On a well-known fairy tale
‘The Princess and the Pea’ is one of the shortest of the classic fairy tales. It also manages to be simultaneously one of the most straightforward and one of the most baffling. It’s straightforward because its plot is so simple, but it’s almost too simple. What are we to make of this tale of royal oversensitivity to bed-dwelling vegetables? Does the fairy tale (if it even is strictly a fairy tale at all) have any discernible moral?
It is easy to summarise ‘The Princess and the Pea’: a prince wishes to marry a princess, but he wants to make sure she is a real princess, rather than one of the dozens of royal pretenders who appear to inhabit the realm. He goes on an extensive search to find his royal bride, but he cannot be completely sure that any of the women he meets are bona fide princesses. This pickiness when it comes to courting looks set to end in perpetual bachelorhood, until one day, on a dark and stormy night, a young woman arrives at his castle, asking to take shelter inside until the storm has passed. The woman claims to be a princess, so the prince’s mother takes a pea and places it under twenty mattresses in the bed where the princess is to spend the night. Read the rest of this entry
‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ is one of the best-known nursery rhymes in English literature, but its words are so baffling and odd that it almost qualifies as nonsense literature. Whilst not quite up there with ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ in the nonsense stakes, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ is nevertheless an odd little children’s rhyme. What does it mean, and what are its origins?
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds
Baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened
The birds began to sing—
Wasn’t that a dainty dish
To set before the king? Read the rest of this entry
‘I Remember, I Remember’ is, along with ‘The Song of the Shirt’, Thomas Hood’s best-loved poem. Although much of the rest of his work is not now much read or remembered, ‘I Remember, I Remember’ has a special place in countless readers’ hearts. Although its meaning is fairly straightforward, it’s worth probing the language of Hood’s poem a little deeper, as closer analysis reveals why this poem is held in such high regard.
I Remember, I Remember
I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon,
Nor brought too long a day,
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away!
I remember, I remember,
The roses, red and white,
The vi’lets, and the lily-cups,
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built, Read the rest of this entry