Today's theme for the Poetry Challenge is The Snow Queen by Hans Christian Andersen.
Once again, if you're new to the Poetry Challenge, please read the rules (in the first post) before you join in. Deepest thanks to everyone in the Mythic Arts community who has contributed to the Challenge so far, either by bravely posting your poems, or by kindly commenting on them. (Although more commenters would be welcome. We're not yet meeting the goal of a response for each poem. Don't be shy!) And don't forget to re-visit the Bear and Snow White posts, where magical works continue to appear.
Our poem from the JoMA archives this morning is "The Snow Queen" by Jeannine Hall Gailey -- a wry, contemporary take on Kay's enthrallment to the Snow Queen from Gerda's point of view. (Sandra Gilbert also explores this idea in "The Last Poem About the Snow Queen," from her collection Blood Pressure.) Jeannine's poems have appeared widely in journals, anthologies, and on NPR's The Writer's Alamanac. She's published three poetry collections, Becoming the Villainess, She Returns to the Floating World, and Unexplained Fevers, all of which are highly recommended.
The Snow Queen
You tell yourself he only left you for her
because of the wicked shard of glass in his eye,
but the truth is, every man wants an ice princess.
The truth is, you're too easy to get used to —
your sloppy warmth, the heat from your skin
fresh from the garden — it's too much for him.
He'd rather marvel at her tedious snowflakes,
caress her frosted hair, bask in that cold gaze,
that veneer of symmetry. So you wander
around town like an idiot, forgetting
even your shoes. The boys there
are all still in awe of her. "Did you see
that thing she was driving?" they keep asking.
You set off to bring him back, not thinking
you are the last person he wants to see.
"He's trapped in that ice castle," you murmur,
"He needs to be rescued." Dogged, you follow
the tiny shards of glass, and their sparkle.
And when you finally find him, dark with cold
from her brutal kisses, he doesn't even
recognize you. You stop blaming the shard
in his eye; how can you rescue a man
whose heart, transfixed by skeletal crystal,
craves the bruising of frost?
Andersen's Snow Queen is a long tale, told in seven parts, and your poems can address any or all of them -- giving you many themes to explore and many characters to choose from: male and female, human and nonhuman, good-hearted and wicked (and those who are in between)...you can take your pick.
Rebecca Solnit, for example, focuses on the natural elements in Andersen's tale in this passage from The Faraway Goodbye:
"You could read The Snow Queen as a story about primordial forces versus animal empathies or even cold versus warmth. The boy with ice in his heart, Kai, disappears into the north on his sled, and his friend, Gerda, from the adjoining attic, misses him, weeps, waits for spring, kisses her grandmother goodbye, and walks to the river to begin looking for the boy." After months of delay by an old woman with a magical garden, "she escapes into a landscape where autumn is spreading, and falls in with a talking crow, and then a prince and a princess, and then a robber girl who unties a captive reindeer for Gerda to ride. The talking reindeer, who is himself a marker of how far north she is, carries her deeper into the north, into the country of winter, into her quest. On his back she reaches the home of a second old woman, a Laplander who sends her on with an introduction written on a dried cod to a third, a Finnish woman farther north. This third fate or fairy or crone lives almost naked in a saunalike house and puts ice on the reindeer's head to keep it comfortable.
"Even the reindeer implores the grimy Finnish enchantress for aid for Gerda; it's a fairy tale in which everything helps the humble and openhearted, in which every creature, except the trolls and the Snow Queen, serves the principal of warmth in its own way. But the Finnish woman replies, in this story of women and animals and hardly a man, 'I can't give her any greater power than she already has. Don't you see how great it is? Don't you see how people and animals want to serve her, how she has come so far in the world in her bare feet?"
Deborah Eisenberg speaks (in Mirror, Mirror on the Wall) of how unsettling she found the fairy tale as a child:
"The febrile clarity and propulsion," she writes, "is accomplished at the expense of the reader's nerves. Especially taxing are the claims on the reader by both Kay and Gerda. Who has not, like Gerda, been exiled from the familiar comforts of one's world by the departure or defection of a beloved? And what child has not been confounded by the daily employment of impossible obstacles and challenges? Who has not been forced to accede to a longing that nothing but its object can allay? On the other hand, who has not experienced some measure or some element of Kay's despair? Who has not, at one time or another, been paralyzed and estranged as his appetite and affection for life leaches away? . . . Who has not, at least briefly, retreated into a shining hermetic fortress from which the rest of the world appears frozen and colorless? Who has not courted an annihilating involvement? Who has not mistaken intensity for significance? What devotee of art has not been denied art's blessing? And who, withholding sympathy from his unworthy self, has not been ennobled by the sympathy of a loving friend?"
To re-read the story, go here. To learn more about the fairy-tale-like life its author, go here.
The art above is: "The Snow Queen" by Charles Robinson (1870-1937), "The Snow Queen" by P.J. Lynch, "The Snow Queen and Kay " by Kelley McMorris, "Kay and Gerda" and "The Snow Queen and Kay" by Vladyslav Yerko, "Gerda and the Crow" by Charles Robinson, "Gerda and the Reindeer" by Edmund Dulac (1882-1953), "Gerda and Kay" by P.J. Lynch, and "Gerda and the Reindeer" by Errol Le Cain (1941-1989).
Publication information: "The Snow Queen" first appeared in Becoming the Villainess, and was reprinted in the Journal of Mythic Arts. It is copyright c 2006 by Jeannine Hall Gailey, and all rights are reserved by the author. All poems posted in the Comments thread are the property of their authors, who likewise reserve all rights.