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Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty) Analysis

Author: poem of Anne Sexton Type: poem Views: 8

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a girl who keeps slipping off,

arms limp as old carrots,

into the hypnotist's trance,

into a spirit world

speaking with the gift of tongues.

She is stuck in the time machine,

suddenly two years old sucking her thumb,

as inward as a snail,

learning to talk again.

She's on a voyage.

She is swimming further and further back,

up like a salmon,

struggling into her mother's pocketbook.

Little doll child,

come here to Papa.

Sit on my knee.

I have kisses for the back of your neck.

A penny for your thoughts, Princess.

I will hunt them like an emerald.

Come be my snooky

and I will give you a root.

That kind of voyage,

rank as a honeysuckle.


a king had a christening

for his daughter Briar Rose

and because he had only twelve gold plates

he asked only twelve fairies

to the grand event.

The thirteenth fairy,

her fingers as long and thing as straws,

her eyes burnt by cigarettes,

her uterus an empty teacup,

arrived with an evil gift.

She made this prophecy:

The princess shall prick herself

on a spinning wheel in her fifteenth year

and then fall down dead.


The court fell silent.

The king looked like Munch's Scream

Fairies' prophecies,

in times like those,

held water.

However the twelfth fairy

had a certain kind of eraser

and thus she mitigated the curse

changing that death

into a hundred-year sleep.

The king ordered every spinning wheel

exterminated and exorcised.

Briar Rose grew to be a goddess

and each night the king

bit the hem of her gown

to keep her safe.

He fastened the moon up

with a safety pin

to give her perpetual light

He forced every male in the court

to scour his tongue with Bab-o

lest they poison the air she dwelt in.

Thus she dwelt in his odor.

Rank as honeysuckle.

On her fifteenth birthday

she pricked her finger

on a charred spinning wheel

and the clocks stopped.

Yes indeed. She went to sleep.

The king and queen went to sleep,

the courtiers, the flies on the wall.

The fire in the hearth grew still

and the roast meat stopped crackling.

The trees turned into metal

and the dog became china.

They all lay in a trance,

each a catatonic

stuck in a time machine.

Even the frogs were zombies.

Only a bunch of briar roses grew

forming a great wall of tacks

around the castle.

Many princes

tried to get through the brambles

for they had heard much of Briar Rose

but they had not scoured their tongues

so they were held by the thorns

and thus were crucified.

In due time

a hundred years passed

and a prince got through.

The briars parted as if for Moses

and the prince found the tableau intact.

He kissed Briar Rose

and she woke up crying:

Daddy! Daddy!

Presto! She's out of prison!

She married the prince

and all went well

except for the fear --

the fear of sleep.

Briar Rose

was an insomniac...

She could not nap

or lie in sleep

without the court chemist

mixing her some knock-out drops

and never in the prince's presence.

If if is to come, she said,

sleep must take me unawares

while I am laughing or dancing

so that I do not know that brutal place

where I lie down with cattle prods,

the hole in my cheek open.

Further, I must not dream

for when I do I see the table set

and a faltering crone at my place,

her eyes burnt by cigarettes

as she eats betrayal like a slice of meat.

I must not sleep

for while I'm asleep I'm ninety

and think I'm dying.

Death rattles in my throat

like a marble.

I wear tubes like earrings.

I lie as still as a bar of iron.

You can stick a needle

through my kneecap and I won't flinch.

I'm all shot up with Novocain.

This trance girl

is yours to do with.

You could lay her in a grave,

an awful package,

and shovel dirt on her face

and she'd never call back: Hello there!

But if you kissed her on the mouth

her eyes would spring open

and she'd call out: Daddy! Daddy!


She's out of prison.

There was a theft.

That much I am told.

I was abandoned.

That much I know.

I was forced backward.

I was forced forward.

I was passed hand to hand

like a bowl of fruit.

Each night I am nailed into place

and forget who I am.


That's another kind of prison.

It's not the prince at all,

but my father

drunkeningly bends over my bed,

circling the abyss like a shark,

my father thick upon me

like some sleeping jellyfish.

What voyage is this, little girl?

This coming out of prison?

God help --

this life after death?


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