1. The story I’m about to tell,
is much like that of Beast and Belle,
except in mine she was the bête
who made all those who saw her sweat.
So take your drinks and gather round,
and hush – make not another sound
but listen to the tale of old
remained, until tonight, untold.
***
2. Lang syne, in some forgotten land,
under a mighty king’s command,
up on a mountain, close to skies,
there lived a hermit, old and wise.
He spoke to animals and trees,
to stars and to the evening breeze,
he fed on berries, mushrooms, nuts,
and slept in leafage-woven huts.

3. One morning, in a glade, he found
a stranded hamper, small and round.
Within it, to his own surprise,
he heard a newborn baby’s cries,
so shyly he approached the creel
to hush the little baby’s squeal,
but when he looked inside, he winced
dismayed by what he saw, convinced

4. that only hell itself could birth
such horror on the face of earth:
a shapeless face, with just one eye…
an askew mouth…and limbs so wry
that one could hardly deem them arms…
or legs…not one of infants’ charms…
The hermit wished to run away
but felt within that he should stay –

5. the cries had stopped. The little freak
just stared at him, so small and weak,
and suddenly the hermit’s heart
was thawed, his fears were torn apart.
He leaned over the baby’s nest,
he looked at her, her face caressed
and took her in his arms – next thing
a bird above began to sing.

6. The hermit took the child along
and nursed her, taught her right and wrong,
he fed her, dressed her, raised her well
forgetting of her ugly shell.
The girl grew up, became mature,
her heart so wonderfully pure,
her singing voice unearthly fair,
but looking worse than devil’s heir.

7. One day, aware his end was near,
the hermit called his daughter dear
and told her all: how she’d been found
within that basket on the ground,
how wrongfully afraid he’d been
‘cause of the ugliness he’d seen,
and how his whole life had been graced
by her existence, soft and chaste.

8. He also told her he would die,
and that the scythe of death was nigh,
that she should leave the mountain side
and find a convent where to hide –
you see, the hermit knew too well
that only nuns would not expel
a being such as her, and hence
he wished to shield her from offence.

9. But lassie here was also wise,
and past the hermit’s swift demise
she sewed herself a feathered mask,
determined, should the people ask,
to tell them she would not expose
her face but to the one who chose
to see her soul and not her face,
her heart, and not her earthly case.

10. So down the mountain then she went
and many days indeed she spent
well hidden by the mask she’d made,
but found that people were afraid
to look behind it. Not just once
they acted like some worthless dunce
and sneered at her in vicious ways,
harassing her for nights and days.

11. She kept on trying for a while
despite them being crude and vile,
she hoped they’d change and understand,
but saw she wasted precious sand
on bootless actions. By and by,
too disappointed by her try,
she chose to shut herself within
an old abandoned wooden inn.

12. She locked the gates behind her, cried
and swore to never go outside
again, as long as she would live –
to not forget, and not forgive.
Her heartache slowly grew, and grew,
her faith grew weak, her hope did too,
and only sometimes, in the night,
she sang again, to soothe her blight.

13. Through years, the people from around
bore rumors of the charming sound
that flew, sometimes, towards the skies,
but no one knew who sang, surmis-
ing that there really must have been
some angel from above, unseen,
and oft, the people all night long
stood up, to listen to the song.
***
14. Along the river shores, back then,
there used to walk a blind young man
aside a dog. The folk he passed
by pitied him, sometimes they cast
an eye over the clothes he wore,
for he seemed noble to the core
when talking, but was dressed in tat –
so what could someone make of that?!

15. He heard, like any other chuff,
that song, and one time was enough
for him to wish to find the one
whose voice was like a midnight sun.
So every night the voice would sing
he drew up closer to its spring,
helped by his dog – and whereupon
before the inn he stood one dawn.

16. He knocked, and called, and begged, and prayed,
and at those gates he waited, stayed,
he listened, doubted, hoped and feared,
until one day the girl appeared,
the mask upon her face again.
She looked at him all silent, then
she asked him what he wished to speak.
He said: “It’s you the one I seek.

