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A Wandering Minstrel I -- W S Gilbert

About time we ran this one...
(Poem #1814) A Wandering Minstrel I
 A wandering minstrel I --
 A thing of shreds and patches,
 Of ballads, songs and snatches,
 And dreamy lullaby!
 My catalogue is long,
 Through every passion ranging,
 And to your humours changing
 I tune my supple song!
 I tune my supple song!

 Are you in sentimental mood?
 I'll sigh with you,
 Oh, sorrow, sorrow!
 On maiden's coldness do you brood?
 I'll do so, too --
 Oh, sorrow, sorrow!
 I'll charm your willing ears
 With songs of lovers' fears,
 While sympathetic tears
 My cheeks bedew --
 Oh, sorrow, sorrow!

 But if patriotic sentiment is wanted,
 I've patriotic ballads cut and dried;
 For where'er our country's banner may be planted,
 All other local banners are defied!
 Our warriors, in serried ranks assembled,
 Never quail -- or they conceal it if they do --
 And I shouldn't be surprised if nations trembled
 Before the mighty troops of Titipu!

     We shouldn't be surprised if nations trembled,
     Trembled with alarm
     Before the mighty troops,
     The troops of Titipu!

 And if you call for a song of the sea,
 We'll heave the capstan round,
 With a yeo heave ho, for the wind is free,
 Her anchor's a-trip and her helm's a-lee,
 Hurrah for the homeward bound!

     Yeo-ho -- heave ho --
     Hurrah for the homeward bound!

 To lay aloft in a howling breeze
 May tickle a landsman's taste,
 But the happiest hour a sailor sees
 Is when he's down
 At an inland town,
 With his Nancy on his knees, yeo ho!
 And his arm around her waist!

     Then man the capstan -- off we go,
     As the fiddler swings us round,
     With a yeo heave ho,
     And a rum below,
     Hurrah for the homeward bound!
     With a yeo heave ho,
     And a rum below,
     Yeo-ho, heave ho,
     Yeo-ho, heave ho,
     Heave ho, heave ho, yeo-ho!

 A wandering minstrel I --
 A thing of shreds and patches,
 Of ballads, songs and snatches,
 And dreamy lullaby!
 And dreamy lulla-lullaby,
-- W S Gilbert
Note: From "The Mikado", sung by the character Nanki Poo

Unsurprisingly enough, the main motivation for today's poem is historical -
as long-time readers of the list are aware, it was Gilbert's "wondering
minstrel" who inspired our name. That aside, this is a wonderful song from
my favourite operetta, and one that would happily take its place in any
best-of collection.

There is one minor problem with running it here, though - while the
collaborative genius of Gilbert and Sullivan melded three very different
pieces smoothly and neatly into a single song, it doesn't quite work on the
printed page; the transitions are disconcertingly abrupt without the music
to ease them along. If you're unfamiliar with the music, I suggest viