Franz Abt by Eugene Field

Story type: Literature

Many years ago a young composer was sitting in a garden. All around bloomed beautiful roses, and through the gentle evening air the swallows flitted, twittering cheerily. The young composer neither saw the roses nor heard the evening music of the swallows; his heart was full of sadness and his eyes were bent wearily upon the earth before him.

“Why,” said the young composer, with a sigh, “should I be doomed to all this bitter disappointment? Learning seems vain, patience is mocked,–fame is as far from me as ever.”

The roses heard his complaint. They bent closer to him and whispered, “Listen to us,–listen to us.” And the swallows heard him, too, and they flitted nearer him; and they, too, twittered, “Listen to us,–listen to us.” But the young composer was in no mood to be beguiled by the whisperings of the roses and the twitterings of the birds; with a heavy heart and sighing bitterly he arose and went his way.

It came to pass that many times after that the young composer came at evening and sat in the garden where the roses bloomed and the swallows twittered; his heart was always full of disappointment, and often he cried out in anguish against the cruelty of fame that it came not to him. And each time the roses bent closer to him, and the swallows flew lower, and there in the garden the sweet flowers and little birds cried, “Listen to us,–listen to us, and we will help you.”

And one evening the young composer, hearing their gentle pleadings, smiled sadly, and said: “Yes, I will listen to you. What have you to say, pretty roses?”

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“Make your songs of us,” whispered the roses,–“make your songs of us.”

“Ha, ha!” laughed the composer. “A song of the roses would be very strange, indeed! No, sweet flowers,–it is fame I seek, and fame would scorn even the beauty of your blushes and the subtlety of your perfumes.”

“You are wrong,” twittered the swallows, flying lower. “You are wrong, foolish man. Make a song for the heart,–make a song of the swallows and the roses, and it will be sung forever, and your fame shall never die.”

But the composer laughed louder than before; surely there never had been a stranger suggestion than that of the roses and the swallows! Still, in his chamber that night the composer thought of what the swallows had said, and in his dreams he seemed to hear the soft tones of the roses pleading with him. Yes, many times thereafter the composer recalled what the birds and flowers had said, but he never would ask them as he sat in the garden at evening how he could make the heart-song of which they chattered. And the summer sped swiftly by, and one evening when the composer came into the garden the roses were dead, and their leaves lay scattered on the ground. There were no swallows fluttering in the sky, and the nests under the eaves were deserted. Then the composer knew his little friends were beyond recall, and he was oppressed by a feeling of loneliness. The roses and the swallows had grown to be a solace to the composer, had stolen into his heart all unawares,–now that they were gone, he was filled with sadness.

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“I will do as they counselled,” said he; “I will make a song of them,–a song of the swallows and the roses. I will forget my greed for fame while I write in memory of my little friends.”

Then the composer made a song of the swallows and the roses, and, while he wrote, it seemed to him that he could hear the twittering of the little birds all around him, and scent the fragrance of the flowers, and his soul was warmed with a warmth he had never felt before, and his tears fell upon his manuscript.

When the world heard the song which the composer had made of the swallows and the roses, it did homage to his genius. Such sentiment, such delicacy, such simplicity, such melody, such heart, such soul,–ah, there was no word of rapturous praise too good for the composer now: fame, the sweetest and most enduring kind of fame, had come to him.

And the swallows and the roses had done it all. Their subtle influences had filled the composer’s soul with a great inspiration,–by means like this God loves to speak to the human heart.

“We told you so,” whispered the roses when they came again in the spring. “We told you that if you sang of us the world would love your song.”

Then the swallows, flying back from the south, twittered: “We told you so; sing the songs the heart loves, and you shall live forever.”

“Ah, dear ones,” said the composer, softly; “you spoke the truth. He who seeks a fame that is immortal has only to reach and abide in the human heart.”

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The lesson he learned of the swallows and the roses he never forgot. It was the inspiration and motive of a long and beautiful life. He left for others that which some called a loftier ambition. He was content to sit among the flowers and hear the twitter of birds and make songs that found an echo in all breasts. Ah, there was such a beautiful simplicity,–such a sweet wisdom in his life! And where’er the swallows flew, and where’er the roses bloomed, he was famed and revered and beloved, and his songs were sung.

Then his hair grew white at last, and his eyes were dim and his steps were slow. A mortal illness came upon him, and he knew that death was nigh.

“The winter has been long,” said he, wearily. “Open the window and raise me up that I may see the garden, for it must be that spring is come.”

It was indeed spring, but the roses had not yet bloomed. The swallows were chattering in their nests under the eaves or flitting in the mild, warm sky.

“Hear them,” he said faintly. “How sweetly they sing. But alas! where are the roses?”

Where are the roses? Heaped over thee, dear singing heart; blooming on thy quiet grave in the Fatherland, and clustered and entwined all in and about thy memory, which with thy songs shall go down from heart to heart to immortality.

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