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Modern Interpretations of Rapunzel

Full-Text Fiction

by E. Nesbit

Full-Text Poems

The Lady of Shalott
by Alfred, Lord Tennyson

by Adelaide Crapsey

by William Morris

by Louis Untermeyer


I am frequently asked to identify the following story: Cursed by an evil fairy at her christening, Princess Melisande grows up bald but finds herself facing another set of problems when her wish for golden hair is fulfilled. The story is "Melisande" by E. Nesbit. The text of the story is available on SurLaLune at

Melisande by E. Nesbit


Rapunzel Poetry

by William Morris

THE PRINCE, being in the wood near the tower, in the evening.

I COULD not even think
What mademe weep that day
When out o fthe council-hall
The courtiers pass'd away,–


Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down your hair!


Is it not trus that every day
She climbeth up the same strange way,
Her scarlet cloak spread broad and gay,
Over my golden hair?


And left me there alone,
To think on what they said;
"Thou art a king's own son,
'Tis fit that thou should'st wed."


Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down your hair!


When I undo the knotted mass,
Fathoms below the shadows pass
Over my hair along the grass.
O my golden hair!


I put my armour on,
Thinking on what they said;
"Thou art a king's own son,
'Tis fit that thou should'st wed."


Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down your hair!


See on the marble parapet
I lean my brow, strive to forget
That fathoms below my hair grows wet
With the dew, my golden hair.


I rode throughout the town,
Men didnot bow the head,
Though I was the king's own son;
"He rides to dream," they said.


Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Wind up your hair!


See, on the marble parapet
The faint red stains with tears are wet;
The long years pass, no help comes yet
To free my golden hair.


For leagues and leagues I rode,
Till hot my armour grew.
Till underneath the leaves
I felt the evening dew.


Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Weep through your hair!


And yet–but I am growing old,
For want of love my heart is cold,
Years pass, the while I loose and fold
The fathoms of my hair.

THE PRINCE, in the morning.

I HAVE heard tales of men, who in the night
Saw paths of stars let down to earth from heaven,
Who follow'd them until they reach'd the light
Wherein they dwell, whose sins are all forgiven;

But who went backward when they saw the gate
Of diamond, nor dared to enter in;
All their life long they were content to wait,
Purging them patiently of every sin.

I must have had a dream of some such thing,
And now am just awakening from that dream;
For even in grey dawn those strange words ring
Through heart and brain, and still I see that gleam.

For in my dreams at sunset-time I lay
Beneath these beeches, mail and helmet off,
Right full of joy that I had come away
From court; for I was patient of the scoff

That met me always there from day to day,
From any knave or coward of them all;
I was content to live that wretched way;
For truly till I left the council-hall,

And rode forth arm'd beneath the burning sun,
My gleams of happiness were faint and few,
But then I saw my real life had begun,
And that I should be strong quite well I knew.

For I was riding out to look for love,
Therefore the birds within the thickets sung,
Even in hot noontide, as I pass'd, above
The elms o'erswayed with longing towards me hung.

Now some few fathoms from the place where I
Lay in the beech-wood, was a tower fair,
The marble corners faint against the sky;
And dreamily I wonder'd what lived there:

Because it seem'd a dwelling for a queen,
No belfry for the swining of great bells;
No bolt or stone had ever crush'd the green
Shafts, amber and rose walls, no soot that tells

Of the Norse torches burning up the roofs,
On the flower-carven marble could see;
But rather on all sides I saw the proofs
Of a great loneliness that sicken'd me;

Making me feel a doubt that was not fear,
Whether my whole life long had been a dream,
And I should wake up soon in some place, where
The piled-up arms of the fighting angels gleam;

Not born as yet, but going to be born,
No naked baby as I was at first,
But an armed knight, whom fire, hate and scorn
Could turn from nothing, my heart almost burst

Beneath the beeches, as I lay a-dreaming,
I tried so hard to read this riddle through,
To catch some golden cord that I saw gleaming
Like gossamer against the autumn blue.

But while I ponder’d these things, from the wood
There came a black hair’d woman tall and bold,
Who strode straight up to where the tower stood,
And cried out shrilly words, whereon behold–

THE WITCH, from the tower.

Rapunzel, Rapunzel,
Let down your hair!


