the Heavy Dragoon’s Song

July 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

If you want a receipt for that popular mystery,
  Known to the world as a Heavy Dragoon,
Take all the remarkable people in history,
  Rattle them off to a popular tune.

The pluck of Lord Nelson on board of the Victory
  Genius of Bismarck devising a plan —
The humour of Fielding (which sounds contradictory) —
  Coolness of Paget about to trepan —
The science of Jullien, the eminent musico —
  Wit of Macaulay, who wrote of Queen Anne —
The pathos of Paddy, as rendered by Boucicault —
  Style of the Bishop of Sodor and Man —
The dash of a D’Orsay, divested of quackery —
Narrative powers of Dickens and Thackery —
Victor Emmanuel — peak-haunting Peveril —
Thomas Aquinas, and Doctor Sacheverell —
  Tupper and Tennyson — Daniel Defoe —
  Anthony Trollope and Mister Guizot!

Take all of these elements all that is fusible
  Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible
Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
  And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

If you want a receipt for this soldier-like paragon,
  Get at the wealth of the Czar (if you can) —
The family pride of a Spaniard from Aragon —
  Force of Mephisto pronouncing a ban —
A smack of Lord Waterford, reckless and rollicky —
  Swagger of Roderick, heading his clan —
The keen penetration of Paddington Pollaky —
  Grace of an Odalisque on a divan —
The genius strategic of Caesar or Hannibal —
Skill of Sir Garnet in thrashing a cannibal —
Flavour of Hamlet — the Stranger, a touch of him —
Little of Manfred (but not very much of him) —
  Beadle of Burlington — Richardson’s show —
  Mister Micawber and Madame Tussaud!

Take all of these elements all that is fusible
  Melt them all down in a pipkin or crucible
Set them to simmer, and take off the scum,
  And a Heavy Dragoon is the residuum!

– W. S. Gilbert

Essentially a list of mostly obscure historical figures, “the Heavy Dragoon’s Song” can be found in Patience, one of the less popular Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Even without Sullivan’s music, Gilbert’s patter song sings and skips and scatters names along the page; it almost works better without musical accompaniment because the lines already have an obvious meter and the reader can stop and swish the sounds around in the mouth (“The dash of a D’Orsay, divested of quackery” has a light almond taste that deserves to be savored). Gilbert was the master of the triple rhyme, an art that is, alas, dying.

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A Song of Opposites

May 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

Welcome joy, and welcome sorrow,
  Lethe’s weed and Hermes’ feather;
Come to-day, and come to-morrow,
  I do love you both together!
  I love to mark sad faces in fair weather;
And hear a merry laugh amid the thunder;
  Fair and foul I love together.
Meadows sweet where flames are under,
And a giggle at a wonder;
Visage sage at pantomime;
Funeral, and steeple-chime;
Infant playing with a skull;
Morning fair, and shipwreck’d hull;
Nightshade with the woodbine kissing;
Serpents in red roses hissing;
Cleopatra regal-dress’d
With the aspic at her breast;
Dancing music, music sad,
Both together, sane and mad;
Muses bright and muses pale;
Sombre Saturn, Momus hale;–
Laugh and sigh, and laugh again;
Oh the sweetness of the pain!
Muses bright, and muses pale,
Bare your faces of the veil;
Let me see; and let me write
Of the day, and of the night–
Both together: –let me slake
All my thirst for sweet heart-ache!
Let my bower be of yew,
Interwreath’d with myrtles new;
Pines and lime-trees full in bloom,
And my couch a low grass-tomb.

– John Keats

I was disappointed to discover that line 17 does not actually read “With the aspic of her breast” like I thought. Still, this little-known ode to opposites must be one of Keats’ most magical offerings.

Another list song, another hale Momus:

Small Song

March 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

The reeds give
way to the

wind and give
the wind away.

– A. R. Ammons

A moment of insight, a wisp of wordplay, a perfect title.

the Song of Wandering Aengus

March 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.

When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.

Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

– W. B. Yeats

the Song of the Mad Prince

February 17, 2012 § Leave a comment

Who said, “Peacock Pie?”
The old King to the sparrow:
Who said, “Crops are ripe?”
Rust to the harrow:
Who said, “Where sleeps she now?
Where rests she now her head,
Bathed in eve’s loveliness”? —
That’s what I said.

Who said, “Ay, mum’s the word”?
Sexton to willow:
Who said, “Green dusk for dreams,
Moss for a pillow”?
Who said, “All Time’s delight
Hath she for narrow bed;
Life’s troubled bubble broken”? —
That’s what I said.

– Walter de la Mare

This little lyric starts innocently with the bird names twittered back and forth like a child’s guide to ornithology, but the whimsy is soon bellied by the mad prince’s unusual inquiries, the foreboding “troubled bubble broken”, and the allusions to tragic Hamlet and Ophelia.

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