(Poem #1710) Madeira, M'Dear
She was young, she was pure, she was new, she was nice She was fair, she was sweet seventeen He was old, he was vile, and no stranger to vice He was base, he was bad, he was mean He had slyly inveigled her up to his flat To view his collection of stamps And he said as he hastened to put out the cat The wine, his cigar and the lamps "Have some madeira, m'dear You really have nothing to fear I'm not trying to tempt you, that wouldn't be right You shouldn't drink spirits at this time of night Have some madeira, m'dear It's very much nicer than beer I don't care for sherry, one cannot drink stout And port is a wine I can well do without It's simply a case of 'chacun a son gout' Have some madeira, m'dear" Unaware of the wiles of the snake in the grass And the fate of the maiden who topes She lowered her standards by raising her glass Her courage, her eyes and his hopes She sipped it, she drank it, she drained it, she did He quietly refilled it again And he said as he secretly carved one more notch On the butt of his gold-handled cane "Have some madeira, m'dear, I've got a small cask of it here And once it's been opened, you know it won't keep Do finish it up, it will help you to sleep Have some madeira, m'dear, It's really an excellent year Now if it were gin, you'd be wrong to say yes The evil gin does would be hard to assess (Besides it's inclined to affect me prowess) Have some madeira, m'dear" Then there flashed through her mind what her mother had said With her antepenultimate breath "Oh my child, should you look on the wine that is red Be prepared for a fate worse than death!" She let go her glass with a shrill little cry Crash! tinkle! it fell to the floor When he asked, "What in Heaven?" she made no reply Up her mind, and a dash for the door "Have some madeira, m'dear", Rang out down the hall loud and clear A tremulous cry that was filled with despair As she fought to take breath in the cool midnight air "Have some madeira, m'dear" The words seemed to ring in her ear Until the next morning, she woke up in bed With a smile on her lips and an ache in her head And a beard in her ear 'ole that tickled and said "Have some madeira, m'dear"
We've run a couple of Flanders and Swann pieces before, but neither of them highlighted one of my favourite things about the duo's songs - the sheer, unabashed *cleverness* of the lyrics. Like Gilbert before him (and Lehrer after him), Flanders was adept at leaving the listener simultaneously entertained by the humour and consciously impressed by the ingenious crafting of the words. (This is a chancy thing to do in more serious verse, where cleverness can be distracting and hence detrimental to the central thrust, but with humour it works very well indeed.) Today's song has the double bonus of being a particularly neat piece of extended wordplay, and of working well even divorced from the music. (Some of my other favourites, like "Misalliance", end up sounding a bit flat when I try to read them as pure 'poetry'.) It is also, I believe, one of Flanders and Swann's best-known works, possibly partly due to the Limeliters' having covered it and brought it to a fresh audience. Needless to say, the music does add a whole new dimension to it, and I highly recommend getting hold of the three-CD "The Complete Flanders and Swann" (which isn't, but is well worth having anyway). Parenthetically, the figure of speech used in constructions like "he hastened to put out the cat / The wine, his cigar and the lamps" is 'zeugma' (I won't go into the fine shades of distinction between zeugma and syllepsis, but it's worth looking up). Pope was fond of it too, for example in the following from The Rape of the Lock: Here thou, great Anna! whom three realms obey Dost sometimes counsel takeand sometimes tea. "Madeira M'dear" is, unsurprisingly, often cited in discussions of zeugma; it remains the best example of the form I've encountered. martin [Links] A biography of Flanders: http://www.donaldswann.co.uk/flanders.html And of Swann (whose genius is sadly unapparent on the printed page) http://www.donaldswann.co.uk/biog.html More on zeugmas (zeugma? zeugmata?) http://www.tristate.edu/Community_Read/things_they_carried_tierney.htm