Yes, it will have been worth it after all.
If Cinderella had stayed at the ball
She'd be the heroine of quite a different tale.
The twelfth chime would have struck, and all turned pale
To see their proud prince dancing with a slut.
Let's face it: Nobody knows what
Precisely would have happened next.
Allow me the pomposity of guess:
The delicate pretender had her chance —
Lucky at all to have gotten to the dance.
(And disobeying orders, while a shame,
Is sometimes the best way to break the game.)
So think of her, if not nude, in a dress
Of rotten rags. It would have hurt her less,
Maybe, because it was not new
For her to be the lowest thing on view —
But for her to see herself despised,
Reborn as garbage in the prince's eyes
That lately loved — made harder by his caring —
Hurt like slow death, hurt almost beyond all bearing.
She bore it though. I know she did not run.
She was both brave and forthright. And she won
No lasting peace. No comfort there at all,
Only another chance at some grim ball
Or other, more demands on her life
Lucky to live as mistress, never wife;
Lucky to be in any tale at all
As it continued. She lived through the ball.
Perrault doesn't sing this one, nor does Grimm:
An odiously modern, graceless hymn
To heartbreak and to heroines who fall
And fall hard. (Baby, when you're at the ball,
You're lucky to get asked to dance at all.)
Their tales ended in marriage. Pace to
Hymen, Juno, and all that holy crew.
There's nothing wrong with union as an end,
Either real or artistic. And to mend
breaches is noble, in a quiet way.
But think of Endings.
Ignore what I say
If that's what's best. Why do my friends'
Hurts hurt so much harder? All the ends
I can come up with are not half so good
As one good folk–tale ending as it should.
The times are hard. The way is long. The tale
Is being told. Go on, spin out, regale
The graceless fairies with a tale that's new —
You'll be the heroine of that one, too.
About the Author: Ellen Kushner is the author of Swordspoint, Thomas the Rhymer and other books, and she is the host of the Sound & Spirit program, broadcast nationally on Public Radio International. For more information, visit her website. This poem was inspired by the fairy tale Cinderella.
"Sonata: For Two Friends in Different Times of the Same Trouble" © 1990 by Ellen Kushner. The poem first appeared in the 1990 Readercon Anthology. The poem may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.