Diana van den Berg (4 November 1945 / Durban, South Africa)
Once upon a time
there was a handsome prince
who found an injured squirrel
at the edge of a forest
and his heart bled for the little fellow
and he asked the little furry being to wait
while he went to the nearby mountain stream
that he heard singing a song of joy
just out of sight
and he took off his silk shirt
and ripped off two strips
and soaked them both in the pure water
of the little stream
and went back to the squirrel
and cleaned his wound gently
with one strip
and with the other,
bandaged his little friend’s wound.
What he didn’t know was that
from the shadows of the forest,
someone was watching,
a dear friend of the squirrel.
She was about to shout and attack and chase the man
from the world of men, away,
for she thought he was going to harm her friend,
but his compassionate eyes
and the gentleness in his voice
and his kind actions
and she watched
as he eased the squirrel’s pain
and warmed his little squirrel heart,
and the more she watched,
the more the prince captured her heart.
He came back every day with salve and medicine
to lead his little friend on to a full recovery
and after that the squirrel and the prince still met every day
simply because they were friends
and loved to spend time together,
teaching each other many good things,
and each day,
watched them from the shadow
of her tree friends
and with each day
she fell more and more
deeply in love with the prince.
She called on the trees
that grew tall around her
protecting her from all harm,
and at her supplication
they wove a spell
on the handsome prince
letting him notice her
from a distance one day
when he met with his squirrel friend.
He saw her long flowing hair
and her eyes of sky-blue
and the soft silk
of her simple dress
hugging her lithe body
and her bare feet
that sprang from rock to tree root
like a gentle fawn.
He saw all this
and he fell as much in love with her
as she was with him.
As the days went by,
the woodnymph was on his mind
more and more
and he looked for her every day
when he visited his squirrel friend.
At first, he stood outside
and just looked deep into the forest
but soon he ventured into it,
starting, at first, at each sound he didn’t know
but soon felt the bond and goodwill
of all the forest creatures and trees and plants.
Each day he went further and further into the forest,
and the woodnymph played hide-and-seek with him
luring him further and further into her forest haven
not knowing how to initiate their first meeting.
The forest creatures and trees and flowers encouraged her,
but she hedged, and asked them
to let her do it her own way
in her own time. All being part of the closely bonded forest family
they honoured her wishes.
One day the prince went into the forest
earlier than usual
and the trees, grown exasperated, with the woodnymph,
could no longer keep their word
and they cast a spell upon her
and sent her into a deep sleep
and they cast another upon the prince
and led him to where she lay sleeping.
He was breathless at her beauty and vulnerability
and stood watching her sleep
until the trees, exasperated with the prince, sang her awake.
They both blushed and stammered
as they started talking but soon were at ease
with each other
and learned each other’s story
of love and longing for each other,
except that the trees kept their role
a secret from both.
Before they parted, their lips blended in a kiss
that opened their souls
to a heavenly bliss.
Each day the prince would return
and the two fell more in love
with each passing day.
However, they knew that they were
from different worlds –
worlds that were worlds apart
and they knew
that their joy could not last.
One day, the woodnymph,
the obligations of the prince to his people
and her bond with her forest home
could not be blended,
she hid from the prince
in a veil of invisibility,
a veil that brought her instant death.
When the forest creatures told the prince
what had happened,
he died there and then
of a broken heart.
But, they say,
if you go into the forest
with your heart
and your mind
to compassion and nature and goodness,
you will see the translucent grey spirits
of the handsome prince and his woodnymph
in a dance of love and longing
and as she pirouettes
he will lift her high above his head,
but as he puts her down,
they rush away from each other
and advance and retire
over and over again.
If you see them, stand still
and hold your whispers
and your breath,
if you don’t,
they will both
though it is known
amongst those that love the forest,
that no matter how many times they die,
for each other
and will be recounted
through the mists of time
who live near that magical forest.
(6 September 2011)
Comments about this poem (Forest Fairytale by Diana van den Berg )
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