When I Wore Red Shoes
by Eliza Cook
“WHEN I wore red shoes!” Ah me!
Simple as the words may be,
Yet these simple words can bring
The peacock feather of Time’s wing,
And flutter it before my eyes
In all its vivid pristine dyes.
What were Cinderella’s slippers
To my pair of fairy trippers?
No heart gives such ecstatic thumps
In spur-deck’d boots or perfum’d pumps,
As mine did when I strutted out
To show my fine red shoes about,
Most truly then my tiny toes
Walk’d in a path “couleur de rose,”
As, marching forth, I sought the street,
My head fill’d, choke-full, with my feet.
Proud and happy thing was I,
Amid the world’s enchanted views;
When hair and sash-ends used to fly,
And I wore red shoes.
How they used to flit and shine
O’er the chalky zig-zag line,
As with Taglioni tread
I moved where “Hop Scotch” maps were-spread!
How rich their contrast as they plied
In kicks on Pincher’s jetty side;
Till “tantrums” made it hard to trace
Which were the reddest, shoes or face!
Oh, Pincher! Pincher! it was you
That shared the scolding and “to-do,”
When I had join’d their strings to deck
Your dear, old apoplectic neck.
Sock and buskin—out upon them!
Let the crook-back Richards don them:
I remember wearing socks
That gave severer tragic shocks;
That won a fame by no means fickle—
A fame I stood no chance to lose;
When I acted “Little Pickle”
Stamping in red shoes.
Mentors dubb’d me “stupid child,”
Idle, careless, rude, and wild;
As they labour’d to instil
Mystic hornpipe and quadrille.
How I used to fling and flout
Through “Ladies’ Chain” to “put them out;”
And took vast pains to “balancez”
In any but the proper way!
Red shoes, red shoes, what heavy raps,
Under the name of “gentle taps,”
Fell on your bright, morocco skins
To punish my provoking sins!
Who cared? Not I. Next moment found
Me where the ball and rope went round;
And sermons, scoldings, slaps, and school,
Were soon immersed in Lethe’s pool.
I’ll own my steps were sometimes pestered,
But nothing left the gall or bruise;
The thorn might wound, but never fester’d,
When I wore red shoes.
The Roman in his sandall’d pride,
Gazing upon the Tiber’s tide,
Ne’er met such glory in his way
As I on some “spring, showery day,”
When splashing through the puddle flood
Into a paradise of mud;
Till some intrusive voice was heard
With startling tone and angry word;
Exclaiming “Mercy! who would choose
Such place to walk—look at your shoes!”
Red shoes, how well ye served to fling
In “Hunt the Slipper’s” fairy ring!
When “blouzed and thump’d” on head and legs,
I fear’d no “Miss Amelia Skeggs;”
But scream’d and shouted, clutch’d and claw’d,
Uncheck’d, unruly, and unawed;
And bounced about like “my man John,”
With one shoe off and one shoe on.
What though a tear might sometimes fall,
And dim the lustre of their hues;
It form’d a rainbow, after all,
Dissolving round red shoes.
Bed shoes, red shoes, ye bore me well
Through ferny copse and greenwood dell;
When I career’d in childhood’s day
“Over the hills and far away.”
Now ye went boldly dashing through
The russet heath still charged with dew;
Now in the orchard ye would be
Climbing the fine, old cherry-tree;
Now ye would tramp the grass about,
To find the scatter’d filberts out;
And now beneath broad boughs ye stopp’d,
To see if plums or pears had dropp’d.
Anon, ye scamper’d hard and fast
After the blue moth flitting past;
Keeping the chase with restless might,
Till quickset barrier check’d your flight.
Red shoes, red shoes, ye come in dreams,
When fond and busy Fancy teems:
Ye fill Life’s simplest page I own,
But Memory has turn’d it down.
Ye come with “old familiar faces”—
Ye come with all I cared to lose:
I wake—and count the empty places
Since I wore red shoes.
from Poems (1840) by Eliza Cook
This poem predates H. C. Andersen's story, The Red Shoes, but many of the sentiments are similar that I thought I would share this one as a tribute to Andersen's tale. Of course, this poem is more wistful and much more sympathetic to a child who loved her red shoes.