17. I know it’s you who sings at night,
though, as you see, I have no sight.
I have no knowledge of your name
it wouldn’t matter all the same
if I knew that. I also won’t
attempt to lie to you – I don’t
have money, riches, treasures, gold.
I had them once, but then I sold

18. entirely my wealth, and spent
up to the last dime when I went
all blind. So, as you see, I’m poor.
The only blessing and, for sure,
the only friend I have as yet,
is this old dog. So please, don’t fret!
The only thing I want would be
for you to let me stay with thee!

19. I only need a nook to sleep
and that the dog you let me keep.
You need not worry ‘bout my bread
or anything at all. Instead,
I want to listen to your voice
whenever singing is your choice –
because, you see, it’s in your sound
that I my bliss in life have found!”

20. She let him say his say, all still,
while he appealed for her goodwill,
and when he finished she replied:
“Do you, at least, know why I hide?!
I’ve been rejected by the folk.
In front of me they simply choke
because I’m ugly. I’m a freak!
They fear so much they cannot speak

21. a word to me. So after tries
and tries while being in disguise,
I realized I couldn’t live
‘mongst ones who’ve nothing else to give
than hate and scorn and wickedness.
They value much the face and dress
and I have none of those. So why
should I believe that you don’t lie?!”

22. “Some can be sly – but don’t you see
How beautiful you are to me?!
Cannot you tell, from all you’ve seen,
That I’m as true as they are mean?
I have no eyes to view your face.
To me your song’s the only grace
I need to deem you queen of mine,
as bright as all the stars that shine.

23. I do not care what people say.
You’re ugly?! How much fairer they?!
You’re poor?! How rich their empty souls?
How maggoty their social roles?
You’re free to cast me out, I know.
I have no other way to show
that what I say to you’s sincere.
I can but hope you’ll keep me near.”

24. Persuaded by his strong resolve
she thought that things may not evolve
as badly as she held first glance,
and brought herself to take her chance.
A while it all unfolded well,
at least from what they both could tell –
they ate together, talked and laughed
she sang, he knit the words with craft,

25. they seemed to dovetail, all in all.
But one day, something did befall:
at dawn, when getting up from bed
upon his eyes a warm light spread,
and suddenly he came aware
that he could see again quite fair,
and ran to her without delay.
Alas though! to his own dismay,

26. she wore no mask when he came in.
He felt the earth around him spin
and though he feigned detachment, she
could feel his nausea flowing free.
She smiled a bitter smile to him,
aware his love was growing dim,
then turned and left him in that room
and walked away. Despite the gloom,

27. she somehow felt she’d been released,
freed from the bane to be a beast.
A sudden calm laid hold of her
and all the prior acrid stir
dissolved within a moment’s flight.
She sensed that things were setting right,
and then a little voice inside
spoke soft that no more she should hide.

28. She donned her mask and hat and coat
and on a piece of paper wrote
a line or two, to let him know
the vicinage where she might go.
Then out the door she went, aware
that people all around would stare
with awkward eyes – for how could they
ignore her presence in their way?

29. They could, to say the very least,
refer to “beauty and the beast”
when whispering of “him” and “her” –
how could they not?…A subtle blur
wrapped up her gaze…She felt the sting
of doubt…but more than anything,
she knew she had to face her fears
and take that step. Too many years

30. had passed since she had hid behind
those walls, so that no one could find
the path towards her wounded core…
But she won’t hide there anymore.
So, hoping he would understand,
she firmly took herself in hand
and slowly walked outside the door –
so says the tale from times of yore.

31. She paced with measured steps the trail
that led to people in that vale,
ignoring bushes, shrubs and trees,
the birds, the sun and morning’s breeze.
Her heartbeats knotted in her throat,
she wrapped up better in her coat,
pretending that the thrills she sensed
were just her flesh’s thrust against

32. the early hour’s frost. Quite soon
the path with painful flashbacks strewn
enwidened at the hamlet’s gate.
Another step…the seconds’ weight
felt like a rock upon her chest.
The memories she had repressed
were coming back to life again –
the people’s horror and disdain

33. though passed, kept harrowing her soul.
She stepped again…her body whole
refused to move ahead. She sighed,
she blinked to push the haze aside
and stepped inside the village. Then,
in front of her, a few old men
put down their work and raised their eyes
to look at her with raw surprise.

