Resources on poetry by the poets themselves

The Three Wishes

The traditional tale retold

It was a very long time ago, and it was once, that a poor woodman dwelled in a great English forest. Every day that he lived, out he went to fell timber. One fine day, off he went and the woodwife packed his pouch and looped his bottle over his shoulder and under his armpit, and that was his meat and drink for the forest. He had his eye on a huge old oak, reckoning it would yield strong planks aplenty. When he stood beneath it, out came his axe and around his bonce it swung as though he was trying to deck the oak with a stroke. But he hadn’t landed so much as a blow when his ears heard pitiful plaintive pleas and he clapped eyes on a fairy who begged and beseeched him to spare the tree. He was stunned- you can imagine- with fascination and fear, and he couldn’t force one word through his lips. At last he found his tongue. “Well,” he said, “I’ll do as thou wants.”

“You have done yourself a greater favour than you know,” replied the fairy, “and I propose to show my gratitude by granting you your next three wishes, whatever they may be.” At that, the fairy was nowhere to be seen and the woodman hung his pouch over his shoulder and slung his bottle at his side and loped for home.

Well, the way was a long one and the poor man was flummoxed and flabbergasted by the magical thing that had happened to him, and when he got home there was nowt in his noddle but a strong desire to sit in his chair and rest. Perhaps this was the work of the fairy? Your guess. Anyroad, he plonked himself down next to the toasty fire and as he sat he grew hungry, even though it was a long time till supper.

“Has thou owt for supper, wife?” he called to the woodwife.

“Nowt for a couple of hours yet,” she said.

“Aah!” groaned the woodman, “I wish I had a long strong link of black pudding in front of my face!”

No sooner had the words left his lips when bonk, slither, clatter and clunk, what should fall down the chimney but a long strong link of the finest black pudding a man’s heart could desire.

If the woodman gaped, the woodwife gawped to the power of three. “What’s happened here?” she said.

Then the woodman remembered the morning’s events and he told his story from start to finish, and as he told it the woodwife glowered and glared, and when he’d finished she exploded, “Thou fool! Thou fool! Thou fool! I wish the pudding was on your nose, I really do!”

And before you could say Flingo Macbingo, there the good man sat and his neb was longer by a noble length of black pudding.

He gave a tug, but it stuck, and she gave a yank, but it stuck, then they both pulled till they nearly tore off his nose, but it stuck and it stuck and it stuck.

“What’s to happen now?” he said.

“It doesn’t look that bad,” she said, giving him a good looking over.

Then the woodman realised that he must wish and wish quick; so wish he did and his wish was for the black pudding to be off his conk. Alleluia! There it gleamed in a dish on the table, and if the woodman and woodwife never rode in a fairytale coach or danced in satin and silk, well, at least they had as splendid a link of long strong black pudding as ever the heart of a man or a woman could wish for.

FROM BEASTS AND BEAUTIES (DUFFY/SUPPLE/STILL; FABER 2004, ISBN 0-571-22669-8)

© copyright Carol Ann Duffy