Tuesday, April 6, 2010

There Lived a King, by W. S. Gilbert

Now W. S. Gilbert can hardly be described, even now, as too little known, or in any other way neglected save this: he is too little read. As half of perhaps the most famous team in English theatre, Gilbert's lyrics are still performed somewhere, I should think, every blessed day. The man wrote more than just the Savoy Operas that everyone knows so well. I've never come across his straight dramas, to mention just one of his other theatrical endeavors, but I understand these were, some of 'em, quite successful. But he also wrote reams of light verse, never intended for a Sullivan tune. The Bab Ballads have never been out of print since they were first published. No collection of nonsense is complete without Gilbert. He is the equal, and the only, of Edward Lear, and Lewis Carroll, for invention, rhyme and wit.

So anyone unequal to singing "I am the very model of a modern Major-General" anywhere but in the shower, take heart. Have a go at reading a W. S. Gilbert poem. (This is actually from "The Gondoliers," but as I can't sing, and the Sullivan tune is hardly his best, I thought I'd just do without.) While not quite the fun of belting out "Take a pair of sparkling eyes" or getting unprompted through "The Nightmare Song" from Iolanthe -- "Love, unrequited, robs me of my rest" -- (I managed that once, but I was younger then,) you must trust me, reading out some such delightful thing as this is nearly as good.

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