The Sleeping Princess

A poem by Clara Doty Bates

Versified by Clara Doty Bates

The ringing bells and the booming cannon
Proclaimed on a summer morn
That in the good king's royal palace
A Princess had been born.

The towers flung out their brightest banners,
The ships their streamers gay,
And every one, from lord to peasant,
Made joyful holiday.

Great plans for feasting and merry-making
Were made by the happy king;
And, to bring good fortune, seven fairies
Were bid to the christening.

And for them the king had seven dishes
Made out of the best red gold,
Set thickly round on the sides and covers
With jewels of price untold.

When the day of the christening came, the bugles
Blew forth their shrillest notes;
Drums throbbed, and endless lines of soldiers
Filed past in scarlet coats.

And the fairies were there the king had bidden,
Bearing their gifts of good--
But right in the midst a strange old woman
Surly and scowling stood.

They knew her to be the old, old fairy,
All nose and eyes and ears,
Who had not peeped, till now, from her dungeon
For more than fifty years.

Angry she was to have been forgotten
Where others were guests, and to find
That neither a seat nor a dish at the banquet
To her had been assigned.

Now came the hour for the gift-bestowing;
And the fairy first in place
Touched with her wand the child and gave her
"Beauty of form and face!"

Fairy the second bade, "Be witty!"
The third said, "Never fail!"
The fourth, "Dance well!" and the fifth, "O Princess,
Sing like the nightingale!"

The sixth gave, "Joy in the heart forever!"
But before the seventh could speak,
The crooked, black old Dame came forward,
And, tapping the baby's cheek,

"You shall prick your finger upon a spindle,
And die of it!" she cried.
All trembling were the lords and ladies,
And the king and queen beside.

But the seventh fairy interrupted,
"Do not tremble nor weep!
That cruel curse I can change and soften,
And instead of death give sleep!

"But the sleep, though I do my best and kindest,
Must last for an hundred years!"
On the king's stern face was a dreadful pallor,
In the eyes of the queen were tears.

"Yet after the hundred years are vanished,"--
The fairy added beside,--
"A Prince of a noble line shall find her,
And take her for his bride."

But the king, with a hope to change the future,
Proclaimed this law to be:
That, if in all the land there was kept one spindle,
Sure death was the penalty.

The Princess grew, from her very cradle
Lovely and witty and good;
And at last, in the course of years, had blossomed
Into full sweet maidenhood.

And one day, in her father's summer palace,
As blithe as the very air,
She climbed to the top of the highest turret,
Over an old worn stair

And there in the dusky cobwebbed garret,
Where dimly the daylight shone,
A little, doleful, hunch-backed woman
Sat spinning all alone.

"O Goody," she cried, "what are you doing?"
"Why, spinning, you little dunce!"
The Princess laughed: "'Tis so very funny,
Pray let me try it once!"

With a careless touch, from the hand of Goody
She caught the half-spun thread,
And the fatal spindle pricked her finger!
Down fell she as if dead!

And Goody shrieking, the frightened courtiers
Climbed up the old worn stair
Only to find, in heavy slumber,
The Princess lying there.

They bore her down to a lofty chamber,
They robed her in her best,
And on a couch of gold and purple
They laid her for her rest,

The roses upon her cheek still blooming,
And the red still on her lips,
While the lids of her eyes, like night-shut lilies,
Were closed in white eclipse.

Then the fairy who strove her fate to alter
From the dismal doom of death,
Now that the vital hour impended,
Came hurrying in a breath.

And then about the slumbering palace
The fairy made up-spring
A wood so heavy and dense that never
Could enter a living thing.

And there for a century the Princess
Lay in a trance so deep
That neither the roar of winds nor thunder
Could rouse her from her sleep.

Then at last one day, past the long-enchanted
Old wood, rode a new king's son,
Who, catching a glimpse of a royal turret
Above the forest dun

Felt in his heart a strange wish for exploring
The thorny and briery place,
And, lo, a path through the deepest thicket
Opened before his face!

On, on he went, till he spied a terrace,
And further a sleeping guard,
And rows of soldiers upon their carbines
Leaning, and snoring hard.

Up the broad steps! The doors swung backward!
The wide halls heard no tread!
But a lofty chamber, opening, showed him
A gold and purple bed.

And there in her beauty, warm and glowing,
The enchanted Princess lay!
While only a word from his lips was needed
To drive her sleep away.

He spoke the word, and the spell was scattered,
The enchantment broken through!
The lady woke. "Dear Prince," she murmured,
"How long I have waited for you!"

Then at once the whole great slumbering palace
Was wakened and all astir;
Yet the Prince, in joy at the Sleeping Beauty,
Could only look at her.

She was the bride who for years an hundred
Had waited for him to come,
And now that the hour was here to claim her,
Should eyes or tongue be dumb?

The Princess blushed at his royal wooing,
Bowed "yes" with her lovely head,
And the chaplain, yawning, but very lively,
Came in and they were wed!

But about the dress of the happy Princess,
I have my woman's fears--
It must have grown somewhat old-fashioned
In the course of so many years!

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