Ah Christ! It was no dream then, but there stood
(She comes again) a maiden passing fair,
Against the roof, with face turn’d to the wood,
Bearing within her arms waves of her yellow hair.

I read my riddle when I saw her stand.
Poor love! her face quite pale against her hair,
Praying to all the leagues of empty land
To save her from the woe she suffer’d there.

To think! they trod upon her golden hair
In the witches’ sabbaths; it was a delight
For these foul things, while she, with thin feet bare
Stood on the roof upon the winter night,

To plait her dear hair into many plaits,
And then, while God’s eye look’d upon the thing,
In the very likeness of Devil’s bats,
Upon the ends of her long hair to swing.

And now she stood above the parapet,
And, spreading out her arms, let her hair flow,
Beneath that veil her smooth white forehead set
Upon the marble, more I do not know;

Because before my eyes a film of gold
Floated, as now it floats. O, unknown love,
Would that I could thy yellow stair behold,
If still thou standest with lead roof above!

THE WITCH, as she passes.

Is there any who will dare
To climb up the yellow stair
Glorious Rapunzel’s golden hair?


If it would please God make you sing again,
I think that I might very sweetly die,
My soul somehow reach heaven in joyous pain,
My heavy body on the beech-nuts lie.

Now I remember; what a most strange year,
Most strange and awful, in the beechen wood
I have pass’d now; I still have a faint fear
It is a kind of dream not understood.

I have seen no one in this wood except
The witch and her; have heard no human tones,
But when the witches’ revelry has crept
Between the very jointing of my bones.

Ah! I know now: I could not go away,
But needs must stop to hear her sing that song
She always sings at dawning of the day.
I am not happy here, for I am strong,

And every morning do I whet my sword,
Yet Rapunzel still weeps within the tower,
And still God ties me down to the green sward
Because I cannot see the gold stair floating lower.

RAPUNZEL, sings from the tower.

My mother taught me prayers
To say when I had need;
I have so many cares,
That I can take no heed
Of many words in them;
But I remember this:
Christ, bring me to thy bliss.
Mary, maid withouten wem,
Keep me!
I am lone, I wis,
Yet besides I have made this
By myself: Give me a kiss,
Dear God, dwelling up in heaven!

Also: Send me a true knight,
Lord Christ, with a steel sword, bright,
Broad, and trenchant; yea, and seven
Spans from hilt to point, O Lord!
And let the handle of his sword
Be gold on silver, Lord in heaven!
Such a sword as I see gleam
Sometimes, when they let me dream.

Yes, besides, I have made this:
Lord, give Mary a dear kiss,
And let gold Michael, who look'd down,
When I was there, on Rouen town
From the spire, bring me that kiss
On a lily! Lord, do this!

These prayers on the dreadful nights,
When the witches plait my hair,
And the fearfullest of sights
On the earth and in the air,
Will not let me close my eyes,
I murmur often, mix'd with sighs,
That my weak heart will not hold
At some things that I behold.
Nay, not sights, but quiet groans,
That seall out the little bones
Of my bosom; till a trance
God send in middle of that dance,
And I behold the countenance
Of Michael, and can feel no more
The bitter east wind biting sore
My naked feet; can see no more
The crayfish on the leaden floor,
That mock with feeler and grim claw.

Yea, often in that happy trance,
Beside the blessed countenance
Of golden Michael, on the spire
Glowing all crimson in the fire
Of sunset, I behold a face,
Which sometime, if God give me grace,
May kiss me in this very place.

Evening in the tower.


IT grows half way between the dark and light;
Love, we have been six hours here alone,
I fear that she will come before the night,
And if she finds us thus we are undone.


Nay, draw a little nearer, that your breath
May touch my lips, let my cheek feel your arm;
Now tell me, did you ever see a death,
Or ever see a man take mortal harm?


Once came two knights and fought with swords below,
And while they fought I scarce could look at all,
My head swam so, after a moaning low
Drew my eyes down; I saw against the wall

One knight lean dead, bleeding from head and breast,
Yet seem'd it like a line of poppies red
In the golden twilight, as he took his rest,
In the dusky time he scarcely seemed dead.

But the other, on his face six paces off,
Lay moaning, and the old familiar name
He mutter'd through the grass, seem'd like a scoff
Of some lost sould remembering his past fame.

