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The Story of Prince Agib -- W S Gilbert

       
(Poem #505) The Story of Prince Agib
 Strike the concertina's melancholy string!
 Blow the spirit-stirring harp like anything!
 Let the piano's martial blast
 Rouse the echoes of the past,
 For of AGIB, Prince of Tartary, I sing!

 Of AGIB, who, amid Tartaric scenes,
 Wrote a lot of ballet-music in his teens:
 His gentle spirit rolls
 In the melody of souls--
 Which is pretty, but I don't know what it means.

 Of AGIB, who could readily, at sight,
 Strum a march upon the loud Theodolite.
 He would diligently play
 On the Zoetrope all day,
 And blow the gay Pantechnicon all night.

 One winter--I am shaky in my dates--
 Came two starving Tartar minstrels to his gates;
 Oh, Allah be obeyed,
 How infernally they played!
 I remember that they called themselves the "Ouaits."

 Oh! that day of sorrow, misery, and rage,
 I shall carry to the Catacombs of Age,
 Photographically lined
 On the tablet of my mind,
 When a yesterday has faded from its page!

 Alas! PRINCE AGIB went and asked them in;
 Gave them beer, and eggs, and sweets, and scent, and tin;
 And when (as snobs would say)
 They had "put it all away,"
 He requested them to tune up and begin.

 Though its icy horror chill you to the core,
 I will tell you what I never told before--
 The consequences true
 Of that awful interview,
 For I listened at the keyhole in the door!

 They played him a sonata--let me see!
 "Medulla oblongata"--key of G.
 Then they began to sing
 That extremely lovely thing,
 "Scherzando! ma non troppo, ppp."

 He gave them money, more than they could count,
 Scent from a most ingenious little fount,
 More beer in little kegs,
 Many dozen hard-boiled eggs,
 And goodies to a fabulous amount.

 Now follows the dim horror of my tale,
 And I feel I'm growing gradually pale;
 For even at this day,
 Though its sting has passed away,
 When I venture to remember it, I quail!

 The elder of the brothers gave a squeal,
 All-overish it made me for to feel.
 "O Prince," he says, says he,
 "If a Prince indeed you be,
 I've a mystery I'm going to reveal!

 "Oh, listen, if you'd shun a horrid death,
 To what the gent who's speaking to you saith:
 No 'Ouaits' in truth are we,
 As you fancy that we be,
 For (ter-remble!) I am ALECK--this is BETH!"

 Said AGIB, "Oh! accursed of your kind,
 I have heard that ye are men of evil mind!"
 BETH gave a dreadful shriek--
 But before he'd time to speak
 I was mercilessly collared from behind.

 In number ten or twelve, or even more,
 They fastened me, full length, upon the floor.
 On my face extended flat,
 I was walloped with a cat,
 For listening at the keyhole of a door.

 Oh! the horror of that agonising thrill!
 (I can feel the place in frosty weather still.)
 For a week from ten to four
 I was fastened to the floor,
 While a mercenary wopped me with a will!

 They branded me and broke me on a wheel,
 And they left me in a hospital to heal;
 And, upon my solemn word,
 I have never, never heard
 What those Tartars had determined to reveal.

 But that day of sorrow, misery, and rage,
 I shall carry to the Catacombs of Age,
 Photographically lined
 On the tablet of my mind,
 When a yesterday has faded from its page!
-- W S Gilbert
          (a Bab Ballad)

Gilbert is, of course, well known for his nonsense verse, but this little
piece goes beyond the realm of nonsense and into the truly surreal. In fact,
it sounds like one of his dream sequences, with the random nonsequiturs
toned down slightly, but just as 'dreamlike' an atmosphere, where nothing is
surprising, and explanations unnecessary.

Paradoxically, what makes this piece seem more surreal than, say, the dream
sequence from Iolanthe[1] is the very fact that the randomness is toned
down. There is just enough of an overall structure to prevent it's descent
into free association, and the vague feeling that it *does* all make perfect
sense at some level. (It doesn't, of course, as the use of nonsense words
makes patent, but the impression is there.)

And I must mention the wonderful sequence from verse 2:

 His gentle spirit rolls
 In the melody of souls--
 Which is pretty, but I don't know what it means.

Which is pure Gilbert (in fact it reminds me of something from one of the
operettas, but I can't think what; possibly the 'Heart Foam' piece from
Patience), and the one bit that made me laugh out loud.

Construction:

The unusual element here is the use of perfectly good words with an almost
Humpty-Dumptyesque disregard for their meanings. Since half the fun here
lies in discovering these for yourself, I won't post the definitions, but if
there's a word in there you don't recognise, look it up - it's almost
certainly used wrongly.

Links:

We've had a lot of Gilbert in the past, though it's tended to concentrate
more on the G&S works than on th Bab Ballads (and for good reason - they're
far better :)). See www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet.html

For a biography and some nice G&S links see poem #88

-martin

30 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

mderagon said...

change the pace:

Morning

dam's broke,
head's a
waterfall.

Robert Creeley

Martin DeMello said...

> Paradoxically, what makes this piece seem more surreal than, say, the dream
> sequence from Iolanthe[1] is the very fact that the randomness is toned

Thanks to Jose De Abreu for pointing out the missing footnote...

[1] the famous song starting with 'when you're lying awake with a dismal
headache' - see [broken link] http://diamond.idbsu.edu/gas/iolanthe/html/lying_awake.html

Shmuel J. Agiv said...

Hello.
My Familly name is AGIB (old & othentiqu name).
I found your URL forme search engine, wile trying to fing info. about my roots, my seconde name AGIB.
I would like to usk you please about the source
that you take frome him the name AGIB ?
Is it related someway to Libia?
Please let me know if you have any answers.
Thank you
Shmuel Agib (not a prince)
Israel

cialis said...

Thanks to Jose De Abreu for pointing out the missing footnote...

umbral said...

Hello,
do you know any recorded performance? Besides the fragments in "A Room With A View" of course.

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