Today is a good day for a story, and one of my favorites is “The Happy Prince” by Oscar Wilde as told by Kinky Friedman. If you haven’t heard it before, it goes something like this:
A beloved and benevolent young prince dies tragically. He is reincarnated as a sort of living statue overlooking the city of his birth where he can see all of the sorrows and tragedies in the day-to-day life of mankind.
The reincarnated prince statue stands and watches the struggles of his former subjects, all the while covered in rich gold leaf, with eyes made out of glittering emeralds.
Winter approaches, and the statue prince manages to befriend a little swallow who postpones his migration to warmer climates in order to stay with the prince, who the swallow realizes feels miserable and helpless in the face of such deep suffering.
So the statue prince from high on his pedestal sees all the poverty and sickness and suffering in his city and keeps saying to the swallow:
“Oh little swallow, there is a child in a cold apartment without any food. Bring a small piece of the gold from my resplendent coat to the child’s mother so that they may have something to eat.”
The little swallow dutifully takes a little fleck of gold from the statue and carries it to the destination. But it is getting very cold now, and if the swallow doesn’t leave for warmer climates soon, it will surely die. But the swallow doesn’t want to leave the prince alone
And the prince keeps prevailing upon the little bird, saying, “Little swallow, there are two boys living under a bridge … there’s a starving poet living in a freezing attic … there’s an old widow with no money for firewood … oh little swallow, will you stay to help them out just a little while longer?”
So the swallow stays to help the prince help the poor people of the city. When the glistening gold coat of the statue was all gone, at the prince’s insistence, the little swallow, with a breaking heart, plucks out the emeralds from the statue’s eyes to give to the needy.
Winter finally arrives, of course. The little swallow predictably freezes to death, dying at the foot of the statue of the prince.
All the other birds had taken off for the tropics and were frolicking in the warm sun. But the little swallow stayed to help the prince help all the hopeless, suffering people, and died at the foot of the benevolent prince.
The prince could no longer see because he had had his emerald eyes plucked out to help the poor, and was starting to rust in the rain without his coat of gold leaf.
When the little swallow died, there was heard a strange metallic cracking noise, a noise which the city’s scientists now believe to be the sound of the metal heart of the statue breaking.
The next morning, the mayor and the town council were walking by the statue and noticed how shabby it was beginning to look.
So they ordered it pulled down and melted in a furnace. But the broken metal heart of the statue would not melt, so the workmen threw it on a dustheap where the dead swallow was also lying.
“Bring me the two most precious things in the city,” said God to one of his angels, and the angel brought God the unmelted heart of the prince and the dead bird.
“You have chosen rightly,” said God, “for in my Garden of Paradise, this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my City of Gold, the little prince shall dwell with me forever.”
Tom Tyner is an attorney for the Trust for Public Land. He is author of “Skeletons From Our Closet,” a collection of writings on the island’s latte scene.