Robin Redbreast

Robin Redbreast
Birds can represent the fluttering, darting thoughts of intuition. This is why little birds helped Cinderella help herself.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Cinderella #146 Of Nettles and Roses, a Yiddish Cinderella


Palazzo, T. (1954)

Note: contains violence."Once upon  a time, there was a rich man and his wife who had an only child, a very pretty daughter." But the mother "was taken ill and died," and so the man decided he must marry again. The woman was kind to the beautiful little girl — that is, until she bore a child of her own. Then she began to plot her stepdaughter's demise.  The next time her husband left home on a business trip, she ordered the little girl to take the family's dirty clothes to scrub. The child must do the washing at the river on the edge of town, commanded her stepmother, and at this, the girl began to cry. That river "was said to be under a curse. Nevertheless, she gathered up the clothes and obeyed her stepmother." At the river, she dragged all of the clothes into the water, then began to beat them on the rocks at the water's edge.  As she sloshed the cold water, her own hot tears ran down her cheeks. "Suddenly, three water spirits rose out of the water. ' Why are you crying?' they asked. And when she had told her tale, the first spirit told her not to cry anymore.  From now on, the spirit said, the girl would leave a trail of the rarest roses in the world" as she walked. The second spirit told her,"And when you wash yourself, the water in the basin will turn to gold." And the third spirit declared," When you speak, your breath will perfume the air and please everyone who hears you." As they spoke, they washed her clothes, and soon, her basket was full of carefully folded, dry clothes. Now the girl went home with the laundry, and the whole way back, she left a wake of roses of the rarest and most delicate colors.  There were lavenders, and blues, and purples so dark that they were nearly black. There were blooms of pale orange, and petals striped with raspberry pink. Then she put the basket away and  washed her face. When her stepmother saw that the water in the basin where she had washed was now pure gold, she demanded to know how this came about. She was flabbergasted to see roses bloom in the house as the girl walked across the floor.  "When the pretty stepdaughter described the water spirits, her breath perfumed the room." Then the scheming woman decided that her own daughter must go, believing that the fairies would look with favor on her too. Yet "when the ugly daughter came to the river, and the spirits asked her what she wanted, she replied rudely,' You gave my sister gifts.  Now give me some, too." And the three spirits exchanged a look, and then, one at a time, bestowed their gifts. The first said,"When you walk, nettles will spring up in your footsteps." And the next said,"When you wash, the basin will fill up with frogs.'  'And when you talk,' said the third spirit, 'your breath will have such a stink that no one will want to listen to you.'  And that's how it was." She left a trail of stinging nettles all the way home, and a basin of frogs in the bathroom after she washed. "And when she told her mother what happened, the house filled with such a dreadful odor that her mother ordered her to stop talking."  Well, in this same neighborhood, there lived a king.  His son was a young man, just of age to marry, and was having a hard time finding a wife. He had already seen all of the girls he knew, and none would do. Then, one day, he heard about a girl he hadn't seen before, one so lovely she left roses in her wake and the scent of perfume with each word she spoke. He just had to meet her! So a meeting was arranged, and "the moment he saw her, he was enchanted". She was the loveliest creature he had ever laid eyes on, and she smelled so very good! "What with one thing and another, they soon arrived at an understanding that in a month's time, " They counted the days and perfected their plan, and sure enough, thirty days later he snuck her away and they were married.  But her stepmother "through consultations with fortune tellers" discovered where she was.  She also found out about the beautiful baby girl that was born to her stepdaughter, and "many years had gone by, and it all took longer than it takes to tell." This wicked woman went, now, to the place where the young prince and princess and their baby lived, and hired a sorceress, telling her,"Name your price, just find a way to kill that stepdaughter of mine." And the evil woman worked spells and discerned the secret place where mother and babe slept, and went there and "took out a long sharp knife, cut the baby in four parts, and put the bloody instrument into the princess's hand." In the morning, the sun's rays shone over the mother, sticky with her infant's blood.  "The king commanded that the princeses's eyes be put out.  The mutilated body of her was placed in a sack and given to her, and she was driven away from the palace." The princess wandered for many hours, and when she felt the air chill, and sensed that darkness was falling, she found her way to a tree and sat down underneath it.  Now "she sang softly to herself, like one of the birds in the boughs above. Singing thus, she fell asleep. As she slept, her own mother appeared to her in a dream and said,'My child, you have suffered much, and you are destined to suffer more. But soon you will find some relief. In the morning, you will find yourself sitting beside a well. Touch some of the well water to your eyes, then take more water and wash the body of your baby." When she awoke, all was as her mother had foretold.  She washed her eyes and could see again, and washed her child, and the life flowed back into it. Now, "happy to be carrying her living baby, she made her way through cities and town and villages, earning her keep by singing wherever she went." After several years of this vagabond life, she settled down, for the sake of her child, and "found work with a family of rich people."  Her employer, as luck would have it, was friends with the king.  One night during a banquet, at which His Majesty and his son the prince were present, there were singers for entertainment.  As voice after voice sang many stories, the prince maintained a frown upon his face. Finally, the king asked what was wrong, and his son said,"Ah, what I would give if I could hear a song that resembled in some way the story of my life.' At this, the hostess said,'There is a young woman working for me who often sings a song that resembles the story of your life." So the woman was sent for, and when she came in, was "finely dressed and very beautiful".  The verses of her song matched the chapters of the prince's sorrow. "Then the singer came to the part that told how she had married the king's son, how he had cast her away, and what had happened to her afterward. Hearing it all, the prince wept and wept.  Then, taking the singer by the hand, he said,'This is she. This is my true and blameless wife, whom I love dearly.' And so they were united once more.  And they lived happily ever after."
From Weinreich, B.S., (1988) Yiddish Folktales. New York: Shocken Books
Notes: This story is marked as a Cinderella because of a. The stepmother b. The assistance of the water spirits.  This is a common variation of the fairy godmother, especially when we realize that the "old woman by the well who asks for a drink of water" character, a fish, a frog, or a mermaid, are all in the same family. c. assistance from the mother's spirit d. the role of the tree. The motif of the blinded mother, wandering with her dead child, then restoration of sight and life, is an ancient one. See The Maiden Without Hands (Zipes/Grimm, 2003 p.109) for a prototype. 
Montessori Connection: Fundamental Needs of People/Spiritual Needs/Religion/Judaism
1. Read this story and learn that it is a Jewish folktale.

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