(With apologies to Messrs. HC Andersen and R Dahl)
One Yuletide Eve, in days of yore (when children all learned fairy lore)…..
No! Mercy me! How mem’ries fade! In telling you his escapades
I quite forgot that time before: a birthday, when the boy received
A troop of soldiers – now displayed upon a table near the door.
They formed a perfect serried band, except for one. The craftsman’s hand
Could not complete his second limb – a single, trousered leg for him!
Sufficient cloth was lightly found, sufficient paint and fancy trim;
But no more tin. His prospects grim, our soldier stood his ground…….
Alone. At first he thought he was. But then his heart was cheered, because
He saw a vision standing there! A ballerina, blonde of hair,
Who’d suffered from the same sad loss, but balanced so serenely. Dare
She dance one-legged? Yes, she dare! And he would watch her flounce and toss.
And as she danced a spangle shone upon her sash, now up, now down.
The soldier watched until the night; until the spangle lost its light.
And soon an ugly troll’s mean frown was cast upon him. “It’s not right
To stare at her; she’ll suffer fright. Stop now or Fate will come to town.”
Our soldier’s love was far too strong. He could not choose the right from wrong
But stayed on watch until the morn, the spangle glinting in the dawn.
Such beauty! But there came along a gust of wind, and he was torn
Away and through the window. Gone from her, he felt he’d loved so long.
Two boys had made a paper boat to see if it would sail, and float
Along the street’s fast-flowing tide. This soldier boy could take a ride!
His craft was swept along the moat past careless feet, soon washed aside
And down a drain, dark, wet, where hide all hunting creatures, quiet, remote.
A rat, huge, black with glaring eyes, swore to make the boat capsize
If our brave captain would not pay. But still erect he sailed away
Past more dark holes and black rats’ eyes, then light! The oh-so-welcome day
Whose early rain had blown away revealing bluer calmer skies.
This was a murky broad canal – where bigger ships increased the swell
And threatened death; until a fish bobbed up to take this tasty dish
Into its belly, boat and all. Our soldier had but one vain wish –
To live much longer than the fish – and stand up straight and tall.
The fish of course was caught, prepared, and placed upon a table where,
As Fate decreed, the dancer stood! The Mistress rose to serve the food
And laughed: “This soldier has been good! To come back home from Lord-knows-where
Inside this fish! Now you stand there, my man!” And there he stood.
The family finished their repast. The soldier watched, modestly cast
An eye upon his dancer’s face, her spangled sash, her boundless grace.
The boy jumped from his chair at last and seized them. “There’s no place
For you; you’re in disgrace! Your time with us is past.”
He threw them roughly in the fire, and saw them gradually expire.
Next day before the fire was laid and th’ embers glow began to fade
The spangle shone! And in the fire the soldier’s form was now re-made:
A lone tin heart, proudly displayed, with all the warmth of his desire.