Blue Beard

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Old 17-Oct-2010
Blue Beard

Once on a time there was a man so hideous and ugly
That little children shrank and tried to hide when he appeared;
His eyes were fierce and prominent, his long hair stiff like bristles,
His stature was enormous, and he wore a long blue beard--
He took his name from that through all the country round about him,--
And whispered tales of dreadful deeds but helped to make him feared.

Yet he was rich, O! very rich; his home was in a castle,
Whose turrets darkened on the sky, so grand and black and bold
That like a thunder-cloud it looked upon the blue horizon.
He had fertile lands and parks and towns
and hunting-grounds and gold,
And tapestries a queen might covet, statues, pictures, jewels,
While his servants numbered hundreds,
and his wines were rare and old.

Now near to this old Blue-beard's castle lived a lady neighbor,
Who had two daughters, beautiful as lilies on a stem;
And he asked that one of them be given him in marriage--
He did not care which one it was, but left the choice to them.
But, oh, the terror that they felt, their efforts to evade him,
With careless art, with coquetry, with wile and stratagem!

He saw their high young spirits scorned him, yet he meant to conquer.
He planned a visit for them,--or, 'twas rather one long fête;
And to charming guests and lovely feasts, to music and to dancing,
Swung wide upon its hinges grim the gloomy castle gate.
And, sure enough, before a week was ended, blinded, dazzled,
The youngest maiden whispered "yes," and yielded to her fate.

And so she wedded Blue-beard--like a wise and wily spider
He had lured into his web the wished-for, silly little fly!
And, before the honeymoon was gone, one day he stood beside her,
And with oily words of sorrow, but with evil in his eye,
Said his business for a month or more would call him to a distance,
And he must leave her--sorry to--but then, she must not cry!

He bade her have her friends, as many as she liked, about her,
And handed her a jingling bunch of something, saying, "These
Will open vaults and cellars and the heavy iron boxes
Where all my gold and jewels are, or any door you please.
Go where you like, do what you will, one single thing excepted!"
And here he look a little key from out the bunch of keys.

"This will unlock the closet at the end of the long passage,
But that you must not enter! I forbid it!"--and he frowned.
So she promised that she would not, and he went upon his journey.
And no sooner was he gone than all her merry friends around
Came to visit her, and made the dim old corridors and chambers
With their silken dresses whisper, with laugh and song resound.

Up and down the oaken stairways flitted dainty-footed ladies,
Lighting up the shadowy twilight with the lustre of their bloom;
Like the varied sunlight streaming through an old cathedral window
Went their brightness glancing through the unaccustomed gloom,
But Blue-beard's wife was restless, and a strong desire possessed her
Through it all to get a single peep at that forbidden room.

And so one day she slipped away from all her guests, unnoted,
Down through the lower passage, till she reached the fatal door,
Put in the key and turned the lock, and gently pushed it open--
But, oh the horrid sight that met her eyes! Upon the floor
There were blood-stains dark and dreadful,
and like dresses in a wardrobe,
There were women hung up by their hair, and dripping in their gore!

Then, at once, upon her mind the unknown fate that had befallen
The other wives of Blue-beard flashed--'twas now no mystery!
She started back as cold as icicles, as white as ashes,
And upon the clammy floor her trembling fingers dropped the key.
She caught it up, she whirled the bolt to, shut the sight behind her,
And like a startled deer at sound of hunter's gun, fled she!

She reached her room with gasping breath,--behold, another terror!
Upon the key within her hand; she saw a ghastly stain;
She rubbed it with her handkerchief, she washed in soap and water,

She scoured it with sand and stone, but all was done in vain!
For when one side, by dint of work, grew bright, upon the other
(It was bewitched, you know,) came out that ugly spot again!

And then, unlooked-for, who should come
next morning, bright and early,
But old Blue-beard himself who hadn't been away a week!
He kissed his wife, and, after a brief pause, said, smiling blandly:
"I'd like my keys, my dear." He saw a tear upon her cheek,
And guessed the truth. She gave him all
but one. He scowled and grumbled:
"I want the key to the small room!"
Poor thing, she could not speak!

He saw at once the stain it bore while she turned pale and paler,
"You've been where I forbade you! Now you shall go there to stay!
Prepare yourself to die at once!" he cried. The frightened lady
Could only fall before him pleading: "Give me time to pray!"
Just fifteen minutes by the clock he granted. To her chamber
She fled, but stopped to call her sister Anne by the way.

"O, sister Anne, go to the tower and watch!" she cried, "Our brothers
Were coming here to-day, and I have got to die!
Oh, fly, and if you see them, wave a signal! Hasten! hasten!"
And Anne went flying like a bird up to the tower high.
"Oh, Anne, sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?"
Called the praying lady up the tower-stairs with piteous cry.

"Oh Anne, sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?"
"I see the burning sun," she answered, "and the waving grass!"
Meanwhile old Blue-beard down below was whetting up his cutlass,
And shouting: "Come down quick, or I'll come after you, my lass!"
"One little minute more to pray, one minute more!" she pleaded--
To hope how slow the minutes are, to dread how swift they pass!

"Oh Anne, sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?"
She answered: "Yes I see a cloud of dust that moves this way."
"Is it our brothers, Anne?" implored the lady. "No, my sister,
It is a flock of sheep." Here Blue-beard thundered out: "I say,
Come down or I'll come after you!" Again the only answer:
"Oh, just one little minute more,--one minute more to pray!"

"Oh, Anne, sister Anne, do you see anybody coming?"
"I see two horsemen riding, but they yet are very far!"
She waved them with her handkerchief; it bade them, "hasten, hasten!"
Then Blue-beard stamped his foot so hard
it made the whole house jar;
And, rushing up to where his wife knelt, swung his glittering cutlass,
As Indians do a tomahawk, and shrieked: "How slow you are!"

Just then, without, was heard the beat of hoofs upon the pavement,
The doors flew back, the marble floors rang to a hurried tread.
Two horsemen, with their swords in hand,
came storming up the stairway,
And with one swoop of their good swords
they cut off Blue-beard's head!
Down fell his cruel arm, the heavy cutlass falling with it,
And, instead of its old, ugly blue, his beard was bloody red!

Of course, the tyrant dead, his wife had all his vast possessions;
She gave her sister Anne a dower to marry where she would;
The brothers were rewarded with commissions in the army;
And as for Blue-beard's wife, she did exactly as she should,--
She wore no weeds, she shed no tears; but very shortly after
Married a man as fair to look at as his heart was good.

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