La Belle et la Bête

Original Text: 
© Turtle, Swan: Poems by Mark Doty (Boston: David R. Godine, 1987): 17-19. PS 3554 O798T8 1987 Robarts Library
2of a beast." What could she do
3but love him? First she must resist:
4the copper bowls gleaming on the rack
5in her father's kitchen, the white bloom
6of the basin, the good ladle that remained in place
7hadn't promised her this. There
8the lamps had required her hand to light them,
9the mirrors were plain and dependable
10as laundry. Trading herself for a rose,
11a single red gesture, she'd arrived
12at this vague castle where the glass
13said "I am your mirror, la belle,"
14and showed her a clouded double,
15almost a ghost. Where were her simple objects
16of affection now? The Beast steamed
17with the thrill of a slaughtered doe.
18His ruined garden -- haze formed into hedge
19and topiary -- smoked, the grottoes
20infinite and intimate at once.

21Even the statuary watched,
22as if to cautiously urge her on; for them
23there were no secrets,
24no future to reel out its flickering patterns
25of light and dark. So Beauty does
26as she does: these cautious walks with the Beast,
27at first tentative, her skirt scraping
28like cicadas against the marble,
29then her hand in his glove. His rough paws
31she wears them across her bodice as though
32she'd keep everything of his at the surface,
33somewhere above her heart.
34Of course she loves him wholly, in the end,
35although it does not appear wise to do so,
36which transforms his wolfish muzzle
37into the bland and pretty face of a prince.
38But it's not him anyone remembers --
39rather the heady onrush
40of the transformation, the will
41that eventually unfurls the body
42beneath the fur. The moments,
43disruptive and lush, before the breaking through --
44the power to bloom
45through solid walls,
46not to the kingdom itself, where nothing happens,
47but the approach to the kingdom:
48everything, the coming to love.
Copyright 1987 Turtle, Swan: Poems by Mark Doty David R. Godine


1] Mark Doty explains that "The poem's based on Jean Cocteau's film of the same title ... probably my favorite movie of all time" (e-mail to the Editor, Dec. 14, 2000). Cocteau's film, premiering in Paris in 1946, stars Jean Marais as Avenant, the Beast, and the Prince, and Josette Day as Beauty. See the International Movie Database for details. Cocteau worked from La Belle et la Bête, by Madame Le Prince de Beaumont in 1757, which was translated by Andrew Lang in his The Blue Fairy Tale Book (published by Project Gutenberg in blfry10.txt as e-text #503 April 1996). The following summary of Cocteau's film version comes from the article in American Cinematographer Online Magazine (September 1997):
A merchant, impoverished by the loss of his ships, has three beautiful daughters: Adelaide and Felice are vain and ill-tempered, while Beauty is kind-hearted. While returning on horseback from a business trip, the merchant gets lost in a forest during a storm. He finds a decaying castle where he is fed and sheltered by a seemingly invisible host. In the morning, he plucks a rose for Beauty.

Soon, a hideous Beast dressed as a nobleman appears and tells him he must die for stealing the rose. The man is allowed to visit his children, but must either return to pay for his crime or send one of his daughters. Beauty takes her father's place and goes to the Beast's castle, where she agrees to stay. Hopelessly in love, the Beast is kind to her and eventually wins her friendship. When she asks to visit her family, the Beast agrees on condition that she will return in a week. He gives her a magic glove which will take her wherever she commands.

During her absence, the Beast begins slowly dying of grief. When his magic horse, Magnifique, sets off to retrieve Beauty, Avenant, Beauty's no-good suitor, and Ludovic, her indigent brother, mount the horse and go to the castle. Beauty follows; when she finds the dying Beast, she declares her love for him. Meanwhile, Avenant and Ludovic try to steal the Beast's treasure from Diana's Pavilion in the castle garden. The statue of Diana kills Avenant with an arrow, and he is changed into the likeness of the Beast. The Beast himself simultaneously becomes a prince with Avenant's handsome features, and carries Beauty far away to their legendary home.

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Publication Notes: 
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 2000.
Special Copyright: 

This poem cannot be published anywhere without the written consent of Mark Doty.