The Stepmother and the Princess

The Stepmother and the Princess

by Robert Graves (1910-1914)


The Stepmother and the Princess


Through fogs and magic spells

All day I’ve guided you,

Through loud alarms and yells,

Through scent of wizard stew,

Through midday pools of dew,

Through crowds that moan and mock,

Ogres at human feast,

Blood-streams and battleshock,

Past phantom bird and beast,

Monsters of West and East.

But this calm wood is hedged

With the set shape of things;

Here is no phoenix fledged,

No gryphon flaps his wings,

No dragons wave their stings.


Nothing is here that harms,

No toothed or spiny grass,

No tree whose clutching arms

Drink blood when travellers pass,

No poison-breathed Upas.

Instead the lawns are soft,

The tree-stems grave and old:

Slow branches sway aloft,

The evening air comes cold,

The sunset scatters gold.

Nay, there’s no hidden lair

For tigers or for apes,

No dread of wolf or bear,

No ghouls, no goblin shapes,

No witches clad in capes.

My cloak, my ermine cloak,

Shall keep you warm and dry;

Branches of elm I’ve broke

To roof you as you lie

Below the winking sky.

Sleep now and think no ill,

No evil soul comes near.

The dreamy woods are still,

Sigh, sleep, forget your fear,

Sleep soundly, sleep, my dear.


This earlier poem, written while Graves was still at school, has not yet taken on such a classical landscape; the harmless English wood is contrasted to a more northern European fairy-tale landscape of goblins and witches.

What interested us was that it incorporates the image of a loved one tenderly cradled in an ermine cloak, safe under the winking sky.

We included this image as a contrast to the later one of Graves, desperately injured, lying unprotected in the shell hole of a blasted wood under a dark sky blazing with death and terror, at the mercy of his blood-lapping nightmare of a cat.