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The Looking-Glass

[words Rudyard Kipling, music Peter Bellamy]

The Looking-Glass is a poem from Rudyard Kipling's book Rewards and Fairies. Peter Bellamy sang it on his first album of songs set to Kipling's poems, Oak, Ash & Thorn. He commented in the album's sleeve notes:

The Looking-Glass concerns Queen Elizabeth the First and some of the deeds of Good Queen Bess which were not so good. The story from which the poem is taken, Gloriana is narrated by Elizabeth herself, the most exalted person whom Puck enabled Dan and Una to meet. The tune is based on a line from Just As the Tide Was A-Flowing.

As the original album wasn't available anymore, Peter Bellamy re-recorded this and other songs with the help of Nigel Schofield, probably in the mid-1980s. The new version was finally included on the Fellside compilation Mr Bellamy, Mr Kipling & the Tradition. Another recording from a 1986 session for Pennine Radio, Bradford, was included on Peter Bellamy's Free Reed anthology Wake the Vaulted Echoes.

Former Witch of Elswick, Fay Hield sang The Looking Glass in 2010 on her first solo CD, Looking Glass. She commented:

I was given Bellamy’s own copy of Kipling’s book after his death by a mutual friend so I learnt this song from the text he set it to the music by, pencil scribbled comments and all.

This video shows her at Bristol Folk Festival in April 2011:

Lyrics

The Queen was in her chamber, and she was middling old,
Her petticoat was satin and her stomacher was gold.
Backwards and forwards and sideways did she pass,
For making up her mind to face the cruel looking-glass.
The cruel looking-glass that will never show a lass
As comely or as kindly or as young as once she was!

The Queen was in her chamber, a-combing of her hair,
There came Queen Mary's spirit and it stood behind her chair,
Singing, “Backwards and forwards and sideways may you pass,
But I will stand behind you till you face the looking-glass.
The cruel looking-glass that will never show a lass
As lovely or unlucky or as lonely as I was!”

The Queen was in her chamber, a-weeping very sore,
There came Lord Leicester's spirit and it scratched upon the door,
Singing, “Backwards and forwards and sideways may you pass,
But I will walk beside you till you face the looking-glass.
The cruel looking-glass that will never show a lass
As hard and unforgiving or as wicked as you was!”

The Queen was in her chamber; her sins were on her head;
She looked the spirits up and down and statelily she said:
“Backwards and forwards and sideways though I've been,
Yet I am Harry's daughter and I am England's Queen!”
And she faced the looking-glass (and whatever else there was),
And she saw her day was over and she saw her beauty pass
In the cruel looking-glass that can always hurt a lass
More hard than any ghost there is or any man there was!