Next came the ball, as you all know. It was a marriage market. The prince was looking for a wife. All but Cinderella were preparing and gussying up for the big event. Cinderella begged to go too. Her stepmother threw a dish of lentils into the cinders and said: Pick them up in an hour and you shall go.
Are you noticing a little trend in tone, here? This fairy tale is being told in a particularly "off-the-cuff" way, as if the events were no big deal. We don't know about you, but magical doves and royal parties are not things we experience every day. So what's up with the tone? Head over to the "Calling Card" section of our module and find out.
So the narrator assumes (probably rightly) that we know the next plot point: the announcement of the prince's big party, at which he is hoping to find a wife.
Notice, though, the way that Sexton describes it as "a marriage market." That doesn't sound very romantic, does it? It's not—and it's yet another example of Sexton changing the tone of the tale to make it more sarcastic, less fairy-tale-like if you will, than the original story.
But regardless of any social commentary, Cinderella still wants to go. What right-thinking young lady wouldn't want a chance to marry Prince Charming? (Not his actual name in the story, but you get our drift.)
Again, as we know, the stepmother doesn't want Cinderella to go to the ball. That's just the way evil stepmothers are. In the Grimm version of the tale, however, there's an added cruel twist: Cinderella's stepmother throws a dish of lentils into the ashes and says "pick them up in an hour and you shall go."
This is extra cruel because it's an impossible task: lentils are tiny little beans (here's a good picture) that would be impossible to pick out of a pile of ashes in any length of time.
Can you guess what happens next? Let's find out…
The white dove brought all his friends; all the warm wings of the fatherland came, and picked up the lentils in a jiffy. No, Cinderella, said the stepmother, you have no clothes and cannot dance. That's the way with stepmothers.
Cinderella implores the white dove for help. The dove brings all his friends—tons of birds from all over the land—and they pick up all the lentils.
Here, the narrator describes the birds using synechdoche, which is a fancy-pants term for using a part to mean a whole (in this case, using "wings" to mean the birds).
Notice that Cinderella didn't have to do anything here. Think about this in context with the example stories from the beginning of the poem.
So the birds pick up the lentils, but still the stepmother says no, citing Cinderella's lack of party-appropriate clothing.
The stanza ends with a by-now-familiar sarcastic interjection that makes light of the situation, simply saying "that's the way with stepmothers."
It's like Sexton's saying "oh well, too bad, lady" and moving on—knowing, of course, that Cinderella will end up at the ball anyway.