34. Around her, space began to form.
Just like the calm before a storm
the people fixed her, silent, cold,
since there was nothing to be told
to hide how they could not but feel.
Each glance of theirs – a new ordeal…
She slowly walked amidst the crowd,
their glares as sombre as a shroud,

35. and then she wanted to discard
the mask. Her figure, sorely marred,
appeared then in the morning’s light,
but thrilled with horror at her sight,
the peasants cringed away from her
and in the middle of the stir
they tried to knock her down. Appalled,
she ebbed away, then fell and crawled

36. unable to resist their thrust.
But when her blood caressed the dust
she turned her gaze towards the sky
and mutely prayed that she would die
thus being spared the slashing pain.
And lo! Her plea was not in vain,
for in the very eyes of men
she changed into a bird, and then

37. she flew into the forest’s shade.
The people, suddenly afraid
of what they did, fled from the place
and ran towards their homes apace.
An awkward silence grew instead,
and on the ground, now stained with red,
as if to mark the very spot,
remained the mask as bloody blot.
***
38. Back at the inn, and later on,
our lad, when seeing she’d been gone,
felt guilty and ashamed again
when grasping the amount of pain
he’d brought on her. Abashed and bleak
he quickly went outside to seek
her out, he searched the place around,
but she was nowhere to be found.

39. Aggrieved about her having left,
among the trees he rushed bereft
and shortly reached inside the vill.
Along his spine an icy thrill
crept snakishly and made him twirl
and all his thoughts began to swirl
when finding fallen on the ground
the feathered mask she’d worn around.

40. That moment knowledge came to him
that something violently grim
must have occurred.. He looked about
and saw that people didn’t flout
the way they usually did.
Behind each wooden window grid
he noticed eyes that mirrored fear,
and what had passed was all too clear.

41. He threw a silent awful glare
and turned his back on them, aware
that if he were to find her trace
into the woods he’d have to pace.
So wasting not another blink
he parted and began to sink
into the thicket. Off and on
he peered at heavens, pale and wan,

42. foreboding that by even fall
she would be lost for good and all.
Eventually in a glade
he ceased his wandering and stayed,
he looked around again, he sighed
and on his face the mask he tied
to feel her closer. Then, with woe,
he voiced his overwhelming throe:

43. “I know I failed you! I was wrong
to put my fears above your song!
I erred – but now I want to mend!
From now my faith no more will bend!
So please, forgive me and return!
I know your trust I’ll have to earn,
so one more chance I ask of you
to prove myself as being true!”

44. But nothing happened…not a sound
among the trees or on the ground.
A heavy silence shrouded him
and sorrow filled him to the brim,
for time was passing, hope was frail,
his efforts seemed of no avail,
and night was almost there. Resigned,
he wished he could again go blind

45. for although now his eyes could see
his heart was left without its glee
and life seemed hollow, mean and bare,
so to the sky he raised his prayer
to be with her, whatever cost
he’d have to pay, for he felt lost
without her being to the fore –
his heart was bleak, his soul was sore.

46. All of a sudden, in an oak
a small bird perched whereas he spoke.
While he beheld it there aloft
a tender feeling, warm and soft,
took hold of him, and he inferred
that what he saw as tiny bird
could only be his lady fair
who called his presence in the air.

47. He started humming low, arose
and felt a tingling in his toes,
but wouldn’t let her out of sight
for fear she’d vanish in the night.
While moving closer to the tree
the tingling spread within one knee
and then the other one, and soon
amazement made his murmur swoon:

48. a pair of wings, quite small but strong,
replaced his arms. As for his song,
it turned into a splendid lay
that spoke of love fallen astray.
The forest hadn’t heard before
a trill so moving to the core,
and nature hushed to lend its ears
to yonder sound of woe and tears.

49. As night grew deeper, through the gloom
the only thing that bode in bloom
remained that ever richer song,
which filled the forest all night long.
At dawn the sun caressed the trees.
The morning wind – a playful tease –
found not one trace of man or bird
and no more song could there be heard.

50. Since then, the people from that site
could only hear the song at night.
The tale was wiped out from their mind –
the ugly girl and young man blind
remained just “dreams within a dream”
both real and fake, as it may seem.
As for the bird within our tale,
we call it simply “nightingale”.

© 2017, Liliana Negoi

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