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Madeira, M'Dear -- Michael Flanders

(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"
-- Michael Flanders
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 take—and sometimes tea.

"Madeira M'dear" is, unsurprisingly, often cited in discussions of zeugma;
it remains the best example of the form I've encountered.



A biography of Flanders:

And of Swann (whose genius is sadly unapparent on the printed page)

More on zeugmas (zeugma? zeugmata?)

41 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Brian Wicks said...

Thanks for your site. Lots of nostalgia, and beautiful use of syllepsis not zeugma, as it is grammatically correct. I was nutured on Fowler!

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The first stanza is great said about a little cute seventeen girl, I like the poem It is really erotic and romantic at the same time.

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I feel very uncomfortable about this song. Giving someone under the age of 18 alcohol to bed them is sleezy. A man his age, notches on the cane, a plan of attack. All the word play hiding his real intentions makes my stomach turn. I think young innocent girls, even if they are legal (over 16) are far to often romanticised. This young virgins experience sounds horrible. This story is just blurgh. A clever wit, doesn't mean the predatory nature of the storyteller should be ignored and it doesn't make the young damsels experience any less gross. A good schooling in sex ed and the effects of booze rather than a vague tale from her mother about red wine would have suited her far better.

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