Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Published in 1908, The Blue Bird is a six-act play by Belgian writer Maurice Maeterlinck, which follows a pair of siblings on an enchanted journey one night as their parents sleep.
Tyltyl and Mytyl watch their wealthy neighbors enjoy the Christmas festivities with much food and merriment. They have access to food and delicacies the children can only dream of. The children don't look with envy on the scene; instead, they enjoy it vicariously.
Suddenly, a fairy comes to them in the room. She gives them a magic hat that allows them to see the souls of all inanimate objects and to hear the voices of living things. She asks them to go on a journey for her to find a bluebird and then privately tells the characters Dog and Cat that the children will die on their quest. Light volunteers to accompany the children, along with several other characters such as Bread and Sugar.
The previously inanimate objects dress in clothes resembling that of humans and present themselves to the children. The cat patiently explains that if Tytlyl finds the Blue Bird, he will know all and see all, and they will be completely at his mercy. Dog remains fiercely loyal to the boy as Cat begins to prove untrustworthy. The children journey to the Land of Memory, where they encounter their deceased grandparents who are sleeping—but they awaken when the children arrive. Granny Tyl explains that each time they are remembered by the living, they come to life in the Land of Memory and enjoy interacting with those who are still alive. There is an undercurrent of sadness in her excitement:
Lord, how pretty they are and how nice and clean! . . . Was it mummy who washed you? . . . And there are no holes in your stockings! . . . I used to darn them once, you know. . . . Why don't you come to see us oftener? . . . It makes us so happy! . . . It is months and months now that you've forgotten us and that we have seen nobody.
The grandparents comment that the living never quite seem to learn what is important as they rush about with the business of life. The children then see their seven siblings who have also died, and they run about playing together for a few moments. Then they all sit down to enjoy Granny Tyl's delicious cabbage soup. As instructed, the children have to leave before a quarter 'til nine, and they don't find the Blue Bird they seek in this land.
The children converse with Night, who stands as guard to many of life's terrors. She guards the doors of rooms containing Ghosts, Sicknesses, Wars, Terrors, and Silence. Some of these have been greatly weakened by man, and Night is saddened by this. Night also shows them a door containing beauty: Stars, Perfumes of the Night, Fireflies, and Dew. The children find a room full of blue birds and think they have fulfilled their mission. They grab a few, but the birds are all dead when they encounter light.
In the next scene, the animals and trees of the forest begin to band together in a plot to overtake the children as revenge for all the death and destruction that humans have inflicted on them. After all, as the sheep tells Tyltyl, man has
Eaten my little brother, my two sisters, my three uncles, my aunt, my grandpapa and my grandmamma. . . . Wait, wait, when you're down, you shall see...
(This entire section contains 1179 words.)
that I have teeth also.
One by one, the trees cower down and leave the task to the animals. As they begin the attack, the children are rescued by faithful Dog and Light.
The children continue searching for the Blue Bird and travel to a place that Light describes as "the enchanted palaces where all men's Joys, all men's Happinesses are gathered together in the charge of Fate." They encounter Luxuries they have never known: The Luxury of Being Rich, The Luxury of Being a Landowner, the Luxury of Drinking when you are not Thirsty, the Luxury of Sleeping more than Necessary, and the Luxury of Understanding Nothing, among others.
They then encounter Children's Happiness, which always dances, sings, and laughs. Light tells them that "a Child's Happiness is always arrayed in all that is most beautiful in Heaven and upon Earth" and that it is impossible to distinguish the poor from the rich. They meet various Joys, which Light explains are different from the Happiness characters (such as the Happiness of Running Barefoot in the Dew and the Happiness of the Blue Sky) they are introduced to. They meet the Joy of Thinking, the Joy of Being Good, the Joy of Understanding, and most beautiful of all, the Joy of Maternal Love. This character looks just like their own mother, only more beautiful. She tells them,
All mothers are rich when they love their children. . . . There are no poor mothers, no ugly ones, no old ones. Their love is always the most beautiful of the Joys. . . . And, when they seem most sad, it needs but a kiss which they receive or give to turn all their tears into stars in the depths of their eyes.
The children arrive at a graveyard. Mytyl is terrified of unearthing the dead and begs her brother not to turn the diamond on the magical hat and not to bring their speaking souls forward. Tyltyl is determined to find the Blue Bird, however. As he turns the diamond, a misty fog covers the graveyard and the space is filled with flowers, wind, and birds, and Tyltyl comments that "There are no dead."
Instead, they find themselves in the Kingdom of the Future, full of all children awaiting birth until the end of time. They play and work on inventions that they will carry to earth with them. Some are excited to go to Earth, and some don't want to leave this kingdom. The siblings meet a future sibling of theirs who hasn't been born yet, but they learn that this child will die of disease in childhood. They accept this without emotion, only noting that it's hardly worth being born to live such a short time. Eventually, a few children are called and are met by the voices of mothers coming out to meet them.
The other characters prepare to leave the children, and Cat finds some sentimentality. Light tells the children that she shall never really leave them.
The children awake full of joy and tell their mother about the journey they've had. Their mother thinks they have fallen ill and will soon die like her other children. Their neighbor, who looks just like the magical fairy, comes to visit and coyly brings up the subject of Tyltyl's Blue Bird, which her sick daughter has long admired. Tyltyl gives it to her, and miraculously the girl can run, dance and fly. As Tyltyl tries to instruct the girl in feeding the bird, the bird escapes, and Tyltyl asks the audience to let them know if he is found so that their happiness can be ensured.