"Little Red Cap" was written by the Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy, who served as the first female poet laureate of the United Kingdom between 2009 and 2019. It is the first poem in her 1999 collection The World's Wife, which depicts figures from history or mythology through a feminist lens. In "Little Red Cap," this figure is Little Red Riding Hood, from the classic fairy tale. Though usually portrayed as a naive girl hoodwinked and eaten by a wolf, Duffy's Little Red Cap is a young woman brimming with sexual curiosity, artistic ambition, and personal agency. Her relationship with the wolf, though marked by a predatory power imbalance, serves as the catalyst for her coming-of-age.
At childhood’s end, ...
... of the woods.
It was there ...
... had! What teeth!
In the interval, ...
... my first.
You might ask ...
... eyes of owls.
I crawled in ...
... lost both shoes
but got there, ...
... love a wolf?
Then I slid ...
... licking his chops.
As soon as ...
... music and blood.
But then I ...
... rhyme, same reason.
I took an ...
... my grandmother’s bones.
I filled his ...
... singing, all alone.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
The Poem Out Loud — A video of "Little Red Cap" being read out loud.
The Original Fairy Tale — The 1812 fairy tale "Little Red Cap," as set down by the Brothers Grimm.
Duffy's Biography and More Poems — A valuable resource from the Poetry Foundation on Duffy's life and work.
Review of "The World's Wife" — A review of "The World's Wife," the collection to which "Little Red Cap" belongs, by Jeannette Winterson.
Interview with Carol Ann Duffy — An interview with the poet, towards the end of her term as UK Poet Laureate.
1At childhood’s end, the houses petered out
2into playing fields, the factory, allotments
3kept, like mistresses, by kneeling married men,
4the silent railway line, the hermit's caravan,
5till you came at last to the edge of the woods.
6It was there that I first clapped eyes on the wolf.
7He stood in a clearing, reading his verse out loud
8in his wolfy drawl, a paperback in his hairy paw,
9red wine staining his bearded jaw. What big ears
10he had! What big eyes he had! What teeth!
11In the interval, I made quite sure he spotted me,
12sweet sixteen, never been, babe, waif, and bought me a drink,
13my first. You might ask why. Here’s why. Poetry.
14The wolf, I knew, would lead me deep into the woods,
15away from home, to a dark tangled thorny place
16lit by the eyes of owls. I crawled in his wake,
17my stockings ripped to shreds, scraps of red from my blazer
18snagged on twig and branch, murder clues. I lost both shoes
19but got there, wolf’s lair, better beware. Lesson one that night,
20breath of the wolf in my ear, was the love poem.
21I clung till dawn to his thrashing fur, for
22what little girl doesn’t dearly love a wolf?
23Then I slid from between his heavy matted paws
24and went in search of a living bird – white dove –
25which flew, straight, from my hands to his open mouth.
26One bite, dead. How nice, breakfast in bed, he said,
27licking his chops. As soon as he slept, I crept to the back
28of the lair, where a whole wall was crimson, gold, aglow with books.
29Words, words were truly alive on the tongue, in the head,
30warm, beating, frantic, winged; music and blood.
31But then I was young – and it took ten years
32in the woods to tell that a mushroom
33stoppers the mouth of a buried corpse, that birds
34are the uttered thought of trees, that a greying wolf
35howls the same old song at the moon, year in, year out,
36season after season, same rhyme, same reason. I took an axe
37to a willow to see how it wept. I took an axe to a salmon
38to see how it leapt. I took an axe to the wolf
39as he slept, one chop, scrotum to throat, and saw
40the glistening, virgin white of my grandmother’s bones.
41I filled his old belly with stones. I stitched him up.
42Out of the forest I come with my flowers, singing, all alone.