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The Twelve Dancing Princesses Analysis

Author: Poetry of Anne Sexton Type: Poetry Views: 311

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If you danced from midnight

to six A.M. who would understand?The runaway boy

who chucks it all

to live on the Boston Common

on speed and saltines,

pissing in the duck pond,

rapping with the street priest,

trading talk like blows,

another missing person,

would understand.The paralytic's wife

who takes her love to town,

sitting on the bar stool,

downing stingers and peanuts,

singing "That ole Ace down in the hole,"

would understand.The passengers

from Boston to Paris

watching the movie with dawn

coming up like statues of honey,

having partaken of champagne and steak

while the world turned like a toy globe,

those murderers of the nightgown

would understand.The amnesiac

who tunes into a new neighborhood,

having misplaced the past,

having thrown out someone else's

credit cards and monogrammed watch,

would understand.The drunken poet

(a genius by daylight)

who places long-distance calls

at three A.M. and then lets you sit

holding the phone while he vomits

(he calls it "The Night of the Long Knives")

getting his kicks out of the death call,

would understand.The insomniac

listening to his heart

thumping like a June bug,

listening on his transistor

to Long John Nebel arguing from New York,

lying on his bed like a stone table,

would understand.The night nurse

with her eyes slit like Venetian blinds,

she of the tubes and the plasma,

listening to the heart monitor,

the death cricket bleeping,

she who calls you "we"

and keeps vigil like a ballistic missile,

would understand.Once

this king had twelve daughters,

each more beautiful than the other.

They slept together, bed by bed

in a kind of girls' dormitory.

At night the king locked and bolted the door

. How could they possibly escape?

Yet each morning their shoes

were danced to pieces.

Each was as worn as an old jockstrap.

The king sent out a proclamation

that anyone who could discover

where the princesses did their dancing

could take his pick of the litter.

However there was a catch.

If he failed, he would pay with his life.

Well, so it goes.Many princes tried,

each sitting outside the dormitory,

the door ajar so he could observe

what enchantment came over the shoes.

But each time the twelve dancing princesses

gave the snoopy man a Mickey Finn

and so he was beheaded.

Poof! Like a basketball.It so happened that a poor soldier

heard about these strange goings on

and decided to give it a try.

On his way to the castle

he met an old old woman.

Age, for a change, was of some use.

She wasn't stuffed in a nursing home.

She told him not to drink a drop of wine

and gave him a cloak that would make

him invisible when the right time came.

And thus he sat outside the dorm.

The oldest princess brought him some wine

but he fastened a sponge beneath his chin,

looking the opposite of Andy Gump.The sponge soaked up the wine,

and thus he stayed awake.

He feigned sleep however

and the princesses sprang out of their beds

and fussed around like a Miss America Contest.

Then the eldest went to her bed

and knocked upon it and it sank into the earth.

They descended down the opening

one after the other. They crafty soldier

put on his invisisble cloak and followed.

Yikes, said the youngest daughter,

something just stepped on my dress.

But the oldest thought it just a nail.Next stood an avenue of trees,

each leaf make of sterling silver.

The soldier took a leaf for proof.

The youngest heard the branch break

and said, Oof! Who goes there?

But the oldest said, Those are

the royal trumpets playing triumphantly.

The next trees were made of diamonds.

He took one that flickered like Tinkerbell

and the youngest said: Wait up! He is here!

But the oldest said: Trumpets, my dear.Next they came to a lake where lay

twelve boats with twelve enchanted princes

waiting to row them to the underground castle.

The soldier sat in the youngest's boat

and the boat was as heavy as if an icebox

had been added but the prince did not suspect.Next came the ball where the shoes did duty.

The princesses danced like taxi girls at Roseland

as if those tickets would run right out.

They were painted in kisses with their secret hair

and though the soldier drank from their cups

they drank down their youth with nary a thought.Cruets of champagne and cups full of rubies.

They danced until morning and the sun came up

naked and angry and so they returned

by the same strange route. The soldier

went forward through the dormitory and into

his waiting chair to feign his druggy sleep.

That morning the soldier, his eyes fiery

like blood in a wound, his purpose brutal

as if facing a battle, hurried with his answer

as if to the Sphinx. The shoes! The shoes!

The soldier told. He brought forth

the silver leaf, the diamond the size of a plum.He had won. The dancing shoes would dance

no more. The princesses were torn from

their night life like a baby from its pacifier.

Because he was old he picked the eldest.

At the wedding the princesses averted their eyes

and sagged like old sweatshirts.

Now the runaways would run no more and never

again would their hair be tangled into diamonds,

never again their shoes worn down to a laugh,

never the bed falling down into purgatory

to let them climb in after

with their Lucifer kicking.


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