The Nightingale and the Crow: A Fable

Originally posted on December 7, 2007.


Cantueso has recently been posting some of Aesop’s fables on his blog. Last night, I read about a poor little frog whose brother was trampled and whose mother exploded. This is the type of story you read to your children to impart moral lessons, cause nightmares, and ensure that they’ll be really screwed up when they get older.

Anyway, it brought this to mind: In my angsty teenage years, I once came home depressed and dejected because I’d overheard some mean girls gossiping and saying derogatory things about me. I can’t remember the exact situation, but I remember being upset.

My mother listened to me lament for a while, then she told me this fable:

nightingale was sitting in a tree, singing a beautiful song. Along came an ugly old crow, who sat beside her and said, “What a hideous song! You suck! Listen to this.” The crow proceeded to screech and shriek and make horrible noises. Afterward, he declared, “See? I’m the best singer in the forest!”

The nightingale politely disagreed. “No, I’m best singer in the forest– everyone tells me so.” This began a lengthy debate. Finally, the crow said, “I’ve got an idea. See those pigs down there?” The nightingale looked down from her branch and saw several pigs wallowing in the mud below.

The crow said, “Let’s let them decide. Each of us will sing for them, and they can choose who has the most beautiful voice. The pigs get to eat the loser.”

So certain of her talent, the nightingale agreed. They flew down and asked the pigs if they’d judge the contest, and the pigs consented.

The nightingale cleared her tiny throat and began to sing the loveliest song she’d ever sung. As she whistled her glorious tune, the forest grew quiet, and even the flowers and trees seemed to be listening.

Next was the crow’s turn. He puffed out his chest and proceeded to shriek and squawk and squeal out his ugly song. Mice scampered away, and rabbits dove into their burrows to escape the sound.

With each horrible screeching note, the nightingale became more confident of her victory. But when the song was over, the pigs declared the crow the winner. As they began eating the nightingale, the crow saw a little tear, glistening in her eye.

“Why are you crying?,” the crow asked. “Is it because you’re dying?”

“I’m not crying because I’m dying,” answered the nightingale. “I’m crying because I allowed myself to be judged by pigs.”

I dried my eyes and hugged my mother. For decades, I’ve kept this story with me in my heart, and I’ve tried ever since not to worry too much about what others think of me. Unless of course, they’re nightingales.

To hear the sound of a nightingale, click here:


By the way, CuriousC has a great quote on one of her posts. It says, “To free us from the expectations of others, to give us back to ourselves–there lies the great, singular power of self-respect. ” – Joan Didion

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21 thoughts on “The Nightingale and the Crow: A Fable

  1. cantueso says:

    ??? And why did the pigs eat the nightingale? It does not fit the story. That is, the story has one too many loops.

  2. @ cantueso: It was part of the contest. The pigs got to eat the loser.

  3. Brian says:

    The story made a very good point, but how horrifying!! I’m glad I didn’t hear it when I was a kid, because I was an avid bird-watcher and would have been traumatized. Poor nightingale!! :(

  4. @ Brian: Oh, I forgot to tell you the rest.

    “Soon, one of the the pigs developed a horrible case of indigestion. She let out a huge belch, and out popped the nightingale, all in one piece!!! She flew far away, up into the branches of a beautiful tree, where she lived happily ever after.”

    (I used to have to change story endings for my kids all the time. The Brothers Grimm can be pretty gruesome!).

  5. I loved that story, and the sentiment about allowing yourself to be judged by pigs. Except, of course, for the fact that pigs are considered to be among the smartest animals in existence. Other than that, it’s a lovely story.

    I used to change the ending to Rockabye Baby when I sang it to my kids. Instead of the cradle falling and the baby tumbling to its death, my version involved a beautiful parachute.

  6. @ LWB: Well, you have to play it fast and loose with some of these fables, I guess. I love the parachute ending.

  7. cantueso says:

    Yes, the Brothers Grimm, too, are that way, And I read some pages of Harry Potter and thought there were also lots of depressing things in her depiction of relatives. But I know she is realloy inventive, so inventive that I thought she was not not quite in control of it.

    I was surprised to see some basic mistake in your appreciation and right now I won’t tell you what it is to see how long it takes you.

