May 15, 2012

Ballad of Briars, By Stephanie Alderton


Editor's note: Here's the next winning entry we are featuring Marprilay catch-up edition. The poem is worth waiting for.

They thought I was asleep.


But all night through the dark castle halls

I wandered and I watched.

I saw my father asleep on his rich carved throne,

And he frowned as if scolding me in his dreams.

I saw my mother’s sad, pretty face

And heard her soft snores, her wishing.

My maid Betsy was curled up by my bed.

She looked very small on the floor,

So I finished tidying my room for her, a surprise.

And Pierre the stable boy

Slept on the straw beside my sleeping mare.

He looked more handsome when asleep

And I had always wished he was my sweetheart,

So I left a kiss on his cheek when I passed by.

The dust blew and my finger throbbed.


I wandered and watched all night

Around the dark castle walls,

But no one woke up to speak to me

And the breathing silence seemed to whisper strange things.

Then from the high tower I saw the black hedge,

The black, ugly thorns that had swallowed the rose garden.

I saw a young man ride up, brightly clothed,

And the Sun flashed on his sword.

I watched him hack, thrust, curse, pray,

And I watched the thorns pierce him through

And leave him hanging in their midst, a scarecrow.

I thought I heard the wails

Of all those left awake in his faraway land.

My finger bled.


In the castle dark and tall

I wandered and watched all night long.

The hedge came to be full of bones

And the wind always sounded like weeping.

I saw them fall, young men and old,

Their longing eyes turned up to my tower,

Their sweethearts’ names in their death-screams.

Then something in me said “enough.”

I tiptoed to the great locked rotten gate

And I heaved.

And I looked up to the grey sky and prayed

With all of my strength, with all of my blood,

With all my long tears and wakefulness,

Only that the empty scarecrow eyes might watch me no more.

I heaved and I prayed all night.

And when the last sodden boards fell away,

He, the last knight, was walking through a path in the hedge.

It was morning and my finger was scabbed.


They said I was asleep.

But as I watch the young knight beside me,

Listen to his deep breaths fill the silent room,

Think of the children who will wake us tomorrow,

I remember what was before he was.

I will watch him all night.

It is a small thing.

But my finger aches,

And deep in my blood, I know.

I know, I know—


This is my curse:

I was awake.

Stephanie Alderton is a creative writing student living in Colorado (with occasional visits to Middle Earth and Narnia). Her interests include: mountains, ancient trees, swords, singing, and scribbling.

Altered image originally by Arthur Moore.





6 comments

  1. Great imagery! The writing I like best really fires my imagination, and this is a perfect example. What a disturbing idea--I loved it! Definitely worth the wait.

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  2. Poor Aurora! I think her fate here is much, much worse than in the original. It’s one (kind of awful) thing to sleep and sleep, finally wake up, and suddenly have twins. It’s an entirely different sort of psychological strain to know what’s happened, be completely alone, watch your entire life frozen, and witness time and again strange men dying to try and save you, unable to fix the situation or stop them from dying.

    I like that her finger is sort of a guide. In the first stanza, it’s only throbbing. She seems a little lonely, but generally okay running about her castle like a poltergeist. Her finger bleeds when she can’t stand to watch the poor fellow die. I like that she takes action for herself, and that’s when her healing begins; a scabbed finger isn’t a completely healthy finger, but it’s definitely a sign that better times are on their way.

    I also like the ending stanzas, that her memory isn’t erased in her happily ever after, and she seems almost mistrustful of the prince. Assuming this happened as it did in the original, it’s a little chilling to have to go to sleep next to him.

    Danielle L.

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  3. This is a very interesting poem. I was somewhat confused as to how the girl became trapped in the tower behind the gates. I also wonder why she was there, I mean where was her family when she was in the tower? Although it was a bit confusing to me I still really enjoyed it. It was very gruesome when the thorns were described and how they pierced through so many men. The description of the first guy was very disturbing, which is good because it kept me interested in what was going to happen next. Although the girl says she had a curse in the end, I feel like her time with the last knight was happy, that they had probably married and that the kids who were going to wake them were their children. It’s sad that she had to see all those men killed or hurt trying to get to her but she should be happy she has a family of her own now. This poem was very interesting and I like the way it was worded, but how did the girl hurt her finger? That was the biggest mystery to me in this poem. I really enjoyed it and I would like to see more to it.

    Haley Baker

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  4. What an interesting thought, that the princess in The Sleeping Beauty was awake the whole time. A rather chilling thought actually. I couldn’t imagine what that would be like, being awake all that time alone. That would definitely be the worst type of torture, especially since she was surrounded by numerous people. She could see them, touch me… but could not talk to them nor anyone. Very powerful.
    - Freyja of Sessrumnir

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  5. This was an interesting twist to "Sleeping Beauty". I couldn't imagine the torture she would've endured mentally from such a curse! She had to watch those men trying to get to the castle die, and she would probably be extremely bored. I liked that she was fond of the stable boy, but it was the way of royalty to marry royalty. That would cause more torment to her. The heartache she must endure for 100 years would be unimaginable. She would see the stable boy as often as she wanted during that time, longing to be with him for all those years, only to be married to another man shortly after she awakes. I would expect that to assist in driving her crazy, and her new husband would be scared off because of an obsession she had with the stable boy. Maybe she did go a little crazy, because she says she'll watch the knight sleep all night, or is that because it's what she's used to doing for 100 years? I enjoyed reading this alteration to her curse.

    ***Angella M***

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  6. It seems being trapped and secluded in a fairy tale kingdom is not exclusive to those who fall into deep slumber. Entrapment is entrapment, awake or asleep. It is a more chilling thought that someone would have to witness their entire life at a standstill as they wander all by themselves. This writing reminds me of several things; one being out of body experiences. I imagine everyone not only sleeping, but frozen at their previous tasks – even the clocks standing at the same time they were cursed as well. And to walk around a quiet abandoned castle would be nothing short of mentally taxing. No human contact other than the view of those asleep and the men who die as they attempt to save the Not-so-sleeping Beauty. This also reminds me of the Greek story of Tantalus. Tantalus, in Tartarus, was served the punishment of starving while being placed on an island surrounded by water that sat under a fruit tree. The catch was that Tantalus could not touch the fruit or the water. Not-so-sleeping Beauty’s situation seems similar: normality is so close yet painfully far away.

    -JP

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