The Happy Prince

Read by Arthur Roberts

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"The Happy Prince" by Oscar Wilde

High above a city in a far away land there stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was covered with gold, and had two bright sapphires for eyes, and a large red ruby on his sword. He was very much admired by everyone.

One night a little swallow flew over the city. His friends had all gone away to Egypt weeks before, but he had stayed behind, for he was in love with the most beautiful reed. He'd met her early in the spring as he was flying down by the river, and had stopped to talk.

"Shall I love you?" said the little swallow, who liked to come to the point at once, and the reed made a low bow. So he flew round and round her, touching the water with his wings. This was his courtship, which lasted all through the summer.

"It's ridiculous," twittered the other swallows, and when autumn came, they all flew away without him.

After they'd gone, he began to feel lonely. "Will you come away with me?" he asked the reed, but she only shook her head, and so the swallow set off for Egypt alone without her.

All day long he flew, and at night, he arrived in the city. "Where should I sleep tonight?" he wondered, and then he saw the statue. So he landed just between the feet of the Happy Prince.

"I have a golden bedroom," he said softly to himself as he looked around. He was just putting his head under his wing to go to sleep when a large drop of water fell on him. "How strange," he cried. "There's not a cloud in the sky, and yet it's somehow raining."

Then another drop fell. "What use is this statue if it can't keep the rain off?" he said. "I must look for another place."

But before he could open his wings, a third drop fell, and he looked up to see the eyes of the Happy Prince filled with tears, which were running down his golden cheeks. His face was so beautiful in the moonlight that the little swallow was filled with pity.

"Why are you weeping?" he asked.

"When I was alive and had a human heart," answered the statue, "I didn't know what tears were for. I lived in a palace and danced in a great hall and ran around a beautiful garden. My courtiers called me the Happy Prince, and happy I was, if pleasure is the same as happiness. But now that I'm dead, they've set me up here so high that I can see all the ugliness and misery of the city, and though my heart is made of lead, I can't help but weep."

The swallow listened carefully.

"Far way in a little street there is a poor house," continued the statue in a low musical voice. "One of the windows is open, and through it I can see a woman seated at a table. Her face is thin and worn, and her hands are all pricked from the needle, for she's a seamstress. In a bed in the corner of the room, her little boy is lying ill. He has a fever, and is asking for oranges. His mother has nothing to give him, and so he's crying. Little swallow, will you bring them the ruby from my sword? My feet are fastened to this pedestal and I can't move."

"But my friends are waiting for me in Egypt," said the swallow.

"Little swallow," said the Prince. "Will you please stay with me for one night and be my messenger? The boy is so thirsty, and the mother is so sad."

The Happy Prince looked so upset that the little swallow was sorry. "It's very cold here," he said. "But I'll stay with you for one night and be your messenger."

So the swallow picked out the great ruby from the Prince's sword, and flew away with it in his beak over the roofs of the town.

At last he came to the poor house and looked in. The boy was tossing feverishly on his bed, and the mother had fallen asleep. In he hopped, and laid the great ruby on the table beside the woman's thimble. Then he flew gently round the bed, fanning the boy's forehead with his wings.

"I feel much cooler," murmured the boy. "I must be getting better."

Then the swallow flew back to the Happy Prince, and told him what he had done. "It's strange," he remarked. "But I feel quite warm now, though it's still so cold."

"That's because you've done a good deed," said the Prince. And this made the little swallow happy.

In the morning, he flew down to the river to take a bath. "What a remarkable thing," said a professor as he was passing over the bridge. "A swallow in winter!"

"Tonight I'll go to Egypt," said the swallow, who was in high spirits.

When the moon rose that night, he flew back to the Happy Prince to say goodbye.

"Little swallow," said the Prince. "Will you stay with me one night more?"

"But my friends are waiting in Egypt, where it's warm."

"Far away across the city," said the prince, "I see a young man leaning over a desk covered with papers. He's trying to finish a play, but he's too cold to write anymore. There's no wood for the fire, and hunger has made him faint."

"I'll wait with you one night longer," said the swallow, who had a good heart. "Shall I take him another ruby?"

"I've no more rubies," said the Prince. "My eyes are all I have left. They're made of rare sapphires. Pluck one of them and take it to him. He'll sell it to the jeweler and buy food and firewood to finish his play."

"Dear Prince," said the swallow, beginning to weep. "I can't do that to you."

