The Nightingale

the nightingaleThis story by the Danish poet and writer Hans Christian Andersen is about an Emperor who discovers that there is a bird in his garden that, although plain to look at, sings so beautifully that it is famous all over the world. He falls in love with its song and keeps it until he receives a bird covered in jewels which can sing just as well. He replaces the original bird with the clockwork one, and does not realize until lying on his years later that the song of the real nightingale is the true .

Pre-Intermediate Vocabulary Help / Exercises

The words and expressions in our Simplified English story which are not in our Pre-Intermediate Level 1200 word list are: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , and . There is also one “non-word” in the story: Pooh!. This is what the Prime Minister answered when anyone other than the Emperor asked him a question and, we are told, means nothing at all.

If you are interested, you can watch and listen to a nightingale singing by clicking here.

General Comments on the Story

fairy tales of hans christian andersenOur source was an book called “ s of Hans Christian Andersen”, available from Project Gutenberg here. Two things surprised me about the book. The first was the literary quality of Andersen’s original work, especially the used in some of his descriptive s. This has been lost over the years as his stories have been re-written for children. The second was the dark s and unhappy endings in many of Andersen’s stories.

During his lifetime, Andersen rose from a poor family and difficult childhood to become one of the most famous writers in Europe. It is said that later in life he suffered from periods of depression, due in part to his childhood experiences and in part to s in his adult life. his wealth and success, he was never fully accepted in Danish high society because of his low beginnings. In addition, the only woman Andersen truly loved in his life did not return his feelings.

A lot of Andersen’s up and down emotions can be seen in his writing. This story and the famous children’s story “The Ugly Duckling” (written at almost the same time) have themes about how an animal that was badly treated because of how it looks can win out in the end. As a child, Andersen proved to be highly intelligent. However, people often laughed at him because he was also unusually tall, and ordinary looking. Could this be the source for the idea of the plain looking nightingale and ugly duckling?

These stories were written in perhaps the happiest period of Andersen’s life, when he was courting Swedish singer Jenny Lind. “The Nightingale” was said to have been written as an expression of his love for her, earning her the “The Swedish Nightingale”. When Anderson proposed marriage in a letter a year later, she wrote back:

… God and protect my brother is the wish of his sister, Jenny”.

, over the next two years he wrote two of his saddest stories: “The Fir Tree” and “The Little Match Seller“.


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(adj: captive) Captured and kept in a prison, cage, etc. (นักโทษ) 5000

(n: clockwork, noncount) The system of moving wheels inside something (such as a clock or an old-fashioned toy) that makes its parts move. (กลไกของนาฬิกา) 10000

(n: deathbed pl deathbeds) The bed in which a person dies. (เตียงนอนที่คนตายนอน)
(on one's deathbed) While one is in bed and dying. While he lay on his deathbed, he told his lawyer that he wanted to give all his money to charity.

treasure(n: treasure pl treasures) 1. Something valuable (such as money, jewels, gold, or silver) that is hidden or kept in a safe place. (ขุมทรัพย์) 2. Something very special, important, or valuable. (ของมีค่า) 2000

branch(n: branch pl branches) An arm-like part of a tree that grows out from the central part. (กิ่งก้าน) 2000

breathe(v: breathe, breathes, breathed, breathing) To move air into and out of your lungs; to inhale and exhale. He was breathing hard from running. (หายใจ) 3000

cage(n: cage pl cages) A container or enclosure with wire or metal bars for holding birds or animals. (กรง) 4000

corridor(n: corridor pl corridors) A long, narrow passage inside a building with doors that lead to rooms on each side; also called a hall or hallway. (ทางเดินยาวนตึก) 3000

delight(v: delight, delights, delighted, delighting) 1. To please greatly. I was delighted by the good news. (ทำให้ดีใจ) 2. To have or take great pleasure from something. He delights in beating me at chess. (พอใจ)
(n: delight pl delights) A strong feeling of happiness. (ความยินดี)
(adj: delightful) Causing delight. (น่าปิติยินดี) 2000

diamond(n: diamond pl diamonds) A very hard, usually colorless, precious stone; used especially in expensive jewelry. (เพชร) 4000

