Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
As nightfall came she thought she'd better
get home. The prince walked her home
and she disappeared into the pigeon house
and although the prince took an axe and broke
it open she was gone. Back to her cinders.
These events repeated themselves for three days.
- Unlike the Disney version—which creates a reason for Cinderella to leave the ball with the famous "turning your coach back into a pumpkin at midnight" curfew—the Sexton version, following Grimm, simply has Cinderella leave on her own.
- The prince walks her home, but she disappears into the pigeon house, of all places (notice that it's a house for birds).
- So what does the prince do? He destroys some property!
- This is not very "Prince Charming" of him, and it differs a little bit from the Grimm story, in which the father breaks apart the pigeon coop, hoping to find out whether the beautiful princess was in fact his daughter.
- So again, the deviations that Sexton's version makes from the Grimm version serve to make the men in the story more brutish and mean. Cinderella goes back to being the ash-covered maid again, and each of these events (the dove, the dress, the ball) repeats itself for three straight days.
However on the third day the prince
covered the palace steps with cobbler's wax
and Cinderella's gold shoe stuck upon it.
Now he would find whom the shoe fit
and find his strange dancing girl for keeps.
- True to the Grimm version of the tale, on the third (and presumably last) day of the wife-finding ball, the prince hatches a plan to figure out who Cinderella is once and for all.
- He covers the steps of his palace with wax (in the Grimm tale, it's "pitch," which is a word for tar), so when Cinderella takes off toward home, she leaves her shoe behind.
- Now, the prince thinks, he'll find Cinderella and get to keep her.
- Notice that the last couple of lines make the prince sound kind of possessive. Of course he doesn't want to lose this girl, but "for keeps" implies "this girl is mine, whether she wants to be or not." It's almost creepy. Then again, he is a prince in a fairy tale, so we guess it's not all that surprising that he should feel entitled.
He went to their house and the two sisters
were delighted because they had lovely feet.
The eldest went into a room to try the slipper on
but her big toe got in the way so she simply
sliced it off and put on the slipper.
- Here is where the story takes a real turn toward the gruesome.
- In the Disney movie, the stepsisters' feet simply didn't fit. Here, the first sister makes the shoe fit by cutting off her toe! Eww.
- Notice how casually this is told: "so she simply/ sliced it off." No big deal. There's that breezy, matter-of-fact tone again. It's almost as if the narrator is pointing out that women make ridiculous sacrifices for beauty all the time. Just because this one is gross doesn't mean it's any weirder.
The prince rode away with her until the white dove
Told him to look at the blood pouring forth.
That is the way with amputations.
They don't just heal up like a wish.
- So the prince (who is apparently pretty gullible) rides away with the stepsister, who must be in an incredible amount of pain.
- But as they ride away, the dove (Cinderella's "mama," remember), cries out that there is blood pouring from the shoe.
- Of course there is! But the prince doesn't notice until he looks, and there it is.
- Then our narrator interjects once again with an biting aside: "That is the way with amputations./ They don't just heal up like a wish." As in, "Of course, you fool. Unlike this charmed Cinderella character, you can't just make everything okay by asking a magical bird to make it so."
The other sister cut off her heel
but the blood told as blood will.
The prince was getting tired.
He began to feel like a shoe salesman.
But he gave it one last try.
This time Cinderella fit into the shoe
like a love letter into its envelope.
- And, wouldn't you believe it, once the first stepsister comes back, the second stepsister tries the same thing. Only this time it's with her heel. Say it with us now: Ew!
- The same thing happens: the prince doesn't notice the blood until he's ridden away with her. When he notices, he brings her back.
- Notice how casual the prince's reaction to all this gruesome mutilation is. He gets tired. He feels like a shoe salesman. (Haha, we love that line.)
- That's not very sympathetic, is it? But it feels less like a character flaw on the Prince's part than sarcasm on the narrator's at this point. It's as if the narrator is putting thoughts into the prince's head.
- So the prince gives it one last go, and of course Cinderella's foot fits perfectly.
- In fact, it fits like a "love letter into its envelope"—a classic, sentimental simile that really contrasts with the gruesome lines that have come before.