Editor’s Note: The writer, SIMEON DUMDUM, is a Cebu-based columnist of the Cebu Daily News, a celebrated poet, and used to work as a Judge at the regional trial courts of the city. He is every editor’s favorite. OSM! reprints his essay with his permission.
Valentine’s Day being just days ago, I thought that, during lunch at an eatery inside a mall, we might talk about love instead of business, and for starters asked the wife if she had read Oscar Wilde’s “The Nightingale and the Rose.” Actually, I myself came across it just the day before, when rummaging in the shelves for some old magazine to read in private, and so did not expect her to have a one-up over me in this regard.
My expectations met, I began to tell her about a young Student (Wilde upper cased the “S”), who was infatuated with the Professor’s daughter. The Prince was giving a ball the next night, and the girl promised the Student that she would dance with him if he could bring her a red rose. At this point the wife picked her choice from the menu chart, by previous agreement automatically my choice, and called for the food attendant to take our order.
When the wife looked at me again, I continued. But there was no red rose in the garden, and his eyes filling up with tears, the Student, who was versed in Philosophy, was disappointed that happiness should depend on such a little thing as a red rose.
The Nightingale heard the Student and commiserated with him. The bird saw in him the true lover that she had sung about to the stars night after night. (The order came—roast chicken with sauce on the side and egg noodles. I could not wait for grace to be said.)
I kept on between mouthfuls. Understanding the secret of the Student’s sorrow, the nightingale thought of the mystery of Love. The bird flew to three Rose-trees to ask for a red rose in exchange for her sweetest song, but they turned down its offer, because one bore only white roses and the other only yellow roses, and a third lamented that the winter and frost and storm had robbed it of its year’s quota of red roses.
But the third tree (henceforth the Tree) let on a secret to the Nightingale: “If you want a red rose, you must build it out of music by moonlight, and stain it with your own heart’s blood. You must sing to me with your breast against a thorn. All night long you must sing to me, and the thorn must pierce your heart, and your life-blood must flow into my veins, and become mine.”
Here the wife, herself a writer of Chekhovian fiction, interjected and declared that she knew exactly how the story would end, and that the Nightingale would do what the Tree prescribed. She was right, except that there was a twist in the closing stages. In due course, the bird transfixed itself on a thorn, because “Love is better than Life.” But before that, it cried out to the Student to be happy because he would have his red rose, but asked something in recompense, “All that I ask of you in return is that you will be a true lover, for Love is wiser than Philosophy, though she is wise, and mightier than Power, though he is mighty.” But the Student did not understand the Nightingale, “for he only knew the things that are written down in books.”
Ominous, said the wife, referring to “for he only knew the things that are written down in books.” Those who would rather lose everything except their reason are his like. And their common fate is disappointment.
After the Nightingale’s supreme sacrifice had yielded a red rose, and this without delay the Student brought to the object of his fascination, the girl refused to accept the flower, saying, “I am afraid it will not go with my dress and, besides, the Chamberlain’s nephew has sent me some real jewels, and everybody knows that jewels cost far more than flowers.”
Who knows what goes on in the mind of a woman, if the girl was not just testing the Student, offering him an experimental thorn, so to speak. But instead of letting this pierce his heart and him singing about love all the while, he threw the red rose away and snapped at the girl, calling her ungrateful and rude, and then returned to his customary pursuits, his books, his Philosophy and Metaphysics, muttering, “What a silly thing Love is. It is not half as useful as Logic, for it does not prove anything…”
And the wife, to whom I am deferential, she being the wiser and truer lover, commented, “The Student failed to do that which the Nightingale asked of him—to be a true lover. How could a rational and scientific man such as he accomplish this, since love asks for faith and not for reasons?”