Summary of The Nightingale and the Rose

This short story written by the 19th-century Irish author and poet, Oscar Wilde, is literally about what the title implies: a nightingale and a rose. A nightingale is a small song bird that is often associated with love, innocence and romance. And a rose, of similar association, is on the other hand a flower which comes in many colors including white, pink, yellow, and orange. But in the case of Wilde’s story, the rose in question is, most notably, red.

The story opens with the character of the Student, perhaps a student of philosophy. This young man is in despair because there are no red roses in his garden. The little nightingale over hears the student’s desperation and observers. She sees him, through his sorrow and sobbing, and sees beauty and what she had been searching for. She fell in love with him.

Next it is revealed why the Student is in such sorrow for a flower: if he brings the red rose to the Prince’s ball the next night, and gives it to the love of his life, she will dance with him, embrace him, and ultimately, love him back. But this is unachievable given that there is no red rose in his garden. This deep emotional intensity is admirable to the nightingale, as she sympathizes with the Student. She, too, holds love in very high regard, much like the student does.

As all the little creatures in the garden are inquiring on the student’s exaggerated weeping and commenting on his ridiculousness, the Nightingale understood his pain and set out to relieve it. She visited all the rose trees in the garden asking them to give her a red rose in exchange of her singing her most beautiful song. Unfortunately, none  could  produce a red rose, but only  yellow pink, and white.

The Nightingale asked the rose tree that grew under the Student’s window for a red rose. It did produce roses of that color, but could not grow them due to the cold weather. The Nightingale wept and pleaded, and the tree had a way to produce the single red rose, but warned that it was a terrible way. But, of course, the love sick Nightingale did not care.

The tree told the Nightingale that to get her red rose, she had to build it. She must sing under the moonlight and build the rose with the stain of her blood. In order to do so, she must sing all night, pressing her breast against his thorn, thus sacrificing herself for the Student. She did not care, and death was a price she was willing to pay.

She sang the Oak-tree one last song while the Student rose up and began to walk away, writing and thinking, soon falling asleep to the thought of his love. While he slumbered, the Nightingale did as she was told, and sang her most beautiful song, a love song. And as she sang, the rose blossomed. As she continued to sing and press her breast into the thorn even more, it helped the flower blossom and turn from pale white to crimson red. Although painful, the little Nightingale did as she was told and pressed, and pressed, and sang. Until finally the rose fully blossomed, and the Nightingale was dead with a thorn in her heart.

The Student of course finds the single, beautiful red rose growing in his garden and happily plucks it. He immediately  ran to give it to the Professors daughter, whom which he was in love with, and asked her to dance with him. But at his dismay, the girl was not pleased, proclaiming the red rose would not go with her dress and scoffing at the fact that flowers are not nearly as expensive as the jewels the Chamberlain’s nephew sent her. Seemingly unabashed, the student calls her ungrateful and gets thrown out by the offended girl, still comparing his unworthiness of a Student to the highness of the Chamberlain’s nephew.

Upon leaving, the Student thought to himself how silly, un useful, impractical, and untrue love is, and how he was better off studying things like logic, philosophy and metaphysics. And that’s what he did.