Boys don't want to be princes.
Boys want to be shepherds who slay dragons,
maybe someone gives you half a kingdom and a princess,
but that's just what comes of being a shepherd boy
and slaying a dragon. Or a giant. And you don't really
even have to be a shepherd. Just not a prince.
In stories, even princes don't want to be princes,
disguising themselves as beggars or as shepherd boys,
leaving the kingdom for another kingdom,
princehood only of use once the ogre's dead, the tasks are done,
and the reluctant king, her father, needing to be convinced.
Boys do not dream of princesses who will come for them.
Boys would prefer not to be princes,
and many boys would happily kiss the village girls,
out on the sheep-moors, of an evening,
over the princess, if she didn't come with the territory.
Princesses sometimes disguise themselves as well,
to escape the kings' advances, make themselves ugly,
soot and cinders and donkey girls,
with only their dead mothers' ghosts to aid them,
a voice from a dried tree or from a pumpkin patch.
And then they undisguise, when their time is upon them,
gleam and shine in all their finery. Being princesses.
Girls are secretly princesses.
None of them know that one day, in their turn,
Boys and girls will find themselves become bad kings
or wicked stepmothers,
aged woodcutters, ancient shepherds, mad crones and wise-women,
to stand in shadows, see with cunning eyes:
The girl, still waiting calmly for her prince.
The boy, lost in the night, out on the moors.
About the Author: Neil Gaiman is the award-winning author of American Gods, Stardust, Neverwhere, Coraline, and other books, as well as short stories, comics, and screenplays. For more information, please visit his website.
Copyright © 2000 by Neil Gaiman. The poem first appeared in Black Heart, Ivory Bones, published by Avon Books. It may not be reproduced in any form without the author's express written permission.