Poetry Friday: Breaking through a sheet of sugar

h1 June 12th, 2009 by eisha

NO! Don’t eat it! Run away!I love fairy tales. And I love fairy tale adaptations and allusions, especially when they don’t shy away from the darkness of those original stories.

That’s why I was so pleased to discover “Gretel in Darkness” by Louise Glück. It uses brilliant imagery to put a sobering spin on the classic tale by imagining what comes next — after the witch is killed, the mother is dead, and the kids are back at home, safe and sound. It’s not exactly “happily ever after” – and really, how could it be? What child could really make it through such a story (poverty, abandonment, kidnapping, slavery, cannibalism, and murder) emotionally unscathed? How does a girl grow up in a world where all the mother figures see infanticide as a reasonable means to fill one’s belly?

Poor Gretel. One suspects that she’ll never really find her way out of those woods.

Here’s an excerpt:

This is the world we wanted.
All who would have seen us dead
are dead. I hear the witch’s cry
break in the moonlight through a sheet
of sugar: God rewards.
Her tongue shrivels into gas. . . .

Click here for the rest. You’ll be glad you did.

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This week’s Poetry Friday Round-Up is being hosted by Brian Jung at his blog, Critique de Mr. Chompchomp. I’m serious. How great is that name?

13 comments to “Poetry Friday: Breaking through a sheet of sugar”

  1. Wow – this is just beautiful. Thanks, Eisha.

  2. Whoosh–I didn’t know that poem. It just hits the soul. And the Holocaust beats in it are stunning.


  3. Re poem: OMG . . . OMG . . . OMG, poor Gretel.

    Eisha: I missed you last Sunday!!

  4. Whoa. I’m grateful someone else thinks like me… at times I am almost too literal for fairytales. I think, “Happily ever after? Are they freaking nuts?” I love this.

  5. “I see armed firs,
    the spires of that gleaming kiln—”

    Haunting. And maybe Gretel will tell more of her “after” to you, Eisha, since you seem to be listening…

  6. Wow, that one sobered me up. Love the sheet of sugar image.

  7. Eisha,

    I love fairy tale poems too. I’ve been dying to get my hands on a copy of THE POETS’ GRIMM–but even the cheapest used copies cost about $60.

    Great poem by Gluck!

    Check out Tricia’s Poetry Stretch Results – Spinning Tales at The Miss Rumphius Effect today. Jane Yolen and Julie Larios submitted poems for the stretch…as did a few others.


  8. Wow, indeed.

  9. I did not grow up reading fairy tales. And the few I read I did not like, but I do love poetry and I am a fan of Gluck. You’re right, I am glad I read it in its entireity.

  10. Oh, Eisha, you’ve posted one of my all-time favorite poems. Thank you. I welcome any reminder to read it again.

  11. Julie, thanks!

    jane, good call – the gas and kiln references are stunning indeed.

    Tarie, thanks! It was totally my turn for PF, but I was too busy preparing for my family’s visit.

    tanita, this poem is MADE for you.

    Sara, who knows? Maybe she’ll hook up with Snow White and Cinderella and start a home for fairy tale victims of domestic violence.

    jama, it IS a great image, among many.

    Elaine, thanks for the link! I will totally check that out.

    adrienne, true dat.

    coloronline, I’m interested to know that a non-fairytale-fan could still enjoy this poem. Thanks for stopping by!

    Dana, I thought if you didn’t already know this poem, you should. I still haven’t read YOUR Hansel & Gretel poem, btw.

  12. Talk about post-traumatic stress syndrome! And “sheet of sugar” really is a great phrase. I’m thinking I read another poem in which Gretel grows up to be a witch–from Anne Sexton, maybe? I know Garth Nix wrote a striking urban fantasy version called “Hansel’s Eyes” that’s in an anthology by Datlow and Windling called The Dark of the Woods.

  13. Kate, thanks for letting me know! I’ve loved the two Datlow/Windling anthologies I’ve read so far – must add that one to the list.

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