Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Half of Gilbert and Sullivan

I never knew much of W. S. Gilbert – half of the famed Gilbert and Sullivan – outside of this:

Which we’ve seen on this blog before.

But Louis Untermeyer opened my eyes a bit, especially with this Gilbert quotation:

When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an attorney’s firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.

A bit which any student of Chuck Jones will immediately recognize from this (starts at about 4:50):

But my favorite has to be Gilbert’s “Etiquette,” a comic tale of two souls on a desert island who don’t interact or share the food they find because they haven’t been properly introduced.

How they wished an introduction to each other they had had
When on board The Ballyshannon! And it drove them nearly mad
To think how very friendly with each other they might get,
If it wasn't for the arbitrary rule of etiquette!

One day, when out a-hunting for the mus ridiculus,
GRAY overheard his fellow-man soliloquising thus:
"I wonder how the playmates of my youth are getting on,

These simple words made PETER as delighted as could be,
Old chummies at the Charterhouse were ROBINSON and he!
He walked straight up to SOMERS, then he turned extremely red,
Hesitated, hummed and hawed a bit, then cleared his throat, and said:

"I beg your pardon--pray forgive me if I seem too bold,
But you have breathed a name I knew familiarly of old.
You spoke aloud of ROBINSON — I happened to be by--
You know him?" "Yes, extremely well." "Allow me — so do I!"

It was enough: they felt they could more sociably get on,
For (ah, the magic of the fact!) they each knew ROBINSON!
And MR. SOMERS' turtle was at PETER'S service quite,
And MR. SOMERS punished PETER'S oyster-beds all night.

Of course, they have a falling out over this very mutual acquaintance, as when a prison ship arrives, they think they are saved until they see the poor Mr. Robinson at the oars, punished for seven years for “misappropriating stock.” They reject their rescue and remain on the island, hostile towards one another for each knowing such a blackguard as Robinson. Full text of the poem is here.

I admire Gilbert’s erudite rhyming and tight poetic structure. It's highly recitable, easy to memorize -- as long as you're not stumbling over the big words -- and tells a good story.

No comments:

Post a Comment