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The Poor Boy in the Grave
Grimm Märchen

The Poor Boy in the Grave - Fairy Tale by the Brothers Grimm

Reading time for children: 10 min

There was once a poor shepherd-boy whose father and mother were dead, and he was placed by the authorities in the house of a rich man, who was to feed him and bring him up. The man and his wife, had however, bad hearts, and were greedy and anxious about their riches, and vexed whenever any one put a morsel of their bread in his mouth. The poor young fellow might do what he liked, he got little to eat, but only so many blows the more. One day he had to watch a hen and her chickens, but she ran through a quick-set hedge with them, and a hawk darted down instantly, and carried her off through the air. The boy called, „Thief! thief! rascal!“ with all the strength of his body. But what good did that do? The hawk did not bring its prey back again. The man heard the noise, and ran to the spot, and as soon as he saw that his hen was gone, he fell in a rage, and gave the boy such a beating that he could not stir for two days. Then he had to take care of the chickens without the hen, but now his difficulty was greater, for one ran here and the other there. He thought he was doing a very wise thing when he tied them all together with a string, because then the hawk would not be able to steal any of them away from him. But he was very much mistaken. After two days, worn out with running about and hunger, he fell asleep. The bird of prey came, and seized one of the chickens, and as the others were tied fast to it, it carried them all off together, perched itself on a tree, and devoured them. The farmer was just coming home, and when he saw the misfortune, he got angry and beat the boy so unmercifully that he was forced to lie in bed for several days.

When he was on his legs again, the farmer said to him, „Thou art too stupid for me, I cannot make a herdsman of thee, thou must go as errand-boy.“ Then he sent him to the judge, to whom he was to carry a basketful of grapes, and he gave him a letter as well. On the way hunger and thirst tormented the unhappy boy so violently that he ate two of the bunches of grapes. He took the basket to the judge, but when the judge had read the letter, and counted the bunches he said, „Two clusters are wanting.“ The boy confessed quite honestly that, driven by hunger and thirst, he had devoured the two which were wanting. The judge wrote a letter to the farmer, and asked for the same number of grapes again. These also the boy had to take to him with a letter. As he again was so extremely hungry and thirsty, he could not help it, and again ate two bunches. But first he took the letter out of the basket, put it under a stone and seated himself thereon in order that the letter might not see and betray him. The judge, however, again made him give an explanation about the missing bunches. „Ah,“ said the boy, „how have you learnt that?“ The letter could not know about it, for I put it under a stone before I did it.“ The judge could not help laughing at the boy’s simplicity, and sent the man a letter wherein he cautioned him to keep the poor boy better, and not let him want for meat and drink, and also that he was to teach him what was right and what was wrong.

„I will soon show thee the difference,“ said the hard man, „if thou wilt eat, thou must work, and if thou dost anything wrong, thou shalt be quite sufficiently taught by blows.“

The next day he set him a hard task. He was to chop two bundles of straw for food for the horses, and then the man threatened: „In five hours,“ said he, „I shall be back again, and if the straw is not cut to chaff by that time, I will beat thee until thou canst not move a limb.“ The farmer went with his wife, the man-servant and the girl, to the yearly fair, and left nothing behind for the boy but a small bit of bread. The boy seated himself on the bench, and began to work with all his might. As he got warm over it he put his little coat off and threw it on the straw. In his terror lest he should not get done in time he kept constantly cutting, and in his haste, without noticing it, he chopped his little coat as well as the straw. He became aware of the misfortune too late. There was no repairing it. „Ah,“ cried he, „now all is over with me! The wicked man did not threaten me for nothing. If he comes back and sees what I have done, he will kill me. Rather than that I will take my own life.“

