The Nightingale (fairy tale)

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"The Nightingale"
Short story by Hans Christian Andersen
Illustration by Vilhelm Pedersen
Original titleNattergalen
Genre(s)Literary fairy tale
Published inNew Fairy Tales. First Volume. First Collection (Nye Eventyr. Første Bind. Første Samling)
Publication typeFairy tale collection
PublisherC.A. Reitzel
Publication date1843

"The Nightingale" (Danish: Nattergalen) is a literary fairy tale written by Danish author Hans Christian Andersen. Set in ancient China, the story recounts the friendship between the Emperor and a nightingale.


In the gardens of the emperor of China lived a nightingale whose song was more beautiful than the palace itself and was storied all over the world. When the emperor received a book from the emperor of Japan he was astonished to read about the nightingale, because he had never heard of it, nor had anyone in his court. He commanded that the nightingale be brought before him to sing. With the help of a poor kitchen girl, the nightingale was found and brought to the emperor, where he sang so beautifully that the emperor was moved to tears and made him a guest at court.

Soon after, the emperor received a new gift: a jeweled nightingale automaton that also sang. This nightingale's song was pretty, but always the same. The real nightingale, no longer appreciated, flew out of the palace while no one was looking. The emperor placed the artificial nightingale at his bedside and banished the real nightingale for his desertion. The artificial bird sang the emperor to sleep each night until its cogs wore down. The bird was repaired, but it could be played only once a year.

Five years later the emperor fell ill, and one night Death sat on his chest showing him the deeds of his past. The emperor wished for the artificial nightingale to sing away the unpleasant memories, but it was silent. Then a song erupted through the window, where the real nightingale was perched. The song restored the emperor's health and persuaded Death to leave him in peace. The nightingale declined to become a guest in the palace again, but offered to come when he would and sing about all that he had seen in the kingdom, if the emperor agreed to keep this a secret between them.




Sansom, Clive. "Singer and Nightingale." Return to Magic. Leslie Frewin, 1969.

Short stories[edit]

Taylor, Dena Bain. "The Nightingale." Little Red Riding Hood in the Big Bad City. DAW, 2004.

West, Michelle.  "The Nightingale" Once Upon a Galaxy edited by William McCarthy and Martin H. Greenberg.

Wilde, Oscar.  “The Nightingale and the Rose”. The Happy Prince and Other Tales. (1888)


Dalkey, Kara.  The Nightingale. Ace, 1991.

Loftin, Nikki.  Nightingale's Nest. Razorbill, 2014.


Giges, Bob. “The Inspiration for Nightingale”.

MacLellan, Kathy.  The Nightingale (puppet show) Rag & Bone Puppet Theatre.


Reynolds, Malvina.  The Emperor’s Nightingale (song).

Rüttgers, Philipp. “The Emperor And The Nightingale -Twists of H.C. Andersen's Untaped Fairy Tales”.

Stravinsky, Igor.  Opera: Le Rossignol.

Stravinsky, Igor.  Ballet: The Song of the Nightingale.  Stravinsky original score, Henri Matisse sets, Léonide Massine choreography.

Strouse, Charles.  Nightingale: A New Musical.

Animated films[edit]

Reiniger, Lotte. The Chinese Nightingale. (1927)

Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre: The Nightingale (1983) (TV) 

Sporn, Michael. Nightingale. (1992)

Story Time! Pilot - Extracts from The emperor and the nightingale.

ToonJet Cartoons.  The Emperor’s Nightingale.

Trnka, Jirí and Milos Makovec. The Emperor's Nightingale (1948).

Xpress English. TV episode; radio play


  1. ^ a b c d Andersen, Hans Christian. The Nightingale. Stories from Hans Christian Andersen. London: Hodder & Stoughton. 1910.


  • Andersen, Hans Christian; Conroy, Patricia L. (transl.); Rossel, Sven H. (trans.) (1980). Tales and Stories by Hans Christian Andersen. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
  • Celenza, Anna Harwell. Hans Christian Andersen and Music: The Nightingale Revealed. Routledge, 2017.
  • Guroian, Vigen. “The Light of the Nightingale: The Gospel Story Resonates Throughout H. C. Andersen's Beloved Tale”.
  • Andersen, Hans Christian; Frank, Jeffrey; Frank, Diana Crone (2003). The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen: A New Translation from the Danish. New York: Houghton Mifflin.
  • Jensen, Lars Bo. "Criticism of Hans Christian Andersen". Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  • Johansen, Bertil Palmar; Haugan, Asbjørg (1987). "Keiseren og nattergalen". Archived from the original on 23 July 2011.
  • Kramer, Nathaniel. “The Nightingale as Voice Object in H.C. Andersen’s Nattergalen”. Scandinavica 52.1 (2013), pp. 42-70.
  • Jorgensen, Cecilia (17 March 2005). "Did the Emperor Suffer from Tuberculosis?". Icons of Europe. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  • Petri Liukkonen. "Hans Christian Andersen". Books and Writers.
  • Nunnally, Tiina (2005). Fairy Tales. Viking Penguin. ISBN 0-670-03377-4.
  • Sur La Lune.  'Nightingale: Annotated Tale.'
  • "The Nightingale: Editions". Hans Christian Andersen Center. Retrieved 5 February 2009.
  • Tatar, Maria (2008). The Annotated Hans Christian Andersen. New York and London: W.W. Norton. pp. 78–98. ISBN 978-0-393-06081-2.
  • H. C. Andersen Centre, The.  “Death motif in The Nightingale”
  • H. C. Andersen Centre, The. “Religious motifs in The Nightingale”
  • Popova, Maria.  “How Hans Christian Andersen Turned His Heartbreak into One of the Most Beloved Fairy Tales of All Time” Brain Pickings
  • Zipes, Jack. "Hans Christian Andersen and the Discourse of the Dominated." Ch 5 pp 79–102 Fairy Tales and the Art of the Subversive.

External links[edit]