Saturday, February 13, 2010

“The Frog Prince”

If it's Saturday, it must be the Weekly Poem—& indeed it is. If you checked in last week, you know that February is all Stevie Smith all the time as far as the Weekly Poem series goes.

Last week’s offering was “The Bereaved Swan,” a poem from Smith’s 1937 collection A Good Time Was Had By All; this week’s poem, “The Frog Prince,” is the title poem to a 1966 collection—so we’ve moved from the very beginning of Smith’s poetic career to a point quite near the end (she died in 1972). Interestingly, the poem again inhabits a fairy tale landscape, at least on the surface. However, while “The Bereaved Swan” delighted in language & humorous rhymes, the voice in “The Frog Prince” is considerably more matter-of-fact—tho the subject matter runs quite deep (certainly much deeper than “The Frog Prince” himself seems to realize). The italicized instances of heavenly give us a clue that “The Frog Prince” is not only about the illusions of romantic love—in typical Stevie Smith fashion, she also moves on to religious love & poses the same questions: what is this truth of this transformation we believe we await? & is our waiting, our belief in the story of transformation, fatuous. Should we be content, each of us, with our lot as frogs.

This will be a busy day on Robert Frost’s Banjo, because this afternoon (2:00 p.m. Mountain Standard Time) I’ll be posting a Sepia Saturday entry—with more of Dad’s Photos! Hope you can check back in then, but in the meantime, hope you enjoy this marvelous poem.

The Frog Prince
I am a frog
I live under a spell
I live at the bottom
Of a green well

And here I must wait
Until a maiden places me
On her royal pillow
And kisses me
In her father's palace.

The story is familiar
Everybody knows it well
But do other enchanted people feel as nervous
As I do? The stories do not tell,

Ask if they will be happier
When the changes come
As already they are fairly happy
In a frog's doom?

I have been a frog now
For a hundred years
And in all this time
I have not shed many tears,

I am happy, I like the life,
Can swim for many a mile
(When I have hopped to the river)
And am for ever agile.

And the quietness,
Yes, I like to be quiet
I am habituated
To a quiet life,

But always when I think these thoughts
As I sit in my well
Another thought comes to me and says:
It is part of the spell

To be happy
To work up contentment
To make much of being a frog
To fear disenchantment

Says, it will be heavenly
To be set free,
Cries, Heavenly the girl who disenchants
And the royal times, heavenly,
And I think it will be.

Come then, royal girl and royal times,
Come quickly,
I can be happy until you come
But I cannot be heavenly,
Only disenchanted people
Can be heavenly.

Stevie Smith


  1. I've been meaning to come over here and glad I finally did! First rate sir, first rate! Will be on for your Sepia Saturday post, anon :)

  2. What I like about Stevie Smith is the seeming simplicity of her words and rhymes that belie the depth of thought demanded.
    I have this one (at last, I can say that,) and it's a favourite.

  3. Hi Subby & Kat

    Subby: Thanks so much for stopping by, & glad you liked it!

    Kat: Yes--that disjuncture between surface presentation & sub-text is perhaps the most fascinating thing about Smith's poetry. So glad you're liking it!

  4. Simple and profound. We do live a frog's life, indeed. Fun to have you join Sepia Saturday, John.

  5. when i first saw the pic I thought what john's related to stevie (thinking sepia saturday)...

    ah, stevie and her layers!

    happy weekend! looking forward to your ss post later on!

  6. Hi Willow & Mouse: Thanks! Funny about me "being related" to Stevie, Mouse! & yes, Willow, happy to be part of Sepia Saturday.

  7. I havnt read any of her work for ages.Thanks,John,For The Reminder.Have A Fine Weekend Sir!

  8. I love this, and the choice of subject - a fairy tale - is a wonderful forum for speaking truths about the human condition.

    Very nice! I always wish I could have written her work.

  9. Hi Tony & Karen

    Tony: Glad to be able to put Stevie Smith in your mind a bit!

    Karen: I know what you mean--she was a great writer indeed.

  10. migrated here my first Saturday on Sepia....enjoyed the posts...Robert Frosts work is a fave....

  11. This is an interesting poem.

    There's the frog content with how he is - he doesn't any other kind of life than frog-life, and that's just fine with him, so why take the risk of changing?

    Change always comes with a risk; that you'll lose the simple happiness you've had and not necessarily be any more happy or content. Or maybe you just fear losing contentment generally - you fear that once you change you'll never want to stop changing; there will always be greener grass somewhere else and you'll forever be seeking it out.

    On the other hand in life there's always change of some sort, and often the people who refuse it and resist it, rather than learn how to work with it, risk living in stagnation.

  12. Meh.

    But this one's worse than the swan one! ;)

    A frog?

    It doesn't shock me at all that she feels like a frog, or writes about frogs...

    I hate frogs.


    Sometimes simplicity is the lack of complexity.

    Isn't it??

    [crickets chirping]

    Notice I didn't write 'frogs croaking'. ;)


    In other words, John: it looks like I'm gonna be the only anti-Stevie-Smith fan around here this month.

    I'll be quiet, though, if you'd prefer it. :)

  13. Hi Pat, HKatz & Ginger

    Pat: Thanks for stopping by! I enjoyed your Sepia Saturday post.

    HKatz: An interesting take on the poem; I've always read it as being about deep delusions, but I think you're right in pointing out other possibilities. Thanks for stopping by!

    Ginger: I guess I'm not going to win you over to Stevie Smith, eh? But don't worry--I wouldn't ask you to be quiet! Love your visits & your comments.


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