Posts Tagged ‘Christ’

Here sits the Unicorn 
In captivity; 
His bright invulnerability 
Captive at last; 
The chase long past, 
Winded and spent, 
By the king’s spears rent; 
Collared and tied 
To a pomengranate tree-  
Here sits the Unicorn 
In captivity, 
Yet free. 

Here sits the Unicorn; 
His overtakelessness 
Bound by a circle small 
As a maid’s embrace; 
Ringed by a round corral; 
Pinioned in place 
By a fence of scarlet rail, 
Fragile as a king’s crown, 
Delicately laid down 
Over horn, hoofs, and tail, 
As a butterfly net 
Is lightly set. 

He could leap the corral, 
If he rose 
To his full white height; 
He could splinter the fencing light, 
With three blows 
Of his porcelain hoofs in flight-  
If he chose. 
He could shatter his prison wall, 
Could escape them all-  
If he rose, 
If he chose. 

Here sits the Unicorn; 
The wounds in his side 
Still bleed 
From the huntsmen’s spears, 
Yet he takes no heed 
Of the blood-red tears 
On his milk-white hide, 
That spring unsealed, 
Like flowers that rise 
From the velvet field 
In which he lies. 
Dream wounds, dream ties 
Do not bind him there 
In a kingdom where 
He is unaware 
Of his wounds, of his snare. 

Here sits the Unicorn; 
Head in a collar cased, 
Like a girdle laced 
Round a maiden’s waist, 
Broidered and buckled wide, 
Carelessly tied. 
He could slip his head 
From the jewelled noose 
So lightly tied –  
If he tried, 
As a maid could loose 
The belt from her side; 
He could slip the bond 
So lightly tied –  
If he tried. 

Here sits the Unicorn; 
Leashed by a chain of gold 
To the pomengranate tree. 
So light a chain to hold 
So fierce a beast; 
Delicate as a cross at rest 
On a maiden’s breast. 
He could snap the golden chain 
With one toss of his mane, 
If he chose to move, 
If he chose to prove 
His liberty. 
But he does not choose 
What choice would lose. 
He stays, the Unicorn, 
In captivity. 

In captivity, 
Flank, hoofs, and mane –  
Yet look again –  
His horn is free, 
Rising above Chain, fence, and tree, 
Free hymn of love; His horn 
Bursts from his tranquil brow 
Like a comet born; 
Cleaves like a galley’s prow 
Into seas untorn; 
Springs like a lily, white 
From the Earth below; 
Spirals, a bird in flight 
To a longed-for height; 
Or a fountain bright, 
Spurting to light 
Of early morn –  
O luminous horn! 

Here sits the Unicorn –  
In captivity? 
In repose. 
Forgotten now the blows 
When the huntsmen rose 
With their spears; dread sounds 
Of the baying hounds, 
With their cry for blood; 
And the answering flood 
In his veins for strife, 
Of his rage for life, 
In hoofs that plunged, 
In horn that lunged. 
Forgotten the strife; 
Now the need to kill 
Has died like fire, 
And the need to love 
Has replaced desire; 
Forgotten now the pain 
Of the wounds, tthe fence, the chain –  
Where he sits so still, 
Where he waits Thy will. 

Quiet, the Unicorn, 
In contemplation stilled, 
With acceptance filled; 
Quiet, save for his horn; 
Alive in his horn; 
In captivity; 
As prisoners might, 
Looking on high at night, 
From day-close discipline 
Of walls and bars, 
To night-free infinity 
Of sky and stars, 
Find here felicity: 
So is he free –  
The Unicorn. 
What is liberty? 
Here lives the Unicorn, 
In captivity, 

Anne Morrow Lindbergh

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Flower, gleam and glow,

let your power shine, 

make the clock reverse,

bring back once was mine —

what once was mine.

Disney’s 50th animated motion picture, “Tangled,” is a fascinating adaptation of the Brothers Grimm fairy-tale, “Rapunzel.” It features a little poem (above) as a song sung by Mother Gothel to a magical flower, created by a drop of sunlight, that has the power to heal and to keep her forever young. The flower, however, is one day taken by the King’s guards and used to make a medicinal drink for the Queen to help her recover from illness in her pregnancy. Later the queen gives birth to a beautiful baby girl, Rapunzel, with sun-bright golden hair. That hair, unbeknownst to the king and queen, has the same magical power as the sun-flower.

But Mother Gothel suspects.

So she comes to the castle at night to cut a lock of the golden hair to keep it for herself. But she discovers that, once cut, the hair loses its power. So she kidnaps the baby and raises her as her own, singing the song over the little princess, brushing her hair and using her to keep herself alive.

