A beautiful statue of a prince, adorned with gold leaves, sapphire eyes, and a ruby on his sword, stood high above a city on a tall column. One night, a little swallow flew into the city and decided to rest between the feet of the statue.
As the swallow was about to sleep, it was drenched by the tears of the prince. The prince revealed that he was once a happy and carefree ruler, but now that he was dead and could see the suffering of his people, he could not help but weep.
When I was alive and had a human heart, I did not know what tears were, for I lived in the Palace of Sans-Souci where sorrow is not allowed to enter.
The prince asked the swallow to help him alleviate the suffering of his people by taking the ruby from his sword and giving it to a poor seamstress with a sick child. The swallow agreed and delivered the ruby, and the child's health improved.
The prince then asked the swallow to stay with him for another night and help a struggling playwright by giving him one of his sapphire eyes. The swallow hesitated but eventually agreed, and the playwright was able to finish his play.
As winter approached, the prince asked the swallow to stay with him one more night and help a match-girl by giving her his other sapphire eye. The swallow, knowing that the prince would be blind, reluctantly agreed. The match-girl was saved from her father's wrath, and the swallow decided to stay with the prince forever.
As the cold weather worsened, the swallow grew weaker and eventually died at the prince's feet.
It is not to Egypt that I am going, I am going to the House of Death. Death is the brother of Sleep, is he not?
At that moment, the prince's leaden heart broke in two. The next day, the mayor and town councilors noticed the statue's deteriorated state and decided to replace it with a new one. The prince's statue was melted down, but his broken heart remained intact and was discarded on a dust heap along with the dead swallow.
God then sent an angel to bring him the two most precious things in the city, and the angel brought him the leaden heart and the dead swallow.
Bring me the two most precious things in the city, said God to one of His Angels; and the Angel brought Him the leaden heart and the dead bird.
God declared that the swallow would sing forever in his garden of Paradise, and the prince would praise him in his city of gold.