Three Poems by Annie M.G. Schmidt

The Fairy-Tale Man

I know a fairy-tale writer, a man
who starts work each morning as soon as he can.

From a quarter past six until two o’clock he’s
writing tales about witches, hobgoblins and fairies.

From a quarter past two till about six he writes
about dashing princes, princesses and knights.

Then he sleeps and begins again early next day.
One inkwell won’t do him, not by a long way.

So he keeps all his ink in a garden pond
with a ring of dark bushes planted all round,

and whenever he needs to have a good think
he dips his nib into that pond full of ink.

Ten thousand stories already he’s done,
and he’s just started work on another one.

And if he spends all his life sitting there – why,
maybe he’ll have written the whole pond dry.


The Porcupine’s Lullaby

Hush-a-bye my Prickly-one, outside the moon is high,
you are a little porcupine, but there’s no need to cry;
you are a little porcupine, and you know you are.
The lions have their manes, the tigers have their stripy fur
and our auntie squirrel has a fine red woolly tail,
but you’ve got lots and lots of spines, and they’ll do you very well.
Go to sleep, my Prickly-one, then you’ll grow big and sturdy,
you’ll be a proper porcupine just like me and your Daddy.
The elephant he has a trunk, the bears they have their claws,
the fish have fins for swimming, the cattle have their horns,
and the giraffe our uncle has a neck that’s really long,
but you’ve got lots and lots of spines, and so you can’t go wrong.
Hush-a-bye my Prickles, the night is getting on,
you’re the loveliest little porcupine that ever there was born.
The pussy-cats have whiskers that they use for purring through,
the parrot has his feathers, some green ones and some blue,
and our cousin otter has a sleek brown coat of velvet,
but you have lots and lots of spines, and they’ll come in handy yet.


Never Build a Nest out of Chewing-Gum

Once there were two little birds, and they were getting married;
One day they were considering what kind of nest they wanted.
One made of twigs, the cock-bird said, small twigs would be the best,
Twigs and down are what every bird uses to build its nest.
Oh no, not twigs, the hen complained, they’re really out of date;
I’d so like something different – modern, but nice and neat.
What about plastic, said the cock, or would concrete suit you better,
Or maybe wire, or rubber, or corrugated paper?
Just tell me what you’d like to have, I’ll give it you, you’ll see;
If you want a nest of chewing-gum it’s all the same to me!

Chewing-gum … said the hen-bird, now that would be quite neat;
It’s clean, it’s soft and springy, it’s got some give to it.
So they started in to build it, deep in the woods somewhere –
The very first nest of chewing-gum ever built anywhere!
And when they had it finished it was quite a pretty sight;
Just look at it, the hen-bird said, it’s lovely! It’s just right!
She laid five little eggs in it, and said: Oh well, that’s that.
You go and get some worms now, but watch out for the cat!

But when she’d sat there for a while, it was the oddest thing …
That nest became extremely long, it stretched and kept on stretching!
Out of the eggs the babies came, and Cheep! they sweetly cried;
But you could hardly see them, they were so deep inside.
That nest was like a stocking, it had got so very long;
The poor birds couldn’t work it out. Something was very wrong!
And all the birds for miles around just laughed till they were sick
And cried: Oh, will you look at that! A nest made of elastic!

The little cock-bird said: You see? Now are you satisfied?
Oh, what a shame! It was so nice at first! the hen replied,
Now it’s like a collecting bag. It won’t do. It’s no good.
So then they built another nest as quickly as they could,
Of twiglets and of feathers and of fur shed by the cat,
Of bits of straw and bits of down and bits of this and that.
And as soon as it was ready they moved all five young ones there,
Well, said the hen, what a mistake that was, I do declare!
All her life she told her children: Now you hear what I say –
Never build a nest out of chewing-gum, it’s simply not the way.

By Annie M. G. Schmidt

First published in The Low Countries, 1994