Poems Inspired by Fairy Tales
Fairy tales are timeless stories, usually with life lessons in the subtext. Set in dreamy places, magic plays an imperative role in the narratives, being used for negative and positive purposes.
The charm of these stories only grows in poetic adaptations—some preserving the original plot, and others retelling it. These four poems explore “Beauty and the Beast” by Gabrielle-Suzanne Barbot, “The Little Mermaid” by Hans Christian Andersen, “The Girl Without Hands” by the Brothers Grimm, and “Snow White and Red Rose” by the Brothers Grimm.
“Beauty and the Beast” by Jaimes Alsop
1. The Beast
Knowing how you loved the birds
I fixed them to the trees
so they wouldn’t fly away.
So you would stay.
And you remained silent
and never questioned my bloody palms
or reproached me the birds
because they didn’t sing.
It couldn’t last, of course.
No new birds came and those crucified
were taken by small animals or simply
disappeared from the nails.
I was sure then that you would leave me.
Finally I confessed.
Trembling, I brought you the hammer
and showed my broken fingers.
Leaves and branches in my hair,
the diagrams of Autumn
on the sky.
And you smiled and said it didn’t matter
about the birds
and drank at my tears
like a rare and fragile wine
that they too would not be wasted.
I came to you so carelessly
there were those who thought I had not been warned.
I could only point to the false lovers who carried marks
where you had pressed coins into their palms
and admit I was impatient for your scars.
The rumours followed us as easily
as if you murdered me every night;
hemlock in my evening wine,
a loosened bannister on the stair.
The dull villagers and daft princes
waited still and at distances
for grave news and relentless
until I could only point again
at their jealous eyes and whisper
I had discovered why you handled me
as though I were made of glass.
I know they want to know about our bodies.
Our virginity confuses them
and they are reduced to words and silences.
What shall we allow them to believe?
We are a thousand years old, no histories
and nothing to confess.
“Don’t Allow the World to Take your Kindness” by Amanda Lovelace
be a mermaid
who doesn’t settle
for making a
stop until she makes
who knows to
the world with her
“Girl Without Hands” by Margaret Atwood
Walking through the ruins
on your way to work
that do not look like ruins
with the sunlight pouring over
the seen world
like hail or melted
silver, that bright
and magnificent, each leaf
and stone quickened and specific in it,
and you can’t hold it,
you can’t hold any of it. Distance surrounds you,
marked out by the ends of your arms
when they are stretched to their fullest.
You can walk no further than this,
you think, walking forward,
pushing the distance in front of you
like a metal cart on wheels
with its barriers and horizontals.
Appearance melts away from you,
the offices and pyramids
on the horizon shimmer and cease.
No one can enter that circle
you have made, that clean circle
of dead space you have made
and stay inside,
mourning because it is clean.
Then there’s the girl, in the white dress,
meaning purity, or the failure
to be any colour. She has no hands, it’s true.
The scream that happened to the air
when they were taken off
surrounds her now like an aureole
of hot sand, of no sound.
Everything has bled out of her.
Only a girl like this
can know what’s happened to you.
If she were here she would
reach out her arms towards
you now, and touch you
with her absent hands
and you would feel nothing, but you would be
touched all the same.
“Rose Red and Snow White” by Kim Antieau
Skin as white as Virgin snow.
Ice crystals grown from dust motes,
Specks of Earth thrown skyward:
Lips as red as pricked blood, first blood,
Unfolding like the Virgin Rose,
Whole in and of herself:
Colors of the Goddess,
Clues this tale is more than it seems.
Aren’t they all?
When Le Bête knocks on their door
Mid-winter, matted ice and snow giving him
A Rasti look, the twin goddesses invite
The Wild in,
Serve him tea and comb his fur.
No sign of gold at first blush.
Then what? Did they watch Jack Frost
Breathe on their windows and listen to
Ice crack into wintry art?
Their version of cable.
Today, would they gulp beer, eat chips,
And watch television, the three of them?
Would Le Bête complain about the
Commercialization of all things sacred
As he clutched the remote?
“Let’s live off the grid,” he’d murmur
While Snow White and Rose Red painted
Their fingernails black as pitch and their lips
Red as a whore’s candied tongue.
Goth or harlot?
Or, perhaps before the Bear enters their domain
The sisters are hippie-girls, wandering, modern-like,
Looking for some thing. Hitching rides.
Living off the land. Eating huckleberries plucked
From their core, the juice staining their lips and teeth
Deep purple. Watching the bloody salmon leap,
They wonder why their mouths water, wonder
What it is they have lost.
Why does it ache so much?
So when a man in gold knocks on their door
Mid-winter, they pull him inside, shining him on.
Until they spot the fur beneath the gold.
They speak in tongues as they
Rip the clothes from him.
He is only a symbol, after all.
The sisters bury their faces in his fur.
When they look down at their own bodies,
They see they have grown Grizzly claws.
They laugh and embrace each other.
The man, speechless, tries to piece his
Gold suit back together. Alone
In the empty cottage, he closes the door.
Outside, the night is wild with beasts.
For even more fairy tales poems, read:
“Night Thoughts: Scheherazade” by Ari Berk;
“Seven Swans” by Carina Bissett;
“Shirt of Nettles, House of Thorns” by Nathalie F. Anderson;
“Take Back Your Fairytale” by Nikita Gill.