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Places to Go: The Nightingale and The Rose by Oscar Wilde

Written by Rachael Norris, 27th November 2020

Cheshire Hub Leader at The Reader, Alison Finegan, reads The Nightingale and The Rose by Oscar Wilde. The theme for our daily readings this month is 'Light in the Dark'. Check out the rest of our readings for November and download the calendar here.

This story, the Nightingale and the Rose, has a feel of a fairy story to it, with the young student, the quest for a red rose for his beloved and the element of three, which is often found in fairytales. Yet not quite a fairy story, as it is not the student who embarks on the quest, but the nightingale who goes to the three trees in search of this red rose. This made me wonder why; why did the nightingale take this challenge on? She seems to see the student, and his longing for the girl of his dreams, as the embodiment of love saying ‘Here indeed is the true lover…..What I sing of he suffers: what is joy to me, to him is pain’. This in turn, makes me wonder about the nature of love and the idea that it can cause us both joy and pain.

As the story develops, we see how the nightingale is prepared to sacrifice herself to create the red rose in order that the student can take this to the girl he loves. This makes me think about sacrifice in the context of love, what would we be prepared to do for the ones we love? It also brings me back to the nature of joy and pain, as love which the nightingale had sung of as joy to her, has now in turn turned to pain as we read ‘Bitter, bitter was the pain, and wilder and wilder grew her song, for she sang of the Love that is perfected by Death’. ‘The Love that is perfected by Death’ intrigues me too; what is this? Is there something that is too deep for this world?

At the end of the story, we find that despite the nightingale’s sacrifice, things don’t quite work out as we expect, the girl scorns the rose saying ‘everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers’. At this point, I expected to feel some sympathy for the enamoured student whose dreams have been crushed, but no, he too turns away, describing love as ‘silly’ and ‘not half as useful as Logic’. This made me reflect on who’s view is more relevant, the girl who values material things over love, the student who turns to practicality and pragmatism or the nightingale who believes that ‘Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty’. I’d like to think in these turbulent days that love, in some small way, will prevail.

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