Excerpt from Stories from Hans Andersen
by Hans Christian Andersen
1. In China. . . The emperor’s palace was the most beautiful thing in the world; it was made entirely of the finest porcelain . . . There were the most extraordinary flowers to be seen in the garden; the most beautiful ones had little silver bells tied to them . . . Every little detail in the garden had been most carefully thought out, and it was so big, that even the gardener himself did not know where it ended. If one went on walking, one came to beautiful woods with lofty trees and deep lakes. The wood extended to the sea, which was deep and blue, deep enough for large ships to sail up right under the branches of the trees. Among these trees lived a nightingale, which sang so deliciously, that even the poor fisherman, who had plenty of other things to do, lay still to listen to it, when he was out at night drawing in his nets. ‘Heavens, how beautiful it is!’ he said . . .
2. Travellers came to the emperor’s capital, from every country in the world; they admired everything very much, especially the palace and the gardens, but when they heard the nightingale they all said, ‘This is better than anything!’
3. When they got home they described it, and the learned ones wrote many books about the town, the palace and the garden; but nobody forgot the nightingale, it was always put above everything else. Those among them who were poets wrote the most beautiful poems, all about the nightingale in the woods by the deep blue sea. These books went all over the world, and in course of time some of them reached the emperor . . .
4. ‘What is this?’ said the emperor. ‘The nightingale? Why, I know nothing about it. Is there such a bird in my kingdom, and in my own garden into the bargain, and I have never heard of it? Imagine my having to discover this from a book?’
5. Then he called his gentleman-in-waiting . . . ‘There is said to be a very wonderful bird called a nightingale here,’ said the emperor. ‘They say that it is better than anything else in all my great kingdom! Why have I never been told anything about it?’
6. ‘I have never heard it mentioned,’ said the gentleman-in-waiting. ‘It has never been presented at court.’
7. ‘I wish it to appear here this evening to sing to me,’ said the emperor. ‘The whole world knows what I am possessed of, and I know nothing about it!’ . . .
8. ‘Tsing-pe!’ said the gentleman-in-waiting, and away he ran again, up and down all the stairs, in and out of all the rooms and corridors; half the court ran with him, for they none of them wished to be trampled on. There was much questioning about this nightingale, which was known to all the outside world, but to no one at court. At last they found a poor little maid in the kitchen. She said, ‘Oh heavens, the nightingale? I know it very well. Yes, indeed it can sing . . .
9. Then they all went out into the wood where the nightingale usually sang. Half the court was there. As they were going along at their best pace a cow began to bellow.
10. ‘Oh!’ said a young courtier, ‘there we have it. What wonderful power for such a little creature; I have certainly heard it before.’
11. ‘No, those are the cows bellowing; we are a long way yet from the place.’ Then the frogs began to croak in the marsh.
12. ‘Beautiful!’ said the Chinese chaplain, ‘it is just like the tinkling of church bells.’
13. ‘No, those are the frogs!’ said the little kitchen-maid. ‘But I think we shall soon hear it now!’
14. Then the nightingale began to sing.
15. ‘There it is!’ said the little girl. ‘Listen, listen, there it sits!’ and she pointed to a little grey bird up among the branches.
16. ‘Is it possible?’ said the gentleman-in-waiting. ‘I should never have thought it was like that. How common it looks! Seeing so many grand people must have frightened all its colours away.’
17. ‘Little nightingale!’ called the kitchen-maid quite loud, ‘our gracious emperor wishes you to sing to him!’
18. ‘With the greatest of pleasure!’ said the nightingale. . .
19. The palace had been brightened up for the occasion . . . In the middle of the large reception-room where the emperor sat, a golden rod had been fixed, on which the nightingale was to perch. The whole court was assembled, and the little kitchen-maid had been permitted to stand behind the door, as she now had the actual title of cook. They were all dressed in their best; everybody’s eyes were turned towards the little grey bird at which the emperor was nodding. The nightingale sang delightfully, and the tears came into the emperor’s eyes, nay, they rolled down his cheeks; and then the nightingale sang more beautifully than ever, its notes touched all hearts. The emperor was charmed, and said the nightingale should have his gold slipper to wear round its neck. But the nightingale declined with thanks; it had already been sufficiently rewarded.
20. ‘I have seen tears in the eyes of the emperor; that is my richest reward. The tears of an emperor have a wonderful power! God knows I am sufficiently recompensed!’ and then it again burst into its sweet heavenly song.