The Nightingale Story Many years ago, the emperor of China lived in the most magnificent palace. Its rooms were vast. Its windows were draped with the finest silk. Its rugs were woven by the finest Persian rug weavers. Its furniture was handmade from the rarest woods by the world’s best craftsmen. Its gardens were tended by one hundred skilled gardeners.
One of the gardeners would tell visitors to the palace, “I will now show you the most beautiful thing in all of China.” He would lead them to a stand of very plain trees and point to a very plain, gray bird. The visitors would wonder what was so beautiful until the bird, a nightingale, would open its mouth and sing the most glorious music.
Because of the nightingale’s wondrous singing, the visitors would leave thinking only of the beautiful bird. They would return home from their journey and tell their friends and families about the nightingale.
This meant that more and more people flocked to the palace, all for the same reason — the nightingale. Every single visitor loved to hear the remarkable bird’s song.
Yet the very palace at which the nightingale lived belonged to a person who had not heard the nightingale. You see, the emperor was very old, and hardly ever ventured out of his quarters.One day, a messenger brought the emperor a letter. It was from the emperor of Japan. “I have heard tell of this beautiful nightingale that you possess,” wrote the emperor of Japan. “I would very much like to visit and hear its song with my own ears.”
Of course, the emperor of China had no idea what this nightingale was. So he called for his men and asked, “Where is this nightingale? I order you to find this marvelous bird and bring it to me!”
The emperor’s men searched the palace, looking behind drapes and under rugs and on top of furniture, but could not find the nightingale.The emperor’s men searched the palace grounds and gardens, looking among the plants and fruit trees, but could not find the nightingale.
Finally, one of the gardeners came forward, saying, “I know where the nightingale lives.”
The gardener led the emperor’s men to the stand of very plain trees, where they found the very plain, gray bird. The nightingale opened its mouth in beautiful song and the men knew they had found what they were seeking.The emperor’s men dashed back to the palace, the nightingale in their possession. Seeing the very plain, gray bird, the emperor asked his men, “Just what is so special about this nightingale?”Before anyone could answer the emperor’s question, a trumpet sounded outside. The emperor of Japan had arrived! The guards rushed out to meet this special visitor. The Chinese emperor quickly prepared to present the famed bird to his fellow ruler. With a flourish, the emperor of Japan was led into the throne room. Seeing the plain, gray bird, he asked, “Is this the nightingale of which I have heard such great things?”
The emperor of China, not having heard the bird either, was equally confused as to the bird’s worth.
Yet as the two powerful men listened, the plain, gray nightingale broke into the most beautiful song.
The Japanese emperor stayed in China for some time, his sole reason being to listen to the nightingale’s gorgeous song. The two rulers sat and listened to the nightingale all of the day and all of the night. They never grew tired of hearing the bird’s glorious melody.
One afternoon, the emperor of Japan said, “Its song is so lovely, but it is a pity that the nightingale must look so very plain.”
This made the emperor of China sad. This creature deserved to look as beautiful as it sounded. He ordered that a gold cage be made for the nightingale. From the cage hung tinkling bells made of the purest silver and flowing ribbons made from the finest Chinese silk.When the Japanese emperor was to return home, he turned to the emperor of China and promised, “I will find a way to thank you for sharing the nightingale with me.”Soon the emperor of Japan made good on his promise and sent a gift to China. The emperor of China opened the gift to find an artificial nightingale that looked even more beautiful than the real nightingale. This artificial bird was covered in diamonds and sapphires and rubies. The jewels were made to look like feathers and shimmered and shone under the palace lights.
The real marvel, however, came when the bird was wound up. The emperor of China turned the crank on the side of the artificial nightingale and was treated to the song that came from inside the bird. This bird sounded as good as the real nightingale, and it looked even better!
However, the real nightingale did not like this new bird. The new, fake nightingale only sang waltzes, and not true nightingale songs. The real nightingale left its cage and flew back to its home in the garden.
“That was very strange behavior,” said the emperor of China. “I wonder where the nightingale went.”
“Who cares?” asked one of his subjects. “This new bird sings just as sweetly, and it looks far more beautiful than the plain, gray nightingale.”
“And with this bird,” added another, “we will always know that fine waltzes will be sung. We never knew what the real nightingale might sing.”
“Indeed, we have the best bird right here,” a third said.
But one evening, when the new nightingale was singing one of its finest waltzes, the emperor heard a peculiar sound come from the bird. There was a whizz, and then there was a crack, and finally there came a whirr. And with that, the artificial nightingale stopped singing.
The emperor called for his best craftsmen, but they could do nothing. The nightingale was broken.
Time passed, with no nightingale music to fill the air in China. The people of China were overcome with grief. The emperor would not leave his bed. He became ill with sorrow, missing the song of his beloved bird. The emperor’s subjects worried that he would not get better.
Then one morning from outside the emperor’s bedroom window came the sound of the sweetest singing. There on a tree branch just outside the window sat the real, live nightingale. The bird had heard of the emperor’s illness and had come to sing to him out of love, for the emperor had once loved the nightingale so dearly.And as the nightingale sang its beautiful song, the emperor began to feel better. His arms and limbs were not so weak. His heart did not hurt so. The emperor sat up and thanked the nightingale, who had flown to his bedpost. And that is where the nightingale stayed, happily, for the rest of its days.