The boy had once heard the farmer’s wife say, „I have a pot with poison in it under my bed.“ She, however, had only said that to keep away greedy people, for there was honey in it. The boy crept under the bed, brought out the pot, and ate all that was in it. „I do not know,“ said he, „folks say death is bitter, but it tastes very sweet to me. It is no wonder that the farmer’s wife has so often longed for death.“ He seated himself in a little chair, and was prepared to die. But instead of becoming weaker he felt himself strengthened by the nourishing food. „It cannot have been poison,“ thought he, „but the farmer once said there was a small bottle of poison for flies in the box in which he keeps his clothes; that, no doubt, will be the true poison, and bring death to me.“ It was, however, no poison for flies, but Hungarian wine. The boy got out the bottle, and emptied it. „This death tastes sweet too,“ said he, but shortly after when the wine began to mount into his brain and stupefy him, he thought his end was drawing near. „I feel that I must die,“ said he, „I will go away to the churchyard, and seek a grave.“ He staggered out, reached the churchyard, and laid himself in a newly dug grave. He lost his senses more and more. In the neighbourhood was an inn where a wedding was being kept. When he heard the music, he fancied he was already in Paradise, until at length he lost all consciousness. The poor boy never awoke again. The heat of the strong wine and the cold night-dew deprived him of life, and he remained in the grave in which he had laid himself.

When the farmer heard the news of the boy’s death he was terrified, and afraid of being brought to justice indeed, his distress took such a powerful hold of him that he fell fainting to the ground. His wife, who was standing on the hearth with a pan of hot fat, ran to him to help him. But the flames darted against the pan, the whole house caught fire, in a few hours it lay in ashes, and the rest of the years they had to live they passed in poverty and misery, tormented by the pangs of conscience.

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Backgrounds to fairy tale „The poor boy in the grave“

„The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a lesser-known fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm in their compilation „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). As with other Grimm fairy tales, „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ has its roots in German folklore and oral tradition.

The Brothers Grimm collected stories like „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ from various sources, including oral traditions, written texts, and personal accounts from friends and acquaintances. Their primary goal was to preserve these stories as part of German cultural heritage and folklore.

„The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a tale that tells the story of a poor orphan boy who suffers from the cruelty of his master. The story explores themes such as kindness, compassion, and the importance of treating others fairly. The tale also highlights the concept of divine intervention and the idea that those who are kind and honest will be rewarded, while those who are cruel and deceitful will face consequences.

As a lesser-known story among the Brothers Grimm’s collection, „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ may not have been as widely circulated or adapted as some of their more famous tales. However, its themes and motifs still resonate with readers, demonstrating the timeless appeal and relevance of the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The poor boy in the grave“

„The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, but it offers several themes and motifs that provide multiple interpretations. Here are some possible interpretations of the story:

Kindness and compassion: A central theme in „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is the importance of treating others with kindness and compassion. The poor orphan boy suffers at the hands of his cruel master, but his kindness and honesty eventually lead to divine intervention and his ultimate reward. This theme serves as a reminder to readers of the significance of empathy and understanding towards others, regardless of their circumstances.

Honesty and truthfulness: The story emphasizes the value of honesty and truthfulness, as the poor boy remains honest despite the hardships he faces. His commitment to telling the truth ultimately leads to his salvation, suggesting that honesty is a virtue that can bring about positive change and redemption.

Divine intervention and justice: „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ also explores the concept of divine intervention, as the boy’s prayers are answered and his suffering comes to an end. The tale suggests that there is a higher power that watches over and rewards those who are kind, honest, and true-hearted, while punishing those who are cruel and deceitful. This theme can provide comfort and encouragement to readers facing difficult circumstances, offering hope that justice will eventually prevail.

The consequences of cruelty and deceit: The story demonstrates the negative consequences of cruelty and deceit, as the cruel master eventually faces the repercussions of his actions. This theme serves as a cautionary lesson for readers, emphasizing the importance of treating others fairly and with respect.

The power of perseverance: Despite the challenges and hardships the poor boy faces, he continues to persevere, remaining honest and kind. This theme can be seen as an inspiration to readers to remain steadfast and resilient in the face of adversity, trusting that their efforts will ultimately be rewarded.

In summary, „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a thought-provoking tale that explores themes such as kindness, compassion, honesty, divine intervention, and the consequences of cruelty and deceit. These themes contribute to the timeless appeal and relevance of the story, making it a valuable addition to the Brothers Grimm’s collection of fairy tales.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The poor boy in the grave“

„The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm, and as such, it has not been adapted as widely as some of their more famous tales. However, there are a few adaptations and works that have drawn inspiration from the story:

Children’s books: „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ has been retold and adapted in various children’s books, often with simplified language and illustrations to make the story more accessible to young readers. These adaptations may take creative liberties with the plot or characters but generally retain the core themes and motifs of the original tale.

