(Poem #358) Abdul Abulbul Amir
The sons of the Prophet are brave men and bold And quite unaccustomed to fear, But the bravest by far in the ranks of the Shah, Was Abdul Abulbul Amir. If you wanted a man to encourage the van, Or harass the foe from the rear, Storm fort or redoubt, you had only to shout For Abdul Abulbul Amir. Now the heroes were plenty and well known to fame In the troops that were led by the Czar, And the bravest of these was a man by the name Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar. One day this bold Russian, he shouldered his gun And donned his most truculent sneer, Downtown he did go where he trod on the toe Of Abdul Abulbul Amir. Young man, quoth Abdul, has life grown so dull That you wish to end your career? Vile infidel, know, you have trod on the toe Of Abdul Abulbul Amir. So take your last look at the sunshine and brook And send your regrets to the Czar For by this I imply, you are going to die, Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar. Then this bold Mameluke drew his trusty skibouk, Singing, "Allah! Il Allah! Al-lah!" And with murderous intent he ferociously went For Ivan Skavinsky Skavar. They parried and thrust, they side-stepped and cussed, Of blood they spilled a great part; The philologist blokes, who seldom crack jokes, Say that hash was first made on the spot. They fought all that night neath the pale yellow moon; The din, it was heard from afar, And huge multitudes came, so great was the fame, Of Abdul and Ivan Skavar. As Abdul's long knife was extracting the life, In fact he was shouting, "Huzzah!" He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck, Count Ivan Skavinsky Skavar. The Sultan drove by in his red-breasted fly, Expecting the victor to cheer, But he only drew nigh to hear the last sigh, Of Abdul Abulbul Amir. There's a tomb rises up where the Blue Danube rolls, And graved there in characters clear, Is, "Stranger, when passing, oh pray for the soul Of Abdul Abulbul Amir." A splash in the Black Sea one dark moonless night Caused ripples to spread wide and far, It was made by a sack fitting close to the back, Of Ivan Skavinsky Skavar. A Muscovite maiden her lone vigil keeps, 'Neath the light of the cold northern star, And the name that she murmurs in vain as she weeps, Is Ivan Skavinsky Skavar.
Ah, the wonders of the World Wide Web. I first read this poem a good 15 years ago, in one of those marvellous rainy-day activity books that noone seems to buy any more . Abdul and Ivan then dropped off my radar screen  for many years, and it was only after starting the Minstrels that I remembered the doughty duo. From remembrance to recovery, though, was a step both short and sweet, thanks to 'the invisible dragons of the electronic night' . I love technology. I also love the poem. I think that's partly due to the fact that I discovered it when I was precisely the right age - eight years old - to get the most out of reading it out loud. And make no mistake, it _is_ a poem to be read out loud (or sung by drunken sailors) - with a large crowd of people joining in on the last line of each stanza. The simple pleasures of life, neh? thomas.  You know, those big colourful tomes with titles like 'Superbook' and 'The Book Of 1001 Things To Do', chock full of poems and puzzles and stories and pictures and do-it-yourself projects and recipes and histories... back when all the world and time was young :-)  If you must know, I lost the book which housed them. It still causes me trauma, that.  William Gibson's phrase for search engines in general and arbitrage trackers in particular... written a good decade before Mosaic was created. [Links] Like all good anonymous poems, there are dozens of versions of the ballad of good Abdullah. One of the more famous ones is called (not unsurprisingly) 'Ivan Petrofsky Skevar'; you can read it at [broken link] http://contemplator.com/folk3/ivan.html The contemplator website also has MIDI files which will let you listen to the tune as she was meant to be sung. I'd be grateful if someone would do the needful and let me know what it's like (my computer, unfortunately, is not MIDI-enabled). Martin's last few posts (Tennyson's famous 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and Kipling's not-so-well-known sequel, 'The Last of the Light Brigade') have also been about the Crimean War; you can read them (and much much more) at the Minstrels website, http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/ 'Abdul Abulbul Amir' has that touch of lighthearted bloodthirstyness  which children (of a certain sort, at least) so enjoy . In that, it reminds me irresistibly of Gilbert's 'Yarn of the Nancy Bell', at poem #161  The accompanying illustration showed Abdul and Ivan skewering each other. Gruesome, but oh, so much fun :-)  Roald Dahl, anyone? [About Abdul and Ivan] This song was written in 1877 by Percy French at Trinity College for a college concert. His original title was Abdulla Bulbul Ameer. He sold it to a publisher for five pounds. It was published without credit to him and he never received royalties for its later success. Many sources still list the author as anonymous. My father was a Navy captain and this was one of his favorite songs. According to the Book of Navy Songs, "This song is reresentative of the non-nautical and non-naval songs that frequently become a favorite of the wardrooms in the fleet. An English correspondent writes that originally it was a ballad of the Russo-Turkish Wars." Given the date and author, the Crimean War (1853-1856) is more likely the setting than the earlier Russo-Turkish Wars. This tune is also known as The Ballade of Ivan Petrofsky Skevar, for which there are a few variations in the lyrics. -- Lesley Nelson, www.contemplator.com [Brief Bio] William Percy French was born on May 1, 1854 near Roscommon, Ireland. (William would be known as Willie until taking the name Percy as his stage name much later). His father was a landlord and his mother's father was a clergyman. Despite the lack of music background in his family, Willie demonstrated talent for music and entertaining early in life. He performed as a child in the district and when he was a student at Trinity College. It was at Trinity College in 1877 that he wrote Abdulla Bulbul Ameer. He wrote the song for a concert and sold it to a publisher for five pounds. The publisher never credited French with authorship, and despite its later popularity, French never received any royalties. French did not publish another song (although he wrote many) until 1888 when Andy McElroe was published. French graduated from college as an engineer and worked for seven years in Cavan as the Inspector of Drains. During that time he wrote numerous songs and painted, which he considered his true talent. In 1891 French's wife died and he was jobless. He toured the country on his bicycle with a box of paints, painting and performing. He developed a one-man show, where he sang the songs he composed. Then in 1891 he began a partnership with Houston Collisson. Thereafter Collisson wrote much of the music for the operas they produced, including The Irish Girl. At the age of fifty French moved to London and worked and performed on stage until his death in 1920. Although Mountains of Mourne is his most famous song, Percy French is best remembered for his comedic songs. -- Lesley Nelson, www.contemplator.com [Endnote] The one stanza of the poem which doesn't end in either of the protagonists' names is also (imo) the one with the weakest final couplet of all. 'They parried and thrust, they side-stepped and cussed, Of blood they spilled a great part; The philologist blokes, who seldom crack jokes, Say that hash was first made on the spot.' Oddly, although I quite distinctly remember the first line, I'm pretty sure that the second read 'Of blood they both spilled a great deal', and the third and fourth were completely different from the published version. If anyone out there knows of a variant form, I'd be glad of an pointer.