This story is a little bit different from the Brothers Grimm version. In the fairy-tale, Rapunzel is from an ordinary family, not a royal one. Her father steals not a sunflower, but a vegetable called rampion (which, coincidently, contains precursors for synthesizing the hormones necessary to sustain a woman’s pregnancy) from the garden of a witch —  for his wife who craves it. The witch says that to pay for this theft the family must give him their firstborn child, which they do, and she locks up Rapunzel in a tower where her hair grows very long.

Changes made in the Disney version ennoble Rapunzel, free her father from the taint of wrongdoing, and create a different motivation in Mother Gothel for her actions: eternal youth, not revenge and the desire to enslave another person to her power. Still present in both versions is the problem of human trafficking and child slavery. Only in “Tangled,” Rapunzel’s imprisonment is made pleasant by painting, pottery, puppeteering, and playing guitar (among other things!). For Disney’s Mother Gothel needs Rapunzel to be manipulated, not man-handled, into sharing the life-giving power of her magical hair.

Making Rapunzel’s hair not only long but magical emphasizes not the amount of time she’s been locked in the tower but something divine: her ability to heal people who are hurt. The idea that cutting her hair causes some or all of the power to be lost looks very much like the biblical story of Samson in the book of Judges. Samson has superhuman strength when his hair is long, but loses it when it is cut — as Delilah discovered. In the Disney film, the awareness of this link is even alluded to in a conversation Rapunzel has with Flynn Rider (aka Eugene FitzHerbert) who asks, after she heals a cut on his hand with her hair, if he will now have superhuman strength “because that would be pretty cool!” (Agreed.)

In “Tangled,” Flynn Rider is actually the narrator of the story who begins it by saying “this is the story of how I died.” But as he is still speaking, we suspect upon hearing this that he somehow came back to life again — which proves to be the case in this version of the story. At the end of some wonderful adventures, in which Rapunzel leaves her tower to celebrate her birthday under the shining light of 1000 floating lanterns, she is recaptured by Mother Gothel and Eugene comes to rescue her. But the witch stabs him, intending to kill him. As he is dying, Rapunzel begs to be allowed to heal him with the magic of her hair. Mother Gothel agrees when Rapunzel promises to remain with her forever and never run away again.

But Eugene is against this damning covenant, and when Rapunzel is about to sing the song that would heal his wound, he cuts off her hair with a shard from a broken mirror. Rapunzel instantly becomes a brunette! And Mother Gothel, whose life has been utterly dependent on Rapunzel’s magic, ages rapidly, trips and falls out the window, turning utterly to ashes by the time she hits the ground. Then Eugene dies, too, but only after telling Rapunzel that she was his “new dream.” Rapunzel begins to cry. As she does, she sings:

Heal what has been hurt,

change the fates’ design,

save what has been lost,

bring back once was mine —

what once was mine

One of Rapunzel’s tears falls on Eugene’s face. In her tear is the power no longer in her hair. It baptizes Eugene with the same life-saving grace Rapunzel’s birthmother experienced when pregnant, and Eugene comes back to life. The light of the sun-flower shines through the wound and closes it.

I was watching this film for the first time on Easter, and I couldn’t help but be struck by the resurrection plot, the sun-flower symbolism,  and the spiritual themes:  our human need for healing, the imprisonment of our souls caused by deception and selfishness, our natural desire for freedom, and, above all, the power of love to motivate self-sacrifice for someone else. As my friend Professor Jerry Root pointed out to me and those members of the Root family watching the film with me on Easter Sunday afternoon, both Rapunzel and Eugene demonstrate Christ-like qualities at the moment when they’re willing to give up their lives for each other.

The Brothers Grimm fairy-tale ends very differently. When the young man goes to the tower to rescue Rapunzel, he finds the witch but not the girl. It is he who falls out the window and scratches out his eyes on long thorns at the tower’s base. For many long years after, he wanders until at last he comes to the place where Rapunzel has been living in the desert with the twins she gave birth to, their children together, and his heart is restored and healed by the sound of her voice — which he recognizes as her own.

This ending is much more complex. Evil is not destroyed, a good man is hurt, and a woman who was a slave struggles to provide for her children as a single mother until her blinded lover can come to her.  The theme in the fairy-tale is not resurrection of life, but the continuation of life from generation to generation —  not the magical power of Rapunzel’s hair, but the divine power of her fertility.

I love both versions of the story.

p.s. Eugene FitzHerbert is a fine name for the otherwise nameless man who comes to Rapunzel’s tower. The name means “well-born son of a glorious warrior.”

p.p.s.  “Rapunzel” is the German word for the vegetable rampion,  and Gothel means “godmother” in a dialect of southern German. The most fascinating name of the movie, however, belongs to Rapunzel’s pet chameleon: Pascal. This was the name of the 17th century French physicist and philosopher who came up with the idea known as “Pascal’s Wager” —  something worth reading about!

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