"Little swallow," said the Prince. "Please do as I tell you."

So the swallow plucked out the Prince's eye, and flew away to the young man's room, where he got in through a hole in the roof. The young man had his head buried in his hands, and so he didn't hear the flutter of the bird's wings, and when he looked up, he found the beautiful sapphire lying on his desk.

"This must be from some great admirer," he said, looking quite happy. "Now I can finish my play!"

The next day, the swallow flew down to the harbor, where he sat on the mast of a large ship, thinking about Egypt. When the moon rose, he flew back to the Happy Prince.

"I've come to say goodbye," he said, and when the Prince asked him to stay one night longer, he shook his head. "It's winter, and the snow will be here soon. In Egypt, the sun is warm on the palm trees, and the crocodiles lie in the mud lazily. My friends are building a nest there, and so it's time for me to leave you. But I'll never forget you, and in the spring, I'll bring you back two beautiful jewels to replace those you've given away."

"But in the square below," said the Happy Prince, "there stands a poor little girl with no shoes or stockings, and her head is bare. Pluck out my other eye and give it to her."

"I'll stay with you one night longer," said the swallow. "But I can't pluck out your eye, because then you'd be blind."

"Please do as I tell you, little swallow," said the Prince.

So he plucked out the Prince's other eye, and darted down with it. He swooped past the little girl and slipped the jewel into the palm of her hand, and she ran home, laughing.

"You are blind now," said the swallow when he came back to the Prince. "So I will stay with you always."

"No, little swallow," said the poor Prince, "you must go away to Egypt now."

"I will stay with you always," repeated the swallow, and he slept at the Prince's feet.

All the next day he sat on the Prince's shoulder and told him stories of what he'd seen in strange lands. He told him of the flowers on the banks of the Nile, and of the Sphinx, who is as old as the world itself.

"Dear little swallow," said the Prince. "You tell me of astounding things, but more astounding than anything is the suffering of men and women. There is no mystery as great as misery. Fly over my city, little swallow, and tell me what you see."

So the swallow flew over the great city, and saw the rich in their beautiful houses, while the beggars were sitting at the gates. He flew into dark lanes, and saw the faces of starving children looking out at the streets. Under the archway of a bridge two little boys were lying in one another's arms to try and keep themselves warm. Then he flew back and told the Prince what he'd seen.

"I'm covered with fine gold," said the Prince. "You must take it off, leaf by leaf, and give it to the poor."

And so the swallow picked off leaf after leaf of the fine gold until the Happy Prince looked quite dull and gray. He brought the gold to the poor, and the children's faces grew rosier, and they laughed and played games in the street.

Then the snow came, and after the snow came the frost. The streets looked as if they were made of silver, and long icicles like crystal daggers hung down from the eaves of the houses. The poor little swallow grew colder and colder, but he would not leave the Prince, who he loved so well. He picked up crumbs outside the baker's door when the baker was not looking and tried to keep himself warm by flapping his wings.

But he knew that he was going to die, and he only had the strength to fly up to the Prince's shoulder once more. "Goodbye, dear Prince," he murmured.

"I'm glad that you're going to Egypt at last, little swallow," said the Prince. "You've stayed here too long, but it's made me happy, for I love you dearly."

"I'm not going to Egypt," said the swallow. "I'm going to die, which is very much like a long and peaceful sleep." And he kissed the Happy Prince, and then fell down dead at his feet.

At that moment, there was a strange crack that sounded from inside the statue, as if something had broken. His leaden heart had snapped right in two.

Early the next morning, the mayor was walking in the square below, and he looked up at the statue as they passed. "How shabby the Happy Prince looks!" he said. "The ruby has fallen out of his sword, and his eyes are gone, and he's no longer golden. He looks like a beggar. There's even a dead bird at his feet!

So the statue of the Happy Prince was pulled down, and they melted it in a furnace. The mayor held a meeting to decide what was to be done with the metal, and it was decided that they'd make it into a statue of him.

But when the workmen tried to heat the lead heart, it wouldn't melt. "How strange," they said, throwing it into a dust heap where the dead swallow was also lying.

And when later, God asked one of his angels to bring him the two most precious things in the city, the angel brought him the leaden heart and the dead bird. "You've chosen correctly," said God. "For in my garden of paradise, this little bird will sing forevermore, and in my city of gold, the Happy Prince will forever be happy."