Tuesday, August 23, 2011
(“O Rapunzel, Rapunzel! Let down thine hair!”
— illustration by Walter Crane, 1845-1915,
English artist and book illustrator)
In the early part of the nineteenth century, two German linguists traveled the countryside writing down the folk tales they heard from the people they met.
Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm were not the first to do this. Others had put together collections of folk tales of countries like France and Italy. The brothers, however, were remarkably original in their approach. As the folklorists Iona and Peter Opie explain in their book The Classic Fairy Tales, the Brothers Grimm were the first to study folk tales for their own sake, the first to record them in the way ordinary people told them without changing or improving them, and the first to appreciate that every detail in the tales was of interest, even the identity of the narrator of the tale.
In 1812, the brothers published over two hundred of the stories in a collection entitled Children’s and Household Tales.
The poem below alludes to several of the better-known Grimm’s Fairy Tales. The narrator is a handsome prince waiting at the base of the tower for the beautiful Rapunzel to let down her golden tresses so that he can climb up to her chamber. In his impatience, he bemoans the sad fact that not everything has turned out happily ever after for some of the characters in the fairy tales. Look closely and you will find the Golden Goose, Rumpelstilskin, the Princess whose sleep was disturbed by a pea, the Frog Prince, the Fairy who granted three wishes, the Elves and the Shoemaker, and Snow White.
ANY PRINCE TO ANY PRINCESS
August is coming
and the goose, I’m afraid,
is getting fat.
There have been
no golden eggs for some months now.
Straw has fallen well below market price
despite my frantic spinning
and the sedge is,
as you rightly point out,
I can’t imagine how the pea
got under your mattress. I apologize
humbly. The chambermaid has, of course,
been sacked. As has the frog footman.
I understand that, during my recent fact-finding tour of the Golden River,
despite your nightly unavailing efforts,
he remained obstinately
I hope that the Three Wishes granted by the General Assembly
will go some way towards redressing
this unfortunate recent sequence of events.
The fall in output from the shoe-factory, for example:
no one could have foreseen the work-to-rule
by the National Union of Elves. Not to mention the fact
that the court has been fast asleep
for the last six and a half years.
The matter of the poisoned apple has been taken up
by the Board of Trade: I think I can assure you
the incident will not be
I can quite understand, in the circumstances,
your reluctance to let down
your golden tresses. However
I feel I must point out
that the weather isn’t getting any better
and I already have a nasty chill
from waiting at the base
of the White Tower. You must see
the absurdity of the
Some of the courtiers are beginning to talk,
not to mention the humble villagers.
It’s been three weeks now, and not even
a cold, black wind
howls through our empty palace.
Dead leaves litter the bedchamber;
the mirror on the wall hasn’t said a thing
since you left. I can only ask,
bearing all this in mind,
that you think again,
let down your hair,
~ Adrian Henri (1932-2000), British poet and painter