by Terri Windling
Contemporary poets have also looked at the tale through the eyes of its different characters, finding in the story’s themes issues relevant to our lives today.
Carolyn Williams–Noren gives voice to the least sympathetic character in the story in "Rapunzel’s Mother":
I can’t explain why I wanted that simple
thing so much: dark green rampion leaves, the curled
coverlets of them stacked together on the sideboard,
the rainy steam of them cooking, the hot full softness
and the bittersweet bite in my throat, mouthful
after mouthful. It was as if there was no other way to keep alive.
Nicole Cooley reflects on a troubled mother–daughter relationship in her poem "Rampion":
Tiny blue flowers furred with dirt are all the woman desires
in the story my mother reads over and over. Once upon a time
a woman longed for a child, but see how one desire easily
replaces the next, see her husband climbing the tall garden wall
with a handful of rampion, flowering scab she’s traded for a child.
Look, my mother says, see
how the mother disappears
as rampion’s metallic root splits the tongue like a knife
and the daughter spends the rest of the story alone.
Dorothy Hewett’s chilling poem "Grave Fairy Tale" looks at the witch, through Rapunzel’s eyes:
She was there when I woke, blocking the light,
or in the night, humming, trying on my clothes.
I grew accustomed to her; she was as much a part of me
as my own self; sometimes I thought, "She is myself!"
a posturing blackness, savage as a cuckoo. . . .
Both Anne Sexton and Olga Broumas cast the relationship between Rapunzel and Mother Gothel as a sexual one. In Sexton’s "Rapunzel," she writes of a lesbian affair between a student and her mentor, which the younger womanends when a "prince" offers her a more socially acceptable life:
As for Mother Gothel,
her heart shrank to the size of a pin,
never again to say: Hold me, my young dear,
and only as she dreamt of the yellow hair
did moonlight sift into her mouth.
Broumas, by contrast, celebrates such relationships in her answering poem "Rapunzel," writing in the voice of a younger woman who has no such temptation to stray:
through my hair, climb in
to me, love / hovers here like a mother’s wish.
. . .How many women
for our lush perennial, found
themselves pregnant, and had
to subdue their heat, drown out their appetite
with pickles and hard weeds.
David Trinidad’s "Rapunzel" grows desperate in her isolation:
Like hair, the days and nights are growing longer and longer.
. . .And each evening the crone comes. Her crackled fingers appear
pinching the key. . . .
If only once she’d say: "Here,
take this pair of scissors and cut your hair before it twists
into spaces between the bricks like vines." I’d slit my wrists.
In Liz Lochhead’s "Three Twists," on the other hand, Rapunzel discovers there are worse things than solitude — like a princewho hasn’t got a clue about what she really needs:
& just when our maiden had got
good & used to her isolation
stopped daily expecting to be rescued,
had come almost to love her tower,
along comes This Prince / with absolutely all the wrong answers
The prince in Sara Henderson Hay’s "Rapunzel is all too skilled at the language of love:
Oh God, let me forget the things he said.
Let me not lie another night awake
Repeating all the promises he made. . . .
I knew I was not the first to twist
Her heartstrings to a rope for him to climb.
I might have known I would not be the last.
Alice Friman’s poem "Rapunzel" displays a bit more sympathy for the prince:
If she was unwise about such things
that girls are taught of men
with chocolate kisses / who offer lifts to lessons
who stand too close in subways
playing with their change
then what was he?
Caught in that small room,
coiling the floorboards like a snake,
and she all Rubens–ripe and curious.
Oh, the tower–singing on the wheezy couch.
Forbidden fruits in platters of her flesh
and he with scars to touch along his side
and many wondrous things to name.
Bruce Bennett’s "The Skeptical Prince" wants proof that there’s really a maiden in that tower:
The town has grown accustomed to the sight:
he drinks by day, then hangs around at night,
purveying sad and antiquated lore,
insisting he will act once he is sure
In "Rapunzel" by Arlene Ang, we never quite know what it is the prince encounters when he climbs into the tower. Is it the witch with Rapunzel’s braids,or Rapunzel herself who is terrifying?:
The twelfth prince climbed the tower
on golden tresses he knew were here.
When he penetrated her window,
she turned away to light the fire.
His eyes blinded by hair that mirrored
the leap of flames she stoked,
the prince failed to see the woodpile
of chewed bones at the corner of the hearth.
Essex Hemphill’s "Song of Rapunzel" reminds us that sometimes men need rescuing too:
of long braids,
vines of hair.
waiting on his balcony
to be rescued
from the fire–breathing
dragons of loneliness.
Rosemary Dun’s "Rapunzel" rescues herself from prince and tower alike:
. . .I cut off the long hank of my
just–for–him hair with golden shears,
so that / no more would he climb,
prick my finger,
nor ravish me awake.
Instead, my howls which once
had filled my madwoman’s attic
announce the birth of my
We hold hands and jump.
Lisa Russ Spaar’s "Rapunzel Shorn" is a young woman tasting sweet freedom at last:
I’m redeemed, head light
as seed mote, as a fasting
girl’s among these thorns, lips
and fingers bloody with fruit.
Years I dreamed of this:
the green, laughing arms
of old trees extended over me,
my shadow lost among theirs.
Gwen Strauss’ "The Prince" is an old man now, living with his beloved wife and looking back over the events of his life:
For a long time I was blind,
even before the thorns tattered my eyes.
I was bored, handsome, a Prince.
The thrill was in what I could get away with.
. . .All my childhood I heard about love
but I thought only witches could grow it
in gardens behind walls too high to climb.