a girl who keeps slipping off,
arms limp as old carrots,
into the hypnotist’s trance,
into a spirit world
speaking with the gift of tongues.
She is stuck in the time machine,
suddenly two years old sucking her thumb,
as inward as a snail,
learning to talk again.
She’s on a voyage.
She is swimming further and further back,
up like a salmon,
struggling into her mother’s pocketbook.
Little doll child,
come here to Papa.
Sit on my knee.
I have kisses for the back of your neck.
A penny for your thoughts, Princess.
I will hunt them like an emerald.

Come be my snooky
and I will give you a root.
That kind of voyage,
rank as a honeysuckle.
a king had a christening
for his daughter Briar Rose
and because he had only twelve gold plates
he asked only twelve fairies
to the grand event.
The thirteenth fairy,
her fingers as long and thing as straws,
her eyes burnt by cigarettes,
her uterus an empty teacup,
arrived with an evil gift.
She made this prophecy:
The princess shall prick herself
on a spinning wheel in her fifteenth year
and then fall down dead.
The court fell silent.
The king looked like Munch’s Scream
Fairies’ prophecies,
in times like those,
held water.
However the twelfth fairy
had a certain kind of eraser
and thus she mitigated the curse
changing that death
into a hundred-year sleep.

The king ordered every spinning wheel
exterminated and exorcised.
Briar Rose grew to be a goddess
and each night the king
bit the hem of her gown
to keep her safe.
He fastened the moon up
with a safety pin
to give her perpetual light
He forced every male in the court
to scour his tongue with Bab-o
lest they poison the air she dwelt in.
Thus she dwelt in his odor.
Rank as honeysuckle.

On her fifteenth birthday
she pricked her finger
on a charred spinning wheel
and the clocks stopped.
Yes indeed. She went to sleep.
The king and queen went to sleep,
the courtiers, the flies on the wall.
The fire in the hearth grew still
and the roast meat stopped crackling.
The trees turned into metal
and the dog became china.
They all lay in a trance,
each a catatonic
stuck in a time machine.
Even the frogs were zombies.
Only a bunch of briar roses grew
forming a great wall of tacks
around the castle.
Many princes
tried to get through the brambles
for they had heard much of Briar Rose
but they had not scoured their tongues
so they were held by the thorns
and thus were crucified.
In due time
a hundred years passed
and a prince got through.
The briars parted as if for Moses
and the prince found the tableau intact.
He kissed Briar Rose
and she woke up crying:
Daddy! Daddy!
Presto! She’s out of prison!
She married the prince
and all went well
except for the fear —
the fear of sleep.

Briar Rose
was an insomniac…
She could not nap
or lie in sleep
without the court chemist
mixing her some knock-out drops
and never in the prince’s presence.
If if is to come, she said,
sleep must take me unawares
while I am laughing or dancing
so that I do not know that brutal place
where I lie down with cattle prods,
the hole in my cheek open.
Further, I must not dream
for when I do I see the table set
and a faltering crone at my place,
her eyes burnt by cigarettes
as she eats betrayal like a slice of meat.

I must not sleep
for while I’m asleep I’m ninety
and think I’m dying.
Death rattles in my throat
like a marble.
I wear tubes like earrings.
I lie as still as a bar of iron.
You can stick a needle
through my kneecap and I won’t flinch.
I’m all shot up with Novocain.
This trance girl
is yours to do with.
You could lay her in a grave,
an awful package,
and shovel dirt on her face
and she’d never call back: Hello there!
But if you kissed her on the mouth
her eyes would spring open
and she’d call out: Daddy! Daddy!
She’s out of prison.

There was a theft.
That much I am told.
I was abandoned.
That much I know.
I was forced backward.
I was forced forward.
I was passed hand to hand
like a bowl of fruit.
Each night I am nailed into place
and forget who I am.
That’s another kind of prison.
It’s not the prince at all,
but my father
drunkeningly bends over my bed,
circling the abyss like a shark,
my father thick upon me
like some sleeping jellyfish.
What voyage is this, little girl?
This coming out of prison?
God help —
this life after death?

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem Briar Rose (Sleeping Beauty)


  1. haley says:

    This poem is definitely about sexual abuse in that she says her dad stoops over her drunkenly and she screams Daddy Daddy! and at the begining where it says “come be my snooky.” She frequently refers to a “voyage” in her poems. ex: Wanting to Die. where she refers to her “voyage” as her life. She says that in this poem that seh is afraid of sleep and that if she is to sleep she would only sleep with some knock out drugs and never in the prince’s presence. Sleep must take her unaware. “There was a theft” is a great quote in which it implies that he stole something from her. Her virginity. She was also passed around hand tohand. She was forced Forward. This is deifinitely not a fairytale rewrite but perhaps a parralel to either her or someone she knew or didn’t know. Although, there are biographies on the internet and in books that say that her father was an alcoholic and constantly felt as if she’d be abandoned. She mentions this in her poem. “I was abandoned.” That may also refer to her “nana” who had a breakdown and was hospitalized and traumatized her. however, she may also be referring to her husband taking on the same behaviors as her father. As she became a celebrity, her husband began to beat her more and more. This led her to another breakdown.

  2. Richard Brodie says:

    This kind of writing is what I like to call prosetry. The only thing that distinguishes it from prose is being divided up into short lines. If you’d like to see a rare modern example of real poetry, about Briar Rose, visit and read “The Two Pining Bachelors”.

  3. Georgia says:

    I love this poem and it imspired my group to produce a play on sleeping beauty called “sleeping beauty’ nightmare” which we used for our A level exam!…it also made me to look into more of her poems and i love them!…

  4. Maggie says:

    It is about her father,there is no fairytalein this story. Her father was a drunk nad alcoholicand she would hang with her Great Aunt to get away.

  5. Gina says:

    This poem is more than a fairy tale re-write. The poem is not about Sleeping Beauty (Briar Rose.)The use of that story is crafted as a metaphor. This poem is about the author, Anne Sexton. It is a graphic and tragic account of the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of her father. The entire poem dipicts the horror she experienced as a helpless child beneath his hand and expresses the horror she continued to experience as an adult dealing with the memory of that abuse.

    Look past the story you know so well and picture the scenes in your mind that the author has so graphically crafted; you will SEE nothing resembling a fairy tale here.

  6. chelsea says:

    yea so i basically think both of you reviewist are wrong her anne sextons father abused her and most of this is about that 12 plates and one with long fingers and biting the hem of my gown yea thats abuse and screaming daddy daddy its about her

  7. Mehri Black says:

    I agree with the last reviewist. This poem shows an insight to Slepping Beauty’s story more so than any book written about her than I have read myself.

  8. Ken Nwosu says:

    This was a great poem. A great understanding of the story of Sleeping Beauty. A lovely poetic retelling.

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