Okay, not a poem. This is an excellent, creepy, possibly inappropriate story that makes no sense. It is known as “The Green Ribbon” and “The Yellow Ribbon” and there are less creppy versions, but this one was the most haunting (because the husband is a jerk).
Since my original post, one reader shared their memories of the Scholastic Record version. Recently, another reader sent this YouTube clip of that same Scholastic Record version being played. If you don’t want to do your own read aloud, play this:
Because some might find it too dark, I have included a toned-down version below it.
THE BLACK VELVET RIBBON
She was beautiful in a strange, mysterious way. Her hair and her deep bottomless eyes were as black as the velvet ribbon around her neck. He planned to marry her before the next full moon rose in the autumn sky.
On their wedding, he watched her walked towards him up the long aisle. She was dressed in a white gown, a white veil, and carried a bouquet of white flowers. Even her face was ivory white. But below it, around the ivory neck, was the black velvet ribbon. He remembered staring at that ribbon as the strains of the wedding march brought his bride nearer to him. He remembered the curious and shocked looks on the faces of the wedding guests. But then his eyes met hers, and he was drowning in their bottomless darkness.
He didn’t think of the velvet ribbon during the rest of his wedding day. It was a joyous time, and if people thought his wife was a bit strange, they kept that to themselves. That night, when they were alone, he saw that the ribbon was still there, still circling her lovely neck.
“Don’t you ever take that ribbon from around your neck?” he asked, hoping his question was a needless one.
You’ll be sorry if I do,” his wife answered, “so I won’t.”
Her answer disturbed him, but he did not question her further. There was plenty of time for her to change her ways
Their life together fell into a pleasant pattern. They were happy, as most newly married couples are. He found her to be a perfect wife… well, nearly perfect. Although she had a great number of dresses and wore a different one every day, she never changed the black velvet ribbon. This ribbon began to be the test of their marriage. When he looked at her, his eyes would invevitably fall to her neck. When he kissed her, he could feel the ribbon tightening around his own throat.
“Won’t you please take that ribbon from around your neck?” he asked her time and time again.
“You’ll be sorry if I do, so I won’t.” This was always her answer. At first it teased him. Then it began to grate on his nerves. Now it was beginning to infuriate him.
“You’ll be sorry if I do.”
“You’ll be sorry if I do.”
One day he tried to pull the ribbon off after she had repeated her answer, like a mechanical doll. It wouldn’t come loose from her neck. He realized then, for the first time, that the ribbon had no beginning and no end. It circled her neck like a band of steel. He had drawn back from her in disgust that day. Things weren’t the same with them after that.
At the breakfast table, the black ribbon seemed to mock him as he drank his suddenly bitter coffee. In the afternoon, outisde, the ribbon made a funeral out of the sunlight. But it was at night when it bothered him the most. He knew he could live with it no longer.
“Either take that ribbon off, or I will,” he said one night to his wife of only four weeks.
“You’ll be sorry if I do, so I won’t.” She smiled at him, and then fell off to sleep.
But he did not sleep. He lay there, staring at the hated ribbon. He had meant what he said. If she would not take off the ribbon, he would.
As she lay sleeping and unsuspecting, he crept out of bed and over to her sewing box. He had seen a small, sharp scissors she kept there. It was thin enough, he knew, to slip between the velvet ribbon and her soft neck. Gripping the scissors in his trembling hands, he walked softly back to the bed. He came up to where she lay and stood over her. Her head was thrown back on the pillow, and her throat with the black velvet ribbon around it rose ever so slightly with her breathing.
He bent down, and with one swift movement, he forced the thin blade of the scissors under the ribbon. Then with a quick, triumphant snip, he severed the ribbon that had come between them.
The black velvet ribbon fell away from his wife’s neck….her head rolled off the bed and landed on the floor with a thump. She was muttering, “You’ll be sorry, you’ll be sorry…….”
Here is the toned-down version, if that one was too creepy for your students.
Spooky WisconsinA Spooky Wisconsin Story
retold by S.E. Schlosser
Jane wore a yellow ribbon around her neck everyday. And I mean everyday, rain or shine, whether it matched her outfit or not. It annoyed her best friend Johnny after awhile. He was her next door neighbor and had known Jane since she was three. When he was young, he had barely noticed the yellow ribbon, but now they were in high school together, it bothered him.
“Why do you wear that yellow ribbon around your neck, Jane?” he’d ask her every day. But she wouldn’t tell him.
Still, in spite of this aggravation, Johnny thought she was cute. He asked her to the soda shoppe for an ice cream sundae. Then he asked her to watch him play in the football game. Then he started seeing her home. And come the spring, he asked her to the dance. Jane always said yes when he asked her out. And she always wore a yellow dress to match the ribbon around her neck.
It finally occurred to Johnny that he and Jane were going steady, and he still didn’t know why she wore the yellow ribbon around her neck. So he asked her about it yet again, and yet again she did not tell him. “Maybe someday I’ll tell you about it,” she’d reply. Someday! That answer annoyed Johnny, but he shrugged it off, because Jane was so cute and fun to be with.
Well, time flew past, as it has a habit of doing, and one day Johnny proposed to Jane and was accepted. They planned a big wedding, and Jane hinted that she might tell him about the yellow ribbon around her neck on their wedding day. But somehow, what with the preparations and his beautiful bride, and the lovely reception, Johnny never got around to asking Jane about it. And when he did remember, she got a bit teary-eyed, and said: “We are so happy together, what difference does it make?” And Johnny decided she was right.
Johnny and Jane raised a family of four, with the usual ups and downs, laughter and tears. When their golden anniversary rolled around, Johnny once again asked Jane about the yellow ribbon around her neck. It was the first time he’d brought it up since the week after their wedding. Whenever their children asked him about it, he’d always hushed them, and somehow none of the kids had dared ask their mother. Jane gave Johnny as sad look and said: “Johnny, you’ve waited this long. You can wait awhile longer.”
And Johnny agreed. It was not until Jane was on her death bed a year later that Johnny, seeing his last chance slip away, asked Jane one final time about the yellow ribbon she wore around her neck. She shook her head a bit at his persistence, and then said with a sad smile: “Okay Johnny, you can go ahead and untie it.”
With shaking hands, Johnny fumbled for the knot and untied the yellow ribbon around his wife’s neck.
And Jane’s head fell off.