Tuesday 7 January 2014

Day 536: Three Queens

Carol Ann Duffy's witty and feminist twist/take on the story of the three kings, with a touch of pantomime about it, as well as the personal:

Queen Herod - Carol Ann Duffy
Ice in the trees.
Three Queens at the Palace gates,
dressed in furs, accented;
their several sweating, panting beasts,
laden for a long, hard trek,
following the guide and boy to the stables;
courteous, confident; oh, and with gifts
for the King and Queen of here — Herod, me —
in exchange for sunken baths, curtained beds,
fruit, the best of meat and wine,
dancers, music, talk —
as it turned out to be,
with everyone fast asleep, save me,
those vivid three —
till bitter dawn.
They were wise. Older than I.
They knew what they knew.
Once drunken Herod's head went back,
they asked to see her,
fast asleep in her crib,
my little child.
Silver and gold,
the loose change of herself,
glowed in the soft bowl of her face.
Grace, said the tallest Queen.
Strength, said the Queen with the hennaed hands.
The black Queen
made a tiny starfish of my daughter's fist,
said Happiness; then stared at me,
Queen to Queen, with insolent lust.
Watch, they said, for a star in the East —
a new star
pierced through the night like a nail.
It means he's here, alive, new-born
Who? Him. The Husband. Hero. Hunk.
The Boy Next Door. The Paramour. The
Je t'adore.
The Marrying Kind. Adulterer. Bigamist.
The Wolf. The Rip. The Rake. The Rat.
The Heartbreaker. The Ladykiller. Mr Right
My baby stirred,
suckled the empty air for milk,
till I knelt
and the black Queen scooped out my breast,
the left, guiding it down
to the infant's mouth.
No man, I swore,
will make her shed one tear.
A peacock screamed outside.
Afterwards, it seemed like a dream.
The pungent camels
kneeling in the snow,
the guide's rough shout
as he clapped his leather gloves,
hawked, spat, snatched
the smoky jug of mead
from the chittering maid —
she was twelve, thirteen.
I watched each turbaned Queen
rise like a god on the back of her beast.
And splayed that night
below Herod's fusty bulk,
I saw the fierce eyes of the black Queen
flash again, felt her urgent warnings scald
my ear. Watch for a star, a star.
It means he's here
Some swaggering lad to break her heart,
some wincing Prince to take her name away
and give a ring, a nothing, nowt in gold.
I sent for the Chief of Staff,
a mountain man
with a red scar, like a tick
to the mean stare of his eye.
Take men and horses,
knives, swords, cutlasses.
Ride East from here
and kill each mother's son.
Do it. Spare not one
The midnight hour. The chattering stars
shivered in a nervous sky.
Orion to the South
who knew the score, who'd seen,
not seen, then seen it all before;
the yapping Dog Star at his heels.
High up in the West
a studded, diamond W.
And then, as prophesied,
blatant, brazen, buoyant in the East —
and blue —
The Boyfriend's Star.
We do our best,
we Queens, we mothers,
mothers of Queens.
We wade through blood
for our sleeping girls.
We have daggers for eyes.
Behind our lullabies,
the hooves of terrible horses
thunder and drum.


  1. I don't think I've read this one before... I love Carol Ann Duffy so it's not surprising that I love this. I so admire when a writer can cast something in a whole new slant of light, and she always does that so beautifully. I also like the feminine twist - all of the important characters here are female, with Herod reduced to a mere 'fusty bulk'. Gorgeous poem, I loved :-)

    1. Yes Cheryl, this is from the collection 'The World's Wife' where she assumes in monologue form, all the female characters of history that didn't have a voice, and imaginary ones too. I love this poem too, it's funny, it's clever, it's beautifully written, it's tongue-in-cheek and it has a 'feminine' twist as you say, that's it exactly. Effective, to say the least! Thanks for your comment :)


I'd love to hear what you think! To leave a comment - comment as/sign in with your Google ID if you have one, or website or blog address, or if these don't apply, sign in as Anonymous, and leave your name if you like!