Fairy tale anthologies: As a part of the Brothers Grimm’s collection, „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ has been included in numerous fairy tale anthologies and collections, alongside other stories from the Brothers Grimm and other authors. These collections often contain retellings or adaptations of the original stories, sometimes with updated language or additional commentary to provide context and analysis.

Theater and storytelling events: Local and amateur theatre groups or storytelling events occasionally include adaptations of „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ as part of a larger program of fairy tales or Brothers Grimm stories. These performances may use various storytelling techniques to bring the story to life, emphasizing the themes of kindness, compassion, and divine intervention.

Thematic influence: While not a direct adaptation, the themes and motifs found in „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ may have influenced other works, such as novels, films, or television shows that feature stories of individuals overcoming adversity through kindness, honesty, and perseverance.

Although „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ hasn’t been adapted as widely as some other Brothers Grimm fairy tales, it remains an engaging and thought-provoking story that can be appreciated by audiences of all ages. The tale’s themes and motifs continue to inspire and influence other works, demonstrating its enduring appeal and relevance in the realm of folklore and storytelling.

Adaptions of the fairy tale „The poor boy in the grave“

„The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a popular fairy tale that has been adapted in various forms across different cultures and media. Here are a few examples of adaptations of the story:

„The Three Wishes“ by Joseph Jacobs: This is an English version of the tale, in which a poor woodcutter is granted three wishes by a fairy. The woodcutter’s third wish leads him to the grave, where he must complete a series of tasks to earn a magic herb that can save his dying wife.

„The Good-for-Nothing“ by Hans Christian Andersen: This is a Danish version of the tale, in which a lazy and selfish boy sets out to find a cure for his sick mother. He encounters a series of challenges and ultimately learns the value of hard work and compassion.

„The Grave of the Fireflies“ (1988): This is a Japanese anime film that is loosely based on the tale. The film follows two siblings who are struggling to survive in Japan during World War II. They encounter a series of challenges and tragedies, including the death of their mother, and must rely on each other to survive.

„Hansel and Gretel“ by the Brothers Grimm: This classic fairy tale shares several similarities with „The Poor Boy in the Grave“, including the themes of poverty, perseverance, and the supernatural. In both stories, the main characters must navigate a dangerous and unfamiliar world to overcome their challenges and ultimately find a way to save themselves or their loved ones.

Overall, „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ has inspired numerous adaptations and variations, each with their own unique twists and interpretations. The story’s enduring themes and universal appeal have made it a beloved classic across different cultures and media.

Summary of the plot

„The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a lesser-known fairy tale from the Brothers Grimm that tells the story of a poor orphan boy who endures the cruelty of his master but remains honest and kind-hearted throughout his hardships. Here is a summary of the plot:

The story begins with a poor orphan boy who is taken in by a cruel master. The master forces the boy to work hard and beats him for any small mistake. Despite his suffering, the boy remains honest and kind-hearted. One day, the master accuses the boy of stealing a coin, even though the boy insists he is innocent.

The master threatens to beat the boy even more severely if he does not confess to the theft. Desperate, the boy prays to God for help. Soon after, the coin is found, proving the boy’s innocence. However, the master still beats the boy out of spite.

The boy, having had enough of the abuse, decides to run away. He comes across a freshly dug grave and, exhausted and hopeless, lies down in it. A compassionate man finds the boy and takes pity on him, offering him food and shelter. The boy gratefully accepts and begins a new life with the kind man.

The cruel master, meanwhile, is struck by misfortune and faces a series of calamities. Eventually, he dies and is buried in the very grave that the boy had once sought refuge in. The story concludes with the boy leading a happy life, thanks to his honesty, kindness, and the compassion of the man who took him in.

In summary, „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a heartwarming tale that emphasizes the importance of kindness, compassion, and honesty. The protagonist’s resilience in the face of cruelty and adversity serves as an inspiration to readers and demonstrates the power of perseverance and the hope for divine intervention.


Backgrounds to fairy tale „The poor boy in the grave“

„The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a German fairy tale collected by the Brothers Grimm, who were famous for their collection of German and European folklore. The tale was first published in the early 19th century, as part of the Grimm’s anthology „Kinder- und Hausmärchen“ (Children’s and Household Tales). The Brothers Grimm, Jacob and Wilhelm, were scholars and linguists who dedicated their lives to collecting and preserving traditional stories that were passed down through generations.

