single post

Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree

Gold-Tree and Silver-Tree

by April Grant

There was once a Queen named Silver-Tree —
So the old men say in their tales.
She was lovely as the stars at night
But as mean as a sack of bent nails.

It happened one summer morning,
Just after she got out of bed.
Since mirrors had not been invented,
She went down to the river instead.

She admired her classical features
And blew her reflection a kiss.
Then, staring out over the water,
She soliloquized something like this:

“I’m in shape, I have very nice hair and clear skin,
And on top of all that I’m a queen.
Am I not the most beautiful woman
That anyone anywhere’s seen?”

All nature seemed in agreement,
And there wasn’t a shadow of doubt,
Until a ripple came over the sea
And up spoke a small silver trout.

He said, “I have been East and I have been West,
Swimming beneath the sun,
And in the five-fifths of the widespread world
You’re fairer than all but one.”

“Oh, so you think I am second best?
My dear fish, that is a strange choice.
Where does the most beautiful woman live?”
She said in a dangerous voice.

“Well, she lives with you, she’s your daughter.
I think her name is Gold-Tree.
My vote would have to be for her
For Miss Ireland of 800 AD.”

When Silver-Tree heard this defiance,
Her Queenship went clean off her head.
She threw a big rock at poor Troutie,
Then stormed off home and took to her bed.

It worried her poor old husband
To watch Silver-Tree sicken and droop,
And he hovered over her bed of unrest
With tears, prayers and hot chicken soup.

“Oh, husband darling,” Silver-Tree said,
I fear I’ll get iller and iller,
Unless you take Gold-Tree — our daughter, remember? —
In back of the castle and kill her.

“Get her heart and her liver and roast them.
Please, darling, just for me.
It’s a very good source of iron and zinc
As well as of Vitamin D.”

Her poor old husband, you may have guessed,
Was put in a terrible stew.
He nodded his head to the lady’s request,
And said, “I’ll see what I can do.”

He went to his daughter, Gold-Tree,
Who was beautiful, quiet and meek,
And her boyfriend, the King of Lochlann,
Who was down on a visit that week.

“Now, Gold-Tree,” says her poor old Dad,
“Your mother’s gone clean off her head.
She wants to cut out your entrails —
I’m just telling you what she said.”

Gold-Tree was terribly frightened,
But she wasn’t caught by surprise.
She’d long known her mother’s favorite pastime
Was to slit tongues, notch ears and gouge eyes.

But up spoke the King of Lochlann,
Saying, “I’ll tell you what we can do.
We’ll elope for my homeland at midnight
In a currach that’s built for two.”

They sailed under cover of darkness,
And, as soon as he saw them depart,
The old king went and killed a sheep
And fed Silver-Tree liver and heart.

Now, all went well for a year or so,
But the good times came to an end
When Silver-Tree went to the water one day
And said, “Little Troutie, my friend!

Troutie, my bonny small fellow.
It’s me, Silver-Tree, the queen.
Am I not the most beautiful woman
That ever your two eyes have seen?”

Well, Trout put his head out the water,
He gave her the judicious eye,
Then, fidgeting with his caudal fins,
He carefully framed his reply:

“Oh, I have been North and I have been South,
In spring, in summer and fall;
You’re nearly as fair as Gold-Tree, your child,
And she is the fairest of all.”

“Troutie, Troutie, you’re out of touch!
Where have you been, down a sewer?
My daughter Gold-Tree’s been dead for a year —
I ate her heart on a skewer.”

“Oh, as I swam by Lochlann’s shore,
Down by a castle’s side,
I saw Gold-Tree and I saw the king
Come rowing on the tide.”

(Yes, he sang it. He had rather a nice tenor voice.)

When Silver-Tree heard this defiance,
With rage she turned purple and green.
She made a rude gesture at Troutie,
Then stormed off, every inch the Queen.

Her ship put out from the havens
To go and find Gold-Tree and kill her.
And Silver-Tree stood in the helmsman’s place
With her lovely white hand on the tiller.

Gold-Tree stood up in her window,
And she saw that ship come in.
She saw her mother walk up the pier
And she started to quake in her skin.

“Here comes my mother! I’m in for it now!”
Poor Gold-Tree wept without stopping.
Her husband said, “Lock yourself in your room!
I’ll tell her you’ve gone out shopping.”

But just as Gold-Tree locked herself up,
Her mother swept into the house,
And she searched all around in every last nook
That could hold so much as a mouse.

