Oscar Wilde was an Irish poet and dramatist and is well-known for his only novel “The Picture of Dorian Gray” and for his plays of which “An Ideal Husband” and “The Importance of being Earnest” are two. I wonder how many people know of his fairy tales? They are all allegories and my favourite one amongst them is “The Happy Prince.”
The Happy Prince is a beautiful statue on a tall column in a city. The statue is gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, his eyes are two bright sapphires and a large ruby is in his sword belt. When alive the prince had led a life of comfort and happiness and he knew no sorrow but now from his vantage point high over the city he is aware of the misery and ugly life of the city’s inhabitants. With the aid of a passing swallow, who is flying to a warm country for the winter, he has his body stripped of its gold and jewels and the swallow gives them to the poor inhabitants of the city. The little bird stays with the statue and dies of the cold as it has never made it to the warm country and the leaden heart of the happy prince breaks into two.
The city council becomes aware of the shabby state of the statue with the dead swallow at its feet and orders the removal of both. The statue is melted down in a furnace but the leaden heart will not melt and it is thrown on a rubbish heap where the body of the dead swallow is also lying.
This story is an allegory and tells us the importance of charity. Remember the words of St Paul in 1st Corinthians. 13:13 “And the greatest of these is charity.”The story made me think of all the people who have devoted their lives to help others and, in the process have worn out their bodies so that anyone looking at them at the end of their lives sees only the lined faces, the toil-worn hands and the bent back and stooped shoulders. There must be many such people who have sacrificed their life in service to others. Perhaps they denied themselves a chance of happiness by caring for elderly parents or handicapped children. Perhaps they could never complete their education and have unfulfilled dreams and ambitions.
Then we think of the little swallow in the story who never made it to the warm country to meet up with his friends. He was the prince’s messenger and he also gave his life in service to others. Who, amongst us, has not seen that TV appeal about the hard-working little donkeys abroad whose backs are used to transport a load of heavy bricks. They are born into a world of hard work and misery. Many working animals give their lives in the service of the humankind and their bodies suffer just as much as ours would and their lives are cut short.
This is where I love that part of our sixth Principle of Spiritualism. “Compensation …for all good…done on the earth.” Only God who watches over us knows of our sacrifices, our unfulfilled ambitions and our dreams. We don’t know what religious beliefs Oscar Wilde held but he ends his fairy tale like this.
Bring me the two most precious things in the city” said God to His angel. The angel brought the leaden heart of the Happy Prince and the body of the dead bird. “You have rightly chosen” said God, “for in my garden of paradise this little bird shall sing for evermore, and in my city of gold the Happy Prince shall praise me.”
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