(n: Emperor pl Emperors) A man who rules a group of countries or regions. (จักรพรรดิ) 8000
(n: Empire pl Empires) A group of countries or regions that are controlled by one ruler or one government. (อาณาจักร) 3000.
(adj: Imperial) Of or relating to an empire or an emperor. (ยิ่งใหญ่มาก) 5000
The picture to the left is a likeness of the great Chinese emperor Kublai Khan, made famous by the writings of the Venetian merchant and explorer Marco Polo.

hut(n: hut pl huts) A small and simple house or building. (กระท่อม) 3000

jewel(n: jewel pl jewels) A precious stone (such as a diamond, ruby, emerald, sapphire) that has been cut and polished. (อัญมณี)
(n: jewels, plural) An ornament or pieces of jewelry containing a precious stone or stones. She loved dressing up in her jewels.
(adj: jeweled or jewelled) Covered in jewels. (ที่ประดับด้วยเพชรพลอย) 3000

master(n: master pl masters) 1. A person who has become very skilled at doing something. (คนมีฝีมือ) 2. Someone who has control or power over others. (ผู้ควบคุม) 3. A polite title for a boy. (คำนำหน้าชื่อเด็กผู้ชาย) 2000

nightingale(n: nightingale pl nightingales) A small brown European bird that sings a beautiful song, especially at night. (นกไนติงเกล) 7000

nod(v: nod, nods, nodded, nodding) 1. To move your head up and down as a way of answering 'yes' or of showing agreement, understanding, or approval. 2. To move your head up and down as a signal to someone or as a way of saying hello or goodbye to someone. (พยักหน้า) 3000

occasion(n: occasion pl occasions) A special event or time. (โอกาสพิเศษ) 1000

palace(n: palace pl palaces) A very large and beautiful house, especially one lived in by a member of a royal family such as a king, queen, sultan, etc. (พระราชวัง) 4000
The picture on the left shows Buckingham Palace in London where the Queen of England lives.

pale(adj: pale, paler, palest) Having a skin color that is closer to white than is usual or normal, either because it is your natural color or you are sick or scared at the time. (ซีด) 3000

plain(adj: plain, plainer, plainest ) 1. Simply made, with no pattern or decoration. She was wearing plain black shoes. (ธรรมดา) 2. Easy to understand; clear. His words were quite plain. (เข้าใจง่าย) 2000
(n: plain pl plains) A large area of flat land with few if any trees. (ที่ราบ) 11000

poem(n: poem pl poems) A piece of writing arranged in lines which usually have a regular rhythm and often end in words that rhyme. (บทกวี) 2000
(n: poet pl poets) A person who writes poems (poetry). (กวี) 4000

(n: Prime Minister pl Prime Ministers) The leader (chief minister) of a government in some countries. (นายกรัฐมนตรี)
(adj: prime) The most important. (ที่มาลำดับแรก) 2000

punch(v: punch, punches, pinched, punching) To hit (someone or something) hard with your fist. (ชก) 3000

receive(v: receive, receives, received, receiving) To get or be given (something). (รับ) 1000

respect(n: respect, noncount) Admiration or high opinion of someone or something that is good, valuable, important, etc. (ความนับถือ)
(adj: respectful) Treating someone or something that is important, serious, etc., in an appropriate way. (น่าเคารพ)
(v: respect, respects, respected, respecting) To show or feel respect. (นับถือ) 1000

reward(n: reward pl rewards) A benefit that someone gets or is offered for doing good work, good behavior etc. (สิ่งตอบแทน) 3000

royal(adj: royal) Of or relating to a king or queen, etc. (เกี่ยวกับราชวงศ์) 2000

