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When I started researching The Snow Queen last fall, I found way more than a month’s worth of adaptations to read and write about, so I narrowed it down tremendously. There were definitely enough picture books and YA novels that I could have doubled up every Friday this month, but I wanted variety. I wanted to talk about adaptations that were different, that spanned the literary circuit, so today I’m doing something a little different.
Pull our your turtlenecks, snapping fingers and cup of Joe… we’re talking poetry.

Background

The Snow Queen is a fairy tale written by Hans Christian Andersen, first published in 1845.  It is a tale the centers on the struggle of good and evil as experienced by a little boy and girl, Kai and Gerda. The tale is told in seven stories that weave together, and it is one of Andersen’s longest fairy tales. For my full summary and short review, here is my Fairy Tale Friday covering it.

Why I love today’s adaptation

Today I’m sharing with you two poems that somewhat draw on The Snow Queen tale. The first is “The Snow Queen” by Adrienne Rich (a poet I greatly adore) and the other is “The Last Poem About the Snow Queen” by Sandra Gilbert.

Both poets are well known within the world of poetry, especially for their work in feminist theory and verse. Oddly enough, even though I’m a closeted poet, I had never before discovered these poems until I started looking for adaptations to The Snow Queen.

However, I think I’m going to keep both of these poems in my memory box because I absolutely loved them. They are such a different take on the tale, and much more grown up than the original story. As you read them, the feminist undertones are very present, and I get the sense that both Rich and Gilbert are challenging Gerda to be strong.

Though the original tale doesn’t speak of love until the very end  there is always this sense that Gerda loves Kai far more than he has feelings for her… as if she is shy to speak, but so bravely willing to seek him. Both poems explore her feelings in depth, as well as take the idea of the Snow Queen to mean much more than she is. Ultimately, I believe she is very symbolic in the original tale, but in these poems the idea of a “snow queen” or “ice queen” is taken to new depths as if she is perhaps an alternate version of Gerda or even the women of the world whom she must complete with.

I’m sure I could analyze these poems on many more levels, but I’d like you to read them… and then share your thoughts!

Poems

“The Snow Queen”
by Adrienne Rich

Child with a chip of mirror in his eye
Saw the world ugly, fled to plains of ice
Where beauty was the Snow Queen’s promises.
Under my lids a splinter sharp as his
Has made me wish you lying dead
Whose image digs the needle deeper still.

In the deceptive province of my birth
I had seen yes turn no, the saints descend,
Their sacred faces twisted into smiles,
The stars gone lechering, the village spring
Gush mud and toads—all miracles
Befitting an incalculable age.

To love a human face was to discover
The cracks of paint and varnish on the brow;
Soon to distrust all impulses of flesh
That strews its sawdust on the chamber floor,
While at the window peer two crones
Who once were Juliet and Jessica.

No matter, since I kept a little while
One thing intact from that perversity—
Though landscapes bloomed in monstrous cubes and coils.
In you belonged simplicities of light
To mend distraction, teach the air
To shine, the stars to find their way again.

Yet here the Snow Queen’s cold prodigious will
Commands me, and your face has lost its power,
Dissolving to its opposite like the rest.
Under my ribs a diamond splinter now
Sticks, and has taken root; I know
Only this frozen spear that drives me through.

“The Last Poem About the Snow Queen”
By Sandra Gilbert

Then it was that little Gerda walked into the Palace,
through the great gates, in a biting wind…She saw Kay,
and knew him at once; she flung her arms round his neck,
held him fast, and cried, “Kay, little Kay, have I found you at last.
But he sat still, rigid and cold.
-Hans Christian Andersen, “The Snow Queen”

You wanted to know “love” in all its habitats, wanted
to catalog the joints, the parts, the motions, wanted
to be a scientist of romance: you said
you had to study everything, go everywhere,
even here, even
this ice palace in the far north.

You said you were ready, you’d be careful.
Smart girl, you wore two cardigans, a turtleneck,
fur lined boots, scarves,
a stocking cap with jingle bells.
And over the ice you came, gay as Santa,
singing and bringing gifts.

Ah, but the journey was long, so much longer
than you’d expected, and the air so thin,
the sky so high and black.
What are these cold needles, what are these shafts of ice,
you wondered on the fourteenth day.
What are those tracks that glitter overhead?

The one you came to see was silent,
he wouldn’t say “stars” or “snow,”
wouldn’t point south, wouldn’t teach survival.

And you’d lost your boots, your furs,
now you were barefoot on the ice floes, fingers blue,
tears freezing and fusing your eyelids.

Now you know: this is the place
where water insists on being ice,
where wind insists on breathlessness
where the will of the cold is so strong
that even the stone’s desire for heat
is driven into the eye of night.

What will you do now, little Gerda?
Kay and the Snow Queen are one, they’re a single
pillar of ice, a throne of silence –
and they love you
the way the teeth of winter
love the last red shred of November.

Book Talk: What do you think of the poems? Are you a poetry person or not so much? Do you see the connection to The Snow Queen? How do you feel about Rich’s and Gilbert’s adaptation/symbolism?

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