Opening the door


“Don’t you ever say never to me!”
She thinks to herself. The forbidden door
Opens to the defiant squeak of the key
And horror sweats cold from every pore

For a stench arises, cloying and rotten
From the heart of their marriage – evil denied
But once seen, too hideous to be forgotten.
Truth bleeds from the key and her soul is dyed.

Returning hoofbeats! She turns to flee
But is frozen like a fawn as the hunter returns,
And sees in her eyes what she cannot unsee.
On the brink of slaughter, she finally learns

That beyond the door of fear’s dark night
Lies the truth that gives the strength to fight.


This sonnet is based on the tale of Bluebeard. It is very much influenced by the way the story is told, and interpreted, by Clarissa Pinkola Estes in Women who run with the Wolves – in an early blogpost I included several extracts from her description that resonated with me. In the poem, as in the original story, the woman does manage to escape at the last moment, though in the poem I have suggested that she saves herself rather than awaiting rescue by her brothers.

The first line comes from one of my favourite films, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe – it’s a war-cry for women refusing to be constrained, which I couldn’t resist using here! The original tale of Bluebeard frequently suggests that the woman is wrong to be curious, and that the discovery is a punishment for her disobedience. Which is strange, as the alternative was to remain in blissful ignorance that she’d married a murderer… presumably up until the point when he got tired of her, when her innocence and obedience would be no protection whatsoever. So I wanted to make it clear that her motive for going through the door was much more to do with courage and defiance than nosiness!

The poem also reflects my (thankfully less bloody!) own experiences of being reluctant to confront the truth in a relationship, even though confronting that truth is the only way to protect yourself from being hurt.

Oh, and the rather creepy photo of a keyhole, was taken (in Greyfriars Kirkyard in Edinburgh) and uploaded onto flickr by davydubbit.


14 responses to “Opening the door

  1. this was delightful,, and made ever so much better by your willingness to take us with you on the journey of its creation.. thank you for that…..

  2. Thanks Paisley – glad you enjoyed the ride!

  3. Amazing. My hat’s off to you for this one. Thank you.

  4. “That beyond the door of fear’s dark night
    Lies the truth that gives the strength to fight.”

    Powerful ending. Good sonnet, IMHO. 🙂

  5. This is so creative! And I love the detailed explanation!

  6. Beautiful! This is a very well written poem. Great imagery!

  7. I read Women That Run With The Wolves and saw Fried Green Tomatoes. I gave the book to my fiancee one year for her birthday(we’ve been
    married six years now), I would want my daughter to read it someday too. Sometimes it takes an a lot of guts to stare at the truth-but it can be a life saver! I need her to know that. I probably don’t have anything to worry about though, already at the age of three she shows promising signs of being like Mary Stuart Masterson’s character, Idgie.
    Thank you for such an excellent contribution.

  8. Thanks Edward!

    There are a lot of ways to be strong, but much of western culture seems to focus on the “masculine” strengths (e.g. independence, protection, will to succeed) and downplay the value of those seen as “feminine” (e.g. communication, caring, willingness to be open).

    For me a strong person (of either sex) should combine all these strengths and be able to use them appropriately in different situations.

    The role models presented by the people we meet and the people we hear about are vital in this respect. But western culture is generally weak on positive images of the feminine strengths. (Unfortunately we also seem to be losing the positive images of masculine strength which used to be stronger, but thats another story).

    Anyway, I love these two works because they celebrate the power of these feminine attributes, with humour and beauty. I think they’re really important both for women and men, so I’m happy that you and wife and daughter are all familiar with these great stories!

  9. Thanks for the explanation – this piece says so much!

  10. Well, I love the photo and the poem. I felt the terror mounting. I’m so glad she escaped. I love “Fried Green Tomatoes”. How inventive to combine these 2 sources and meld them with your own experience. This is one of my favorite swritten for this prompt!

  11. Wow, you carried me on quite a journey here. Awsome photo and perfect for these words.

  12. i hate to say this but bluebeard huh.. all i could think of is the pirate… does that make me feel rather sheepish… well, glad to have stopped by and thank you for the links.. rarely do i see a movie more than once.. no desire to.. but fried green tomatoes the call of the wild is correct.. it is an awesome movie.. rhawanda is the name she calls out as she’s demolishing the wall right??… another great part is when she rescues her friend after receiving a page from the book of Ruth.. it is a powerful statement of the lifetime friendship between two women.. and wolves was a powerful book at the time… enpowering women as to who we are… where we’ve come from.. yr poem is haunting yet beautiful… in the darkness there is always light.. and “..the strength to fight..” awesome! oh, the photo too!

  13. I loved the book Women Who Run with Wolves. This is a wonderful poem and I enjoyed your explanation of where it came from. I love the powerful message of the last two lines. Cool creepy photo too.

  14. Pingback: Myths « Words that sing

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