and low in the city looking for a red rose. She finds only white and yellow roses, but finally she stumbled upon a red rose bush. The bush had no roses, but told her of a way to obtain one. In order to give birth to a red rose, she must sing her sweetest song and let her blood flow into the rose. Without regret, the nightingale sacrifices her life for the student. She takes the rose to him. He is ecstatic, and he takes it to the house of the girl.
The girl, however, has changed her mind. A rich boy has sent her jewels, and she tells the student that the jewels are worth much more than simple flowers. They exchange rude words, and the brokenhearted boy heads home. Wilde tells us how the student chose to pursue his studies and logic instead. I altered the ending because I love the idea of redemption. Redeemed by the girl's love, the student ends up in heaven. Without it, he might not have ended up there at all. If you get the chance, I strongly encourage you to read the original story. It’s one of the most beautiful stories I’ve had the privilege of reading. If you liked my storybook at all, you’ll love Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales.
Book: The Happy Prince and Other Tales: The Nightingale and the Rose
Author: Oscar Wilde
Year Published: 1888
Web Source: SurLaLune Fairy Tales