You always read about it:
the plumber with the twelve children
who wins the Irish Sweepstakes.
From toilets to riches.
That story.

Or the nursemaid,
some luscious sweet from Denmark
who captures the oldest son’s heart.
from diapers to Dior.
That story.

Or a milkman who serves the wealthy,
eggs, cream, butter, yogurt, milk,
the white truck like an ambulance
who goes into real estate
and makes a pile.
From homogenized to martinis at lunch.

Or the charwoman
who is on the bus when it cracks up
and collects enough from the insurance.
From mops to Bonwit Teller.
That story.

the wife of a rich man was on her deathbed
and she said to her daughter Cinderella:
Be devout. Be good. Then I will smile
down from heaven in the seam of a cloud.
The man took another wife who had
two daughters, pretty enough
but with hearts like blackjacks.
Cinderella was their maid.
She slept on the sooty hearth each night
and walked around looking like Al Jolson.
Her father brought presents home from town,
jewels and gowns for the other women
but the twig of a tree for Cinderella.
She planted that twig on her mother’s grave
and it grew to a tree where a white dove sat.
Whenever she wished for anything the dove
would drop it like an egg upon the ground.
The bird is important, my dears, so heed him.

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 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.
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 went to the tree at the grave
and cried forth like a gospel singer:
Mama! Mama! My turtledove,
send me to the prince’s ball!
The bird dropped down a golden dress
and delicate little slippers.
Rather a large package for a simple bird.
So she went. Which is no surprise.
Her stepmother and sisters didn’t
recognize her without her cinder face
and the prince took her hand on the spot
and danced with no other the whole day.

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.
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.
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.
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 just don’t heal up like a wish.
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.

At the wedding ceremony
the two sisters came to curry favor
and the white dove pecked their eyes out.
Two hollow spots were left
like soup spoons.

Cinderella and the prince
lived, they say, happily ever after,
like two dolls in a museum case
never bothered by diapers or dust,
never arguing over the timing of an egg,
never telling the same story twice,
never getting a middle-aged spread,
their darling smiles pasted on for eternity.
Regular Bobbsey Twins.
That story.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem Cinderella


  1. ashlyn says:

    i just wanted to say that this is a great poem and that i had to do it in a forensics competition and it really was great!!!

  2. Sarah says:

    This particular poem by Anne Sexton shows the gullibility of women and the unrealistic dream we all have about meeting the perfect man and leading the perfect life. It opens our eyes to the fact that this fairy tale never happens in real life unless it is the million-dollar jackpot winner from rags to riches and that still doesn’t let you have the perfect life. It also opens our hearts to Cinderella, not just about her past in a non-loving family, but it makes us feel sympathy for her in her new life.

  3. Luba says:

    I thought that the poem in general was quite interesting, but what caught my eye was the last paragraph of the poem. In real life there is no happily ever after life. Great comparison of two dolls in a museum case never bothered by diapers or dust, never arguing over the timing of an egg, never telling the story twice, never getting a middle-aged spread, their darling smiles pasted on for eternity. Fabulous, comparison, I couldn’t think of any better way of pointing out their lives. It also sounds so sad and unhappy life if I was in their shoes.

  4. Nicole says:

    Anne Sexton is one of the greatest writers of all time. As she was severly abused by her parents and suffered from severe postpartum depression, she turned to poetry as a means to cope with her challenges. I think she really represents a view that many women refuse to take, being realistic. She has taken lit from other greats and transformed it in her own imaginatively critical manner. She is by far one of the most sincere, and realistic writers of feministic lit! and hopefully women will think twice about their “happily ever afters”

  5. Maureen says:

    It’s another life lesson. All we judge as being right or wrong is so often based on the way it’s presented. This poem should be read every decade so that you can see how your personal perspective changes. Like all great art, it conveys something different in each stage of your life.

  6. NOAH PENA says:

    WE read this poem in English call and i jus love it…. jus b/c if u think about it… i dunno jus think bout it

  7. Samantha says:

    The first time I read this poem I was in college as well and I immediatley liked it from the straight forward language to the sarcasm and irony dripping out of every line. I also like the fact that Sexton told the original story of Cinderella that the Grimm Brothers wrote- the way it was originally presented- and not the Disney version of the fairy tale, it makes the poem much more truthful, honest, and blunt.

  8. Maria says:

    I love this poem, it is so matter of fact, I mean the way she syas “you always read about it” and “that story” it makes you feel as if you really have read that story. Also I love the way she doesnt really change the story and yet when you read the poem you feel so differently about cinderella then you would if you were to read the fairy tale or watch a film adaptation of the tale. Every little girl who grows up on cinderella should read this as an adolescent.

  9. Cecilia Castelllanos says:

    I read this poem for the first time in college and I remembered wondering about Anne Sexton & her life,
    I just realized how humourous and sad this poem is `
    its irony was almost demanding and i think that is why i admire it so much –
    It is wholehearted Jest of the
    overtold FairyTale-I love that this particular version of Cinderella is not meant for children but for those who have been overly “swept off thier feet” by the orginal version of this fairytale and is meant to open thier eyes and twist thier minds enough to have them broadended to other jolts of creative expression.
    Her imagery, so vivid -as well as beuatifully draining.

    I love Anne Sexton’s Work and specially this particualar poem it brought a sense of maturity and creative allocation to Story Telling!

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