A Swallow delays his trip to Egypt for the winter because he falls in love with a Reed—upon giving up that romance, he flies past a town where he happens to settle on a pedestal underneath a gilded statue. This statue, the Happy Prince, speaks to the Swallow about all of the poverty and suffering—especially the suffering of children—that he sees in the town from his high perch. He begs the Swallow to assist him in relieving some of that suffering by delivering the valuables from his person to those in need.
First, the Swallow delivers the ruby from the Happy Prince’s sword-hilt to a seamstress struggling to feed her sick son. One of the statue’s sapphire eyes goes to a playwright freezing in his garret, and the other to a young match-girl whose father would beat her if she came home empty-handed. As the Sparrow has come to love the Happy Prince, he opts to remain by his side after the loss of his eyes makes him blind, and tells him stories of Egypt to keep his world vibrant as the winter gets colder.
Ultimately, the winter grows too cold and the Sparrow realizes that death is looming—he confesses his love to the Happy Prince and the two exchange a kiss. The Sparrow perishes and the Happy Prince’s lead heart cracks.
Later, the Mayor and Town Councillors walk by the statue. Disturbed by its shabbiness, they decide to have it melted and remade. Since the lead heart won’t melt, however, it gets tossed on a dust-heap with the Sparrow’s body. God asks one of his angels to deliver the two most precious things in the city, which turn out to be the corpse and the broken heart. He promises an eternity in Paradise in exchange for the brave sacrifices of the Prince and the Sparrow.