Their collection of tales, published in multiple volumes, is one of the most well-known and influential works in Western folklore. Some of the most popular stories, such as Cinderella, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel, have become ingrained in popular culture and inspired countless adaptations in literature, film, and other media.

The Brothers Grimm were part of the larger Romantic movement in Europe, which emphasized a return to tradition, folklore, and national identity. The tales they collected were intended to serve as a cultural and historical record, capturing the unique spirit of German and European oral storytelling.

In addition to being literary figures, the Brothers Grimm were also academics, working as professors and researchers. Their work in linguistics, particularly in the study of the German language, is still considered significant today. Their collection of fairy tales, along with their academic pursuits, helped to cement their reputation as important figures in the study of folklore and the development of the modern study of folklore and cultural anthropology.

Interpretations to fairy tale „The poor boy in the grave“

„The Poor Boy in the Grave“ can be interpreted in several ways, including as a cautionary tale, a critique of social inequality, and an exploration of the consequences of abuse and neglect.

Cautionary tale: The story serves as a warning against greed, cruelty, and neglect. The rich farmer and his wife’s mistreatment of the poor boy ultimately leads to their own downfall, as they lose their wealth and live the rest of their lives in misery. This demonstrates the importance of treating others with kindness and compassion, and that negative actions can have serious consequences.

Critique of social inequality: The story highlights the disparity between the rich and the poor, and the injustices faced by the less fortunate. The poor boy, an orphan placed in the care of the wealthy farmer, is subject to abuse and neglect, despite the judge’s order to provide better care for him. This emphasizes the need for greater social awareness and support for vulnerable individuals in society.

Consequences of abuse and neglect: The tale serves as a tragic exploration of the impact of abuse and neglect on a young and vulnerable person. The boy, tormented by his caretakers, feels he has no choice but to end his life. His tragic fate, along with the eventual ruin of the farmer and his wife, demonstrates the destructive nature of abuse and the importance of compassion and care for those in need.

Overall, „The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a powerful story that teaches valuable lessons about the significance of kindness, empathy, and the consequences of mistreatment. It also encourages readers to be more aware of social inequality and the plight of vulnerable individuals in society.

Summary of the plot

The Poor Boy in the Grave“ is a Brothers Grimm fairy tale about a young shepherd boy who suffers at the hands of a cruel, rich farmer and his wife. The farmer is ordered by a judge to provide better care for the boy, but instead, the farmer threatens and mistreats him even more.

One day, the farmer tasks the boy with chopping straw for the horses and warns him of a severe beating if the task is not completed in five hours. Left with a small piece of bread, the boy works diligently but accidentally chops his coat along with the straw. Fearful of the farmer’s wrath, he decides to take his own life.

The boy consumes what he believes to be poison from a pot under the farmer’s wife’s bed, but it is actually honey. Feeling stronger, he assumes it was not poison and searches for another substance to end his life. He drinks a bottle of what he thinks is fly poison, but it is actually strong Hungarian wine. Intoxicated and disoriented, he stumbles to the churchyard and lies in a freshly dug grave, expecting to die.

Meanwhile, a wedding is celebrated nearby, and the boy hears the music as he drifts into unconsciousness. He never awakens, as the heat from the wine and the cold night dew claim his life.

When the farmer learns of the boy’s death, he is overcome with fear of retribution and collapses in shock. His wife, in her haste to help him, accidentally sets their house on fire. The couple loses everything, and they spend the rest of their lives in poverty and misery, haunted by their guilty conscience.

Informations for scientific analysis

Fairy tale statistics
NumberKHM 185
TranslationsDE, EN, ES, PT, IT, JA, NL, PL, RU, TR, ZH
Readability Index by Björnsson29.1
Flesch-Reading-Ease Index83.1
Flesch–Kincaid Grade-Level6.6
Gunning Fog Index9.4
Coleman–Liau Index6.9
SMOG Index8.2
Automated Readability Index6.7
Character Count6.416
Letter Count4.907
Sentence Count64
Word Count1.270
Average Words per Sentence19,84
Words with more than 6 letters118
Percentage of long words9.3%
Number of Syllables1.555
Average Syllables per Word1,22
Words with three Syllables47
Percentage Words with three Syllables3.7%
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