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The Happy Prince (Oscar Wilde)

Once upon a time, a beautiful statue stood in the middle of a town square. It was the statue of a prince. His body was covered in shiny gold leaf, and his eyes and the dagger on his belt were ornamented with precious gemstones. From his place on the square he could see everything going on around him. People called him the Happy Prince.... but he was sad.

 

Once upon a time, a beautiful statue stood in the middle of a town square. It was the statue of a prince. His body was covered in shiny gold leaf, and his eyes and the dagger on his belt were ornamented with precious gemstones. From his place on the square he could see everything going on around him. People called him the Happy Prince.

One cold and windy night, a swallow wandered into the square. The other swallows had all gone south for the winter, but this one had gotten lost and was left behind. Circling the square, the swallow saw the statue of the Happy Prince.

It's too cold to fly tonight. I will stay here for the night. It's so cold.

As the swallow settled down, a drop of water fell on his head.

Oo, that's cold! Can it be raining?

The swallow glanced up, and saw that the sky was clear. It wasn't raining at all.

How odd. Where did that drop of water come from, then?

Curious, the swallow flew to the top of the statue. When he reached the top, he saw that the Prince's eyes were filled with tears.

Why are you crying, Prince?

I am crying because I am sad.

Why? How could you be sad?

I was once a happy Prince, and all my days were filled with joy. Now, when I am a statue, I can look over the whole town. I see so much misery and poverty. Swallow, just take a look at that little house there.

Where?

The swallow looked at where the prince pointed. He saw an old, run-down house. A sick child lay on the bed inside.

That child is very ill, but the family is too poor to buy the medicine she needs.

Oh, how sad.

Swallow, would you do something for me? Pluck out the ruby from my dagger and bring it to that house. If they sell it they will have enough money to buy the medicine.

Of course, I will do as you ask.

The swallow plucked out the ruby and carried it to the child's house. The following day, the Swallow stayed in the square. He wanted to stay with the prince a little longer. In the afternoon, he flew up to the prince's shoulder to say farewell.

Good-bye, Prince. I must fly south now.

Swallow, can I ask for one final favour before you go? There is a young man living in an attic on that side of the village. He is writing a novel, but he is so poor that he hasn't eaten anything in days. Can you please take one of my sapphire eyes and bring it to him?

Your eye?...Very well, Prince.

The Swallow took one of the prince's eyes and flew to the writer in the attic. When he discovered the sapphire, the poor writer shed tears of joy, because he knew he wouldn't starve.

The swallow didn't go south that day, but he was very happy. The next day, the swallow tried to say good-bye to the prince once more.

Prince... I am so sorry Swallow, but I have one last favour to ask of you.

Do you see that girl selling matches in the street? Give her my other eye.

I can't do that. You would be blind then, Prince!

It doesn't matter. Please give my eye to that poor girl.

The swallow took out the prince's last remaining eye and dropped it into the match girl's basket.

Where did this come from? Oh Swallow, thank you so much! With this sapphire, I can stay warm this winter. Thank you so much.

Now that the prince had given away both of his eyes he couldn't see anymore.

Thank you, Swallow. You have helped me very much. I know I have kept you back too long. Please fly south now.

No, my prince. I cannot leave you alone now. I will be your eyes.

The swallow had grown to love the prince for his generous heart and wanted to stay with him. From that day on, the swallow stayed by the prince and flew around the town, telling the prince about everything he saw.

Prince, I saw some homeless children living under a bridge. They will soon starve or freeze to death.

Please strip some gold leaf from my body and bring it to those children.

Yes, prince.

Every day, the swallow would strip bits of gold from the prince's body and bring them to those who were ill or in need.

As more and more people became happy, the prince's body grew more and more ugly. Winter came, and the swallow could feel his body freezing. One snowy day he flew up to the prince's face and kissed him.

Thank you my prince. You have taught me the true meaning of happiness. Thank you...

As he said those words, the swallow fell to the ground and died.

My poor, faithful Swallow! You didn't fly south and died because of me. Even my gold cannot save you. My poor, little swallow...

Tears flowed from the prince's empty eyes and a cracking sound came from deep within his body.