  8. sewamyzing says:

    Thank u for posting this. I was actually searching for information about nightengales as power animals and I came across your page. Aesop certainly is wise lol in a straight forward truth be known kind of way… I think there is a lesson in this for me as well… I have allowed myself to be judged by pigs for way too long…

  9. @ sewamyzing: I’m not sure if this was Aesop or not– I keep trying to find the source. But I’m glad you liked it!

  10. Jon Paulson says:

    Just a note on eating the nightengale: Clearly Aesop had spent a lot of time around pigs, and assumed that every knows that pigs will eat just about anything not quick enough to get out of the way.

  11. @ Jon: Thanks for clearing that up! Makes perfect sense.

  12. Diya says:

    A lovely fable… I’m sure that I’ll try and implement the lesson I’ve learnt… This is one fable which gets added on to my storehouse of treasures…

    Thanx !!!

  13. Dave says:

    There is a complete collection of Aesop Fables with text and narration on the same page at:

  14. Regan Clem says:

    Beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Thank you for stopping by, Regan. Glad you liked it.

  16. Regan says:

    I posted a link to this story on my latest post: What is a pastor? Are you considering ministry?

    Just thought I would let you know.

  17. Kim Pugliano says:

    Ohmygosh I LOVED this story. Wonderful. Cannot wait to share it.

    Awwwww, thanks Kim! It’s one of my favorite gifts from my mommy.

  18. Pat . says:

    I had a try at finding out where it came from too but with no luck. As you said, it doesn’t seem to be one of Aesop’s fables. I have heard it before – many years ago. It is a bit gruesome. I came across another version with the eyes being pecked out instead of death (and a raven instead of a crow; also a lion thrown in). It also has a “pride comes before a fall” moral.

    Ahhh, Pat, I love this story. You’ve probably noticed that not everything on my blog is happy or funny– I’ve got some real downer stuff too. I never thought of this story as gruesome though– it just always reminded me not to put too much stock into the opinions of those whose opinions don’t really matter– a nice lesson for a young girl (an old one too).

  19. Ann says:

    Another great post, Moonbeam. You said it … this is a very important lesson for our young (and older;o) girls.

    As for gruesome stories … same goes for Bible stories. I’ll never forget the first time I attempted to read a “children’s” Bible story to my kids. It also was the last time I attempted to read a “children’s” Bible story to my kids. Seemed to me that stories about animal sacrifice didn’t mix well with bedtime.

    (Thank you for posting a link to my blog:)

    I’m glad you liked it, Ann, and glad you “got” it!

    Yeah, those “and then they screwed up and God made them suffer like crazy forever” stories somehow never comforted me at bedtime, either. :)

    (You’re welcome. Ditto.)

  20. stofnsara says:

    What a beautiful story!

    I think that learning the difference between stories and life, as well as the roles that parable and fables have to play in learning about life, are such important skills to teach children. It’s not really gruesome that the nightingale was eaten by the pigs, because it’s merely a plot device (although there is always space for the belching pigs conclusion). Similarly, it’s not actually ludicrous that a crow and a nightingale had a singing competition judged by pigs. But the message is true and beautiful and one that has clearly stuck with you for years.

    I never thought it was gruesome either. I mean, no more gruesome than Grimm’s fairy tales or Aesop’s fables, which always fascinated me as a child (in a nice, eery way). It’s the lesson in there that was meaningful, and I’m so glad you liked it.

  21. Kevin Field says:

    The version I first heard of this (from a travelling storyteller doing a workshop at our church in Ontario) had a slightly different twist: they let the first three animals they came across in the forest judge, and the prize was only bragging rights (or one got to peck the other three times in the head is another variation I’ve heard.) Anyway, they first come across an owl or some other usually-in-the-fable-world benevolent creature (except in stories about mice, I guess) who judges in favour of the nightingale. But then, they came across a pig, who (intelligence notwithstanding) was in a hurry home, and chose the crow’s short CAW CAW CAW! over the nightingale’s prolonged performance. Finally, they come across a snake, who choses the nightingale just to be a jackass about things. The crow gloats (and possibly is violent in other ways towards the nightingale) and the two part ways with the nightingale in tears. The nightingale is then talking to someone else about the affair, with the final punchline being something like, “Never again will I make the mistake of letting a pig and a snake determine what is true about me.”

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