Part I. The Prince
Hunting he could escape
and perfumed giggles —
all were left behind
Trammeled between fat-pug chamberlians
(with doe-eyed ambitious daughters)
and rigid-spined prospective princessess
often he thought their yapping less melodious than hounds.
Slipping his leash at dawn
his one clear horn note
sounding triumphant over all the pack
across the green
He saw a wonder.
A flash of thunderless summer lightning
between dark holly-trees?
she drew the swift pursuit
on like men dreaming —
they'd sell their spangled courtiers souls
for her white hide
But golden hooves
mocked them mirage-like
ever out of reach.
At last they are alone
The older, plumper hunters
sighing at visions
have returned to lunch
their snore-nosed dogs
have sought out easier meat.
In falling dusk, blacberry bushes
catch and stain his cloak;
his jaded steed
bog-muddied, stumbles on.
Once seen, he cannot give her up
Ahead, the cliff drops off —
triumph replaces weariness.
With blade in hand and heartbeat in his throat
he leaps to the earth
to stand half-angry; stricken
where is his dreamed-of flight?
She's a spent animal
with dustmarked silver haunches
His eyes and daggerpoint
drop towards the ground
and then reluctantly his raised glance meets her own
to see himself — beset
worried by hounds
only to meet a knife at last.
Shaken almost equally
out of himself
(has dream come true, or truthful world turned dream?)
his hands reach out — she cannot stay afraid
They read their joint enlargement
written in each other's faces:
the hunt is over
Part II. The Hind.
The hunter presses close
but still on trembling legs she flees.
All of the other hunters
(dogged as their hounds)
she has outrun
only this one
seems inescapable as memory.
She leads him through briars, bogs
scent-killing brooks — inexorably
the following fate comes on
Always, till now, some twist has let her out.
In exhaulted desperation
she sees the cliff before her.
From teeth and knives
her white hide is no protection
"Leave off these fawnish fantasies,"
her kind deer parents often said
"What's a white skin?
Does every third-born son
wed a princess?"
Can wild hope save her?
Can she be again
the princess she was in childhood
(or was it dreamed of?)
exquisite and beloved,
ideal and human both?
It is so far — so long ago
she left off thinking of glass slippers
accepted her four hooves
Pushed to exhausted but defiant breaking-point
she stands high-headed;
sweat-tarnished sides are quivering
but fear-dilated pupils meet the prince's eyes.
Suddenly, memory and hope unite
a surge of terror floods her veins —
and look! A princess stands there.
Seeing the transcendent joy
overcome shock on the prince's face
she is transformed.
About the Author: Eve Sweetser is an academic, linguist, and poet in Berkeley, California. This poem is based on Madame d'Aulnoy's French fairy tale, The White Deer.
Copyright © 1999 by Eve Sweetser. The poem may be not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.