The cold winter winds passed, and the warm sunshine of spring filled the air. The villagers emerged into the square to drink in the sunlight and saw what had become of the prince's state. They pointed their fingers at him saying

Look at that! What has happened to the statue? It looks dreadful, more like a homeless prince, not a happy one. This statue is making the whole square look grubby. We've got to tear it down right away!

The villager's tore down the statue and cast it into the fire to melt it down. Oddly, as the statue melted away in the heat, the prince's lead heart remained.

Looking down over the earth, God turned to one of his angels and said:

Bring me the two most beautiful things in the world.

Yes, Lord.

The angel floated down to earth and brought back the frozen body of the swallow and the prince's lead heart.

God was very pleased.

The people do not understand what true happiness really is. The swallow and the prince will live eternally in Heaven. The Prince and the Swallow lived on happily ever after in Heaven. But sometimes, they would look down upon the world and shed tears for the people below.

ONCE UPON A TIME= This is the usual beginning for fairy tales. It simply means "A long time ago".

SHINY= Reflecting light (in this case, from the sun)

GOLD LEAF= A very thin layer of gold, looking like thin paper, used for covering an object so it looks as if it is made of gold. (see picture)

DAGGER= A kind of knife or little sword (see picture)

ORNAMENTED= (formal) Decorated.

PRECIOUS= /preʃəs/ Valuable.

GEMSTONES= Jewells (see picture)

GOING ON= Happening.

SWALLOW= /swɒləʊ/ A migrating bird from Europe which spends winter in Africa (see picture). 

HAD GOTTEN (AmE) = HAD GOT (BrE). AmE: Get-got-gotten / BrE: Get-got-got.

CIRCLING= Moving around a place once or several times; Going around in circles.

GLANCED= To glance is to look briefly; to have a look.

ODD= Strange.

JOY= Deep happiness.

THE WHOLE TOWN= All the town.

MISERY= Unhappiness, sadness.

POVERTY= The state of being poor.

RUN-DOWN= In a bad condition, looking poor, old and maybe dirty.

SICK= Ill.

PLUCK OUT= To pull with sudden force or with a jerk (with the bird's beak in this case) and take it out.

RUBY= /ru:bɪ/ A very red gemstone (see picture)

ATTIC= A room directly below the roof of a building, especially a house.

SAPPHIRE= /sæfaɪə*/ A deep blue gemstone (see picture)

VERY WELL= Ok, alright.

SHED TEARS OF JOY= (formal) Cried/wept because he was very happy.

STARVE= Die of hunger (die because you have nothing to eat).

MATCHES= Little sticks with a chemical compound to light a fire (see picture). In the 19th century some children tried to make some money for their poor families by selling matches in the street.

BLIND= A blind person is someone who can't see.

HOMELESS= A homeless person is someone who has no house to live, so they live in the streets or in the countryside.

FREEZE TO DEATH= If you freeze to death, you die because you feel too cold.

STRIP= Remove (especially clothes, a layer or a cover)

IN NEED= If you are in need, you don't have the basic things you have for living (money, food, clohtes, etc.)

GREW= To grow + adjective means to become more and more like that. If you grow old, you are getting older, if it grows dark, it is slowly becoming darker.

FREEZING= If you are freezing, you feel very very cold.

SNOWY= A snowy day is a day when it is snowing.

FAITHFUL= Loyal.

A CRACKING SOUND= A sound like "crack", like when something suddenly breaks. As we will learn later, that "crack" was the prince's heart breaking, because the death of the swallow made him so sad. At that moment, the prince also died.

VILLAGERS= People living in a village (a small town).

DREADFUL= Horrible.

GRUBBY= Dirty.

TEAR DOWN= Demolish.

RIGHT AWAY= Immediately, right now.

CAST= cast-cast-cast, throw away.

MELT DOWN= When a solid becomes liquid, it melts down. Ice melts down if it gets warm, a metal melts down if you heat it a lot.

ODDLY= Strangely.

LEAD= /led/ A grey metal which melts down easily (you don't need as much heat as for other metals)

REMAINED= Didn't disappear.

PLEASED= Happy with something.

ETERNALLY= Forever.

LIVED ON= Continued living.

UPON= (old fashioned or literary) On.

SHED TEARS= (formal) cried, wept.

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