The Lovliest Rose in the World
By HANS CHRISTIAN ANDERSEN
Once there reigned a Queen, in whose garden were found the most glorious flowers at all seasons and from all the lands in the world; but especially she loved roses, and therefore she possessed the most various kinds of this flower, from the wild dog-rose, with the apple-scented green leaves, to the most splendid Provence rose. They grew against the earth walls, wound themselves round pillars and window-frames, into the passages, and all along the ceiling in all the halls. And the roses were various in fragrance, form, and color.
But care and sorrow dwelt in these halls: the Queen lay upon a sick-bed, and the doctors declared that she must die.
"There is still one thing that can serve her," said the wisest of them. "Bring her the loveliest rose in the world, the one which is the expression of the brightest and purest love; for if that is brought before her eyes ere they close, she will not die."
And young and old came from every side with roses, the loveliest that bloomed in each garden; but they were not the right sort. The flower was to be brought out of the garden of Love; but what rose was it there that expressed the highest and purest love?
And the poets sang of the loveliest rose in the world, and each one named his own; and intelligence was sent far round the land to every heart that beat with love, to every class and condition, and to every age.
"No one has till now named the flower," said the wise man. "No one has pointed out the place where it bloomed in its splendor. They are not the roses from the coffin of Romeo and Juliet, or from the Walburg's grave, though these roses will be ever fragrant in song. They are not the roses that sprouted forth from Winkelried's blood-stained lances, from the blood that flows in a sacred cause from the breast of the hero who dies for his country; though no death is sweeter than this, and no rose redder than the blood that flows then. Nor is it that wondrous flower, to cherish which man devotes, in a quiet chamber, many a sleepless night, and much of his fresh life--the magic flower of science."
"I know where it blooms," said a happy mother, who came with her pretty child to the bedside of the Queen. "I know where the loveliest rose of the world is found! The rose that is the expression of the highest and purest love springs from the blooming cheeks of my sweet child when, strengthened by sleep, it opens its eyes and smiles at me with all its affection!"
"Lovely is this rose; but there is still a lovelier," said the wise man.
"Yes, a far lovelier one," said one of the women. "I have seen it, and a loftier, purer rose does not bloom. I saw it on the cheeks of the Queen. She had taken off her golden crown, and in the long dreary night she was carrying her sick child in her arms: she wept, kissed it, and prayed for her child as a mother prays in the hour of her anguish."
"Holy and wonderful in its might is the white rose of grief; but it is not the one we seek."
"No, the loveliest rose of the world I saw at the altar of the Lord," said the good old Bishop. "I saw it shine as if an angel's face had appeared. The young maidens went to the Lord's Table, and renewed the promise made at their baptism, and roses were blushing, and pale roses shining on their fresh cheeks. A young girl stood there; she looked with all the purity and love of her young spirit up to heaven: that was the expression of the highest and purest love."
"May she be blessed," said the wise man; "but not one of you has yet named to me the loveliest rose of the world."
Then there came into the room a child, the Queen's little son. Tears stood in his eyes and glistened on his cheeks; he carried a great open book, and the binding was of velvet, with great silver clasps.
"Mother!" cried the boy, "only hear what I have read."
And the child sat by the bedside, and read from the book of Him who suffered death on the cross to save men, and even those who were not yet born.
"Greater love there is not"--
And a roseate hue spread over the cheeks of the Queen, and her eyes gleamed, for she saw that from the leaves of the book there bloomed the loveliest rose, that sprang from the blood of Christ shed on the cross.
"I see it!" she said: "he who beholds this, the loveliest rose on earth, shall never die."