servant(n: servant pl servants) Someone who is hired to do household or personal duties [such as cleaning and cooking]. (คนรับใช้) 1000

shake your head(v: shake, shakes, shook, shaken, shaking your head) To turn your head from side to side as a way of answering “no” or of showing disagreement or that you will not do something. (ส่ายหัว)

throat(n: throat pl throats) 1. The front part of the neck. (คอ) 2. The back part of the mouth connecting the openings of the stomach, lungs and nose. (ช่องคอ) 3000

worth(prep: worth) Used to indicate the value of something. (มูลค่า) 1000

e-book(n: e-book pl e-books) A book whose contents are in an electronic format so that it can be downloaded and read.

fairy(n: fairy pl fairies) An imaginary creature having magical powers. (นางฟ้า) 4000
In early literature, fairies could change themselves into any form. Thanks to Walt Disney, most people today think that they all look like the picture on the left.

tale(n: tale pl tales) 1. A story about real or imaginary events; an exciting or dramatic story that may not be completely true. (นิทาน) 2. An untrue story that is told to deceive someone; a lie. He told me he had a lot of money, but that was just a tale. (เรื่องโกหก) 3000

(n: imagery, noncount) Language where mental images of a scene are created using descriptive words, especially making use of the human senses (sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch). Used to create a sense of the atmosphere, emotions or feelings of a situation. (ภาพ) 2000

(n: passage pl passages) 1. A short section of a book, poem, speech, piece of music, etc. (ข้อความตอนหนึ่ง) 2. A narrow space that people or things can move through. (ทางเดินแคบ) 3000

book passage water passage

(n: theme pl themes) In literature, a central idea that is communicated in a story. Note that a theme may be an idea that the writer wishes to convey, or another idea that a reader or group of readers interpret into the story. Most themes are implied through the plot rather than stated directly. (หัวข้อ) 4000

(n frustration pl frustrations) The state of feeling frustrated. A feeling of anger or annoyance caused by not being able do or achieve something that you really want to do or achieve. (อัดอั้นใจ) 3000

despite(prep: despite) Without being prevented by; in spite of (something). Used to say that something happens or is true even though there is something that might have prevented it from happening or being true. (ถึงแม้ว่า) 2000

(adj: heartwarming) Causing pleasant feelings of happiness. (ซึ่งอบอุ่นใจ)

clumsy(adj: clumsy, clumsier, clumsiest) Moving or doing things in a way that is not smooth or does not look skillful, often causing things to drop or break. (ซุ่มซ่าม) 5000

(n: opera pl operas) A performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play with music performed by an orchestra. (อุปรากร) 4000

(n: nickname pl nicknames) A name that is different from your real name but is what your family and friends call you when they are talking to you or about you. (ชื่อเล่น) 5000

farewell(n: farewell pl farewells) An act of saying goodbye. (การกล่าวลา) 6000

(v: bless, blesses, blessed, blessing) To ask God to care for and protect. (อวยพร) 2000

(adj: sincere) Having or showing true feelings that are expressed in an honest way; genuine or real. (จริงใจ) 3000

(adj: affectionate) Feeling or showing that you really like or care for someone or something. (ซึ่งรักใคร่) 3000

(adj: heartbroken) Filled with great sadness. (อกหัก) 9000

A 10 minute musical animation, where the story is told in song by three Chinese girls. To watch online, click here. To download the mp4, click here.

This children’s radio theater series ran on the CBS network from March 1934 until October 1954. The show always began with a characteristic jingle from its sponsor, Cream of Wheat breakfast cereal. We have left this in at the beginning of the recording for atmosphere, but have edited out the childish talk by the announcers that follows it. The quality of the recording is not great, and the strong American accents of the actors don’t help in making us believe that the story really happened in China, but this is still a wonderful example of children’s entertainment in the days before TV. To download the mp3, click here.

A 24 minute film from the ‘Fairytaler’ Danish television series featuring 30 Andersen stories. To watch online, click here. To download the mp4, click here.