His help all dinted lay beside him there,
The visor-bars were twisted towards the face,
The crest, which was a lady very fair,
Wrought wonderfully, was shifted from its place.

The shower'd mail-rings on the the speed-walk lay,
Perhaps my eyes were dazzled with the light
That blazed in the west, yet surely on that day
Some crimson thing had changed the grass from bright

Pure green I love so. But the knight who died
Lay there for days after the other went;
Until one day I heard a voice that cried,
"Fair knight, I see Sir Robert we were sent

"To carry dead or living to the king."
So the knights came and bore him straight away
On their lance truncheons, such a batter'd thing,
His mother had not known him on that day,

But for his helm-crest, a gold lady fair
Wrought wonderfully.


Ah, they were brothers then,
And often rode together, doubtless where
The swords were thickest, and were loyal men,

Until they fell in these same evil dreams.


Yea, love; but shall we not depart from hence?
The white moon groweth golden fast, and gleams
Between the aspen stems; I fear–and yet a sense

Of fluttering victory comes over me,
That will not let me fear aright; my heart–
Feel how it beats, love, strives to get to thee
I breathe so fast that my lips needs much part;

Your breath swims round my mouth, but let us go.


I, Sebald, also, pluck from off the staff
The crimson banner, let it lie below,
Above it in the wind let grasses laugh.

Now let us go, love, down the winding stair,
With fingers intertwined: ay, feel my sword!
I wrought it long ago, with golden hair
Flowing about the hilts, because a word,

Sung by a minstrel old, had set me dreaming
Of a sweet bow'd down face with yellow hair,
Betwixt green leaves I used to see it gleaming,
A half smile on the lips, though lines of care

Had sunk the cheeks, and made the great eyes hollow;
What other work in all the world had I,
But through all turns of fate that face to follow?
But wars and business kept me there to die.

O child, I should have slain my brother, too,
My brother, Love, lain moaning in the grass,
Had I not ridden out to look for you,
When I had watch'd the gilded courtiers pass

From the golden hall. But it is strange your name
Is not the same the minstrel sung of yore;
You call'd it Rapunzel; 'tis not the name.
See, love the stems shine through the open door.

Morning, in the woods.


O LOVE! me and my unknown name you have well won;
The witch's name was Rapunzel; eh! not so sweet?
No!–but is this real grass, love, that I tread upon?
What call they these blue flowers that lean across my feet?


Dip down your dear face in the dewy grass, O love!
And ever let the sweet slim harebells, tenderly hung,
Kiss both your parted lips; and I will hang above,
And try to sing that song the dreamy harper sung.

He sings.

'Twixt the sunlight and the shade
Float up memories of my maid,
God, remember Guendolen!

Gold or gems she did not wear,
But her yellow rippled hair,
Like a veil, hid Guendolen!

'Twixt the sunlight and the shade,
My rough hands so strangely made,
Folded Golden Guendolen;

Guendolen now speaks no word,
Hands fold round about the sword.
Now no more of Guendolen.

Only 'twixt the light and shade
Floating memories of my maid
Make me pray for Guendolen.


I kiss thee, new-found name; but I will never go:
Your hands need never grip the hammer'd sword again,
But all my golden hair shall ever round you flow,
Between the light and shade from Golden Guendolen.

Afterwards, in the Palace.


I TOOK my armour off,
Put on king's robes of gold,
Over the kirtle green
The gold fell fold on fold.

THE WITCH, out of hell.

Guendolen! Guendolen!
One lock of hair.


I am so glad, for every day
He kisses me much the same way
As in the tower; under the sway
Of all my golden hair.


We rode throughout the town,
A gold crown on my head,
Through all the gold-hung streets,
"Praise God!" the people said.


Guendolen! Guendolen!
Lend me your hair!


Verily, I seem like one
Who, when day is almost done,
Through a thick wood meets the sun
That blazes in her hair.


Yea, at the palace gates,
"Praise God!" the great knights said,
"For Sebald the high king,
And the lady's golden head."


Woe is me! Guendolen
Sweeps back her hair!


Nothing wretched now, no screams;
I was unhappy once in dreams,
And even now a harsh voice seems
To hang about my hair.



from The Defence of Guenevere and Other Poems (1858, 1875).


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Page created 1/1999; Last updated 7/2/07