In a lot of the poems the idea of death comes as a friend - I was thinking of that Roman emperor, one of the cruellest of them, who used to visit his poor prisoners in cramped dungeons in great pain. So they would beg him for death, but he would say, "Oh no, oh no, we are not yet friends enough." He meant they were not yet friends enough to give them death. The Frog Prince has a feeling of hope in death.

The Frog Prince


I am a frog
I live under a spell
I live at the bottom
of a green well.

And here I must wait
Until a maiden places me
On her royal pillow
And kisses me
In her father’s palace.

The story is familiar
Everybody knows it well
But do other enchanted people feel as nervous
As I do? The stories do not tell,

Ask if they will be happier
When the changes come
As already they are fairly happy
in a frog’s doom?

I have been a frog now
For a hundred years
And in all this time
I have not shed many tears,

I am happy, I like the life,
Can swim for many a mile
(When I have hopped to the river)
And am for ever agile.

And the quietness,
Yes, I like to be quiet
I am habituated
To a quiet life,

But always when I think these thoughts
As I sit in my well
Another thought comes to me and says:
It is part of the spell

To be happy
To work up contentment
To make much of being a frog
To fear disenchantment.

Says, it will be heavenly
To be set free,
Cries, Heavenly the girl who disenchants
And the royal times, heavenly
And I think it will be.

Come then, royal girl and royal times,
Come quickly,
I can be happy until you come
But I cannot be heavenly,
Only disenchanted people
Can be heavenly.

from The Collected Poems of Stevie Smith (Penguin, 1972), by permission of the Executors of the James McGibbon Estate and New Directions Publishing Corporation. Recordings used by permission of the BBC.

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