She banged all the doors and she rattled the knobs,
Crying, “Daughter, are you inside?”
At last a small voice said, “Mom, I’m in here,
And I plan to stay right here and hide.”

“Oh, Gold-Tree, why have you locked yourself up?
Whatever on earth could you fear?
You won’t come out to see your own mother?”
Said Gold-Tree, “Yes, that’s the idea.”

“Put your finger out of the keyhole,
So at least I can give it a kiss!”
And Gold-Tree thinks: “Well, I guess it’s okay,
She can’t possibly hurt me like this.”

But Silver-Tree took out her hatpin,
Which had poison all over the point,
And as soon as she saw Gold-Tree’s finger,
She stuck it in clean through the joint.

There was a short scream, then a terrible thud.
And Silver-Tree went from that place,
She ran to her ship and sailed back home,
With a satisfied look on her face.

When the king went along to let Gold-Tree out,
What he saw when he opened the door,
Was Gold-Tree, his beautiful, glorious wife,
Stretched out stone cold dead on the floor.

His grief was something terrific,
And he gave out an order, at last,
That Gold-Tree be laid on the bed in that room
And the door should be locked up fast.

Let us have ten seconds of silence
For a monarch so gloomy and sad.
Now, imagine I’m holding a calendar
And I’m flipping the pages like mad.

One year goes by, then another,
And again the king’s taken a wife.
It’s a nice-looking woman with long black hair
And a sensible outlook on life.

He gave her the keys of the castle,
And she wanted to look everywhere.
“Don’t go in the room down the end of the hall!
I don’t let a soul go in there.”

Well, she thought, “Who have I married, Bluebeard?” —
It was like something out of a book.
And one rainy day, while the King was away,
She decided to go have a look.

The key screeched around in the keyhole.
There was dust an inch thick in the room.
And there on the bed, apparently dead,
Lay a lady, as if in her tomb.

She’d a nasty big pin in her finger,
So the second wife pulled it right out.
But imagine her fright when the corpse sat upright
And began staring wildly about!

Gold-Tree cried, “Mother! You’ve killed me!”
Said the new wife, “Your mother’s not here.
But I sense a story behind this,
So please start explaining, my dear.”

When the king came home that evening,
His new wife offhandedly said:
“Have you ever… been in love before?
Perhaps with somebody who’s… dead?”

The king looked terribly downcast,
And he said, “That’s a long, sad story.
I should have said — I was married before,
But then things got awfully gory.”

The new wife said, “Husband dearest,
Tell me as quick as you’re able,
Did she look at all like this woman here?”
And Gold-Tree stepped up to the table.

Such hugging then, and such kissing!
They laughed and they snuggled and cried.
Meanwhile, the new wife stood biting her nails
In the shadows way off at one side.

She said, “Well, Gold-Tree, you married him first.
It’s right you’re the one who should stay.
I’ll just go upstairs and pack my things,
Call a taxi, and be on my way.”

The king says, “By crikey, I married you both!
You should both stay, if you two agree.
Hey, it worked for those no-account Mormons,
It’ll work for a King like me.”

They were set for a happy ending,
Which Fate could not yet deliver,
Because meanwhile, back in Ireland,
Silver-Tree went down to the river.

She just gloated at her reflection
As she gracefully lounged on the shore.
Then a small fish swam nervously past —
It was Trout, going upstream once more.

He thought he would be unobtrusive,
But she gave him a look that could kill,
And yelled, “Troutie, I want your opinion!”
And he paused, with a shrug of his gill.

“Troutie, my bonny small fellow.
We keep meeting — it seems to be fate.
Say I’m the most beautiful woman alive,
Then I’ll let you go upstream to mate.”

Now trouts are compulsively honest.
You all must have guessed that they are.
So he threw up his fins and told Silver-Tree:
“Close, lady, but no cigar.”

“Troutie, Troutie, don’t harp on that string!
We both know you-know-who’s dead!”
“Oh no she’s not, she’s alive to this day,
And you’re just a big tyrant,” he said.

Silver-Tree was caught flat astonished
That a small fish could have so much spine.
She shouted at Troutie, “Póg mo thóin!”
Troutie answered, “And you can kiss mine!”

Then Silver-Tree stormed to her castle
And locked herself up in her room,
Where she huddled over a Bunsen burner
Brewing venom, spleen, poison and Doom.

The next morning, pale and haggard,
She made her way down to the shore
With a cup in her hands that was draped with a cloth,
And she yelled for her ship, as before.

Now, that day, in the kingdom of Lochlann,
Gold-Tree had gone out for a walk
With the second wife, and they took some stale bread
To feed seagulls down at the dock.

They talked and they laughed and sat in the sun
And were just completely carefree
Till the second wife shaded her eyes: “What’s that?
There’s a speck way out on the sea.”

Gold-Tree knew her mother’s banners
So she started to shake, and she cried:
“Oh no! This time she’ll kill me!
Quick, quick, let me run off and hide.”

“Don’t do any such thing,” said the second wife.
“We’ll stand and we’ll wait for her here.”
So after a while the ship put in,
And Silver-Tree walked up the pier.

She had a great big innocent grin,
And between her hands, a cup.
It was full of rank green poisonous goo,
And its smell made them want to throw up.

Of course she went straight up to Gold-Tree
Without even a glance at the other.
She shoved the cup in her face and said,
“Drink a loving-cup with your mother.”

Gold-Tree just stood there choking,
Not knowing what course she should take,
But the second wife said to Silver-Tree,
“You drink first, for politeness’s sake.”

Silver-Tree put her mouth on the goblet,
Not letting the stuff touch her lip,
But the second wife hit the bottom a smack
So she swallowed a pint at a sip.

Then Silver-Tree swelled up and broke out in spots,
And turned lavender, purple and red,
And then some strange intermediate hues,
And fell flat on her back, stone cold dead.

The second wife was of sensible mind.
Before hopping and skipping with bliss,
She called to the sailors who’d managed the ship
And said, “Here. Do something with this.”

So they rowed way out on the ocean,
Then threw the cadaver in,
And just at that moment, Trout swam by —
He paused and gave her the fin.

Now Gold-Tree and her husband the King
And the wife with long black hair
Lived many years and had a fine old time —
And you know, I left them there.



At the end of this post is a video of this, the folktale/poem/comedy monologue I’ve been doing for twenty-plus years and have never recorded anywhere till now. Editing this video was my first time seeing it from the audience, and I hope you’ll have as much fun as I did.

I wrote this poem in late 2002, based on the folktale of the same name in Celtic Fairy Tales, Joseph Jacobs’ 1892 collection. (To read the original folktale, including the illustrations by John D. Batten that haunted my childhood, please go here:

Also in late 2002, I had been having a great time with the funny poetry of Marriott Edgar (best known for “The Lion and Albert” and its sequels:

Edgar’s work is specifically British and of its era, so, after reading and listening to his poems, I found myself wanting something similarly playful and anarchic, but focused on something important in my own life, and worded in a way that wouldn’t sound strange coming from an American. Then I started crossing it over with one of the more gruesome and intriguing folktales I’d ever read, and this was the result.

This poem is (c) me, April Grant, but anyone may learn and perform it with my blessing. If you do take me up on that, please email me here or leave a comment on the video, because that would make my day.


  • “Miss Ireland of 800 AD”: actually, this folktale was collected in Scotland, but I didn’t know that at the time I wrote the poem. My apologies for adding to the problem where Americans assume all Celtic countries are Ireland.
  • “as well as of Vitamin D”: according to this journal article, which I should specify is talking about cattle products, “offal also provides considerable amounts of vitamin D.” I haven’t tried to read up on the nutritional value of human liver.
  • “the King of Lochlann”: these days, “Lochlann” means Norway. In earlier times, Irish myths used “Lochlann” as the name of a mystical place beyond the sea, home of strange primordial beings called the Fomorians. In fairy tales like this one, Lochlann seems to me to be a place-holder name for “another kingdom, somewhere over the sea,” so that’s how it’s used here.
  • “Yes, he sang it”: the tune is “The Bold Fisherman.”
  • “You should both stay”: Joseph Jacobs thought this story must date back to pre-Christian times because it’s so matter-of-fact about polyamory. I don’t know if that’s the case, but I like that the characters just go with it.
  • “póg mo thóin”: Irish for “kiss my ass.”
  • “brewing venom, spleen, poison, and Doom”: I was thinking of the line, “Ye monarchs and rulers whose stations ye demean/ Like scorpions ye spew forth your venom and spleen,” from the song “Napoleon’s Dream.”
  • “…they took some stale bread to feed seagulls”: I have since been informed that bread is bad for birds. Don’t give it to gulls (if you can help it).