Die Nachtigall (UA) / The Nightingale
In China, as you know, the emperor is Chinese, and all those about him are Chinamen also. The story I am going to tell you happened a great many years ago, so it is well to hear it now before it is forgotten. The emperor’s palace was the most beautiful in the world. It was built entirely of porcelain, and very costly, but so delicate and brittle that whoever touched it was obliged to be careful. In the garden could be seen the most singular flowers, with pretty silver bells tied to them, which tinkled so that everyone who passed could not help noticing the flowers. Indeed, everything in the emperor’s garden was remarkable, and it extended so far that the gardener himself did not know where it ended. Those who travelled beyond its limits knew that there was a noble forest, with lofty trees, sloping down to the deep blue sea, and the great ships sailed under the shadow of its branches. In one of these trees lived a nightingale, who sang so beautifully that even the poor fisherman, who had so many other things to do, would stop and listen. Sometimes, when he went out at night to spread his nets, he would hear her sing, and say, ‘Oh isn’t that beautiful?’
And so finally, the Emperor of China learns that in his empire there is a bird that sings with such extraordinary beauty that even the Emperor of Japan turns green with envy. He has his men search for the nightingale and holds her prisoner in his palace. But the nightingale falls silent – in bondage, bereft of her liberty, she cannot unfold her beautiful song.
In this literary fairy tale, which also features a mechanical nightingale in an attempt to replace the real bird’s beautiful song, Hans Christian Andersen wrote a poetic parable on the freedom of art. And of its soul.