Remember Briar Rose in the castle tower
Seized by brambles as was promised
By the twelfth witch over the golden plate
Denied her jealous sister who prophesied
The girl would prick her finger on a spindle
And die. Instead she slept a hundred years.
Despite the king’s precaution, henchman’s care,
Burning every spindle that could be found,
She wound her way up the spiral stairs
To a corner where a hooded woman bent
Treadling the last spinning wheel in the land;
Picked up the tapered stick with its silver pin,
Shed blood and fell into the arms of sleep.
Sleep took the castle and everyone in it
While hedges of thorns and thickets wrapped around.
Many a prince risked life and limb, and lost,
Trusting the legend she was alive in there,
Until the term was served, the spell was broken.
Behold the king and queen upon the throne,
The cook asleep in the kitchen, flies on the wall,
And the lovely girl stretched out in the cold tower.
One kiss, and soon the kingdom was awake.
An aeon slips away. Our children’s children
Are grown and rule dominions of their own
With new histories and laws and fairytales.
And I have seen bold wonders in my time,
From sea wave spindrift to spiral galaxy,
By sunlight and starlight fixed in turn
On mountain peaks and prairies, lakes and bays,
Halos, auroras, ice fields and volcanoes,
Chimeras real and chimerical in these woods.
I have read in the gospel a strange tale
Of Lazarus sleeping and Lazarus come from the dead,
And hear that somewhere in Virginia or Tennessee
Today there grows a curious tree
First seen and catalogued a century
Ago, then lost to mortals, judged extinct:
A birch with heart-shaped leaves
And black bark with the scent of wintergreen.
—Daniel Mark Epstein
This article originally appeared in The New Criterion, Volume 39 Number 4, on page 46
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