illustration by the author

“She said that she would dance with me if I brought her red roses,” cried the young student, “but in all my garden there is no red rose.”*

The Nightingale, perched on the oak tree, eyed the young man with compassion: “Here is a real lover. I have sung of him through the ages, telling his story to the stars.”

The Nightingale soared through the Garden of Eden like a shadow, on a quest for a red rose.

In the center of the garden grew a Rosebush.

 “Give me a red rose,” the Nightingale appealed to the Rosebush, “and I will sing you my greatest song.”

The Rosebush shook her head. Windstorms had broken her branches. Winter had chilled her veins. Yet, she was still beautiful in her frailty, majestic like a Djinn. Her branches spread about her like chestnut hair, laden with sharp thorns. 

“There is only one way to get a red rose,” replied the Rosebush darkly.  “You must sing with your breast against my thorn. My thorn must pierce your heart and your life’s blood must become mine.”

The Nightbird glanced at her hypnotic olive eyes and her vampiric stillness.

“Death is a high price to pay for a rose,” cried the Nightingale. “Yet Love is greater than Life, so I will make this blood sacrifice.”

So, as the full moon floated amongst the dark clouds, he flew to the Rosebush and placed his breast against her thorn. All night, he sang and the moon listened. The thorn sank into the depths of his breast, into the depths of his soul, and his life-blood ebbed away from him. 

The Nightingale began his Love Song:

He who lives in the shadow of love
Has paradise under his feet

My beloved is like a fragrance
Her voice is an exalted language

She is my night, my full moon
She is my universe, my beloved

My lady hides in the flowers
You can find her from her redolence

At night, I lament her absence
At dawn, she is my fairy-faced one

Like a talisman, I will wear her
Like a prayer, she will come to me

That lover is like my faith
That lover is like my song

My love walks in the dew
Paradise streams under her feet
On the branches, on the leaves
Under the shade of canopies 

I am a lover of all her forms
She flirts with lights and shadows
She takes joy in changing colors
I am a merchant of her beauty

He sang of eternal love in the mystic solitude of the garden, as if the Shekhinah of God dwelt in his throat. That night, he sang his greatest romance.

He sang the tale of eternal lovers: of Laila and Majnun; of Heer and Ranjha; of Tristan and Isolde; of Bilqis and King Solomon. He sang of star-crossed lovers.

The rosy fingers of dawn painted the sky a rose-gold. The sun had turned to lapis lazuli. And the lingering moon glanced at him with devotion.

It was then that the thorn completely pierced the Nightingale’s heart. It was a crucifixion of the heart. Murderous pain shot through him. Bitter, bitter was the pain—which came with the knowledge of evil. Wilder grew his song. He sang of Love perfected by Death, of Love that overcomes the Grave.

Behold! On the branch of the Rosebush had sprung a marvelous blossom, a preternatural rose. It was crimson like the eastern sky, crimson like rubies, reminiscent of garnets.

The Nightbird’s wings began to beat. His song grew faint. Something was choking him in his throat. 

He gave one last note, which echoed in the silent garden.

“Look!” the Rosebush smiled excitedly, “the rose is finished.” 

She was ruddy, engorged with his blood, filled with his life-force. 

The Nightingale was silent. He lay desolate in the grass, bleeding from the thorn lurched in his heart. 


Footnotes

This is a narrative poem based on Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Nightingale and the Rose. It is a tale of sacrificial love set in the Garden of Eden. 

*“She said that…”: Opening line of Oscar Wilde’s short story, The Nightingale and the Rose.

Djinn: are supernatural creatures in Islamic mythology and theology. In Islam, Satan is said to be a Djinn.

Shekhinah:  the dwelling of the divine presence of God. 

Laila and Majnun: a famous Arab love story, similar to Romeo and Juliet. 

Heer and Ranjha: a popular tragic romance from India.

Bilqis: the name of the Queen of Sheba. There are many tales of her romance with King Solomon. 

  • Symphony (she/her) manages communications and PR for a nonprofit at the intersection of public health, urban planning, and the built environment. She lives in Brooklyn, NY but her heart is really for Manhattan’s Chinatown. Her current side projects are cheers to the mess and the Thin Heart Brigade (coming soon!). She is a plant mom and has recently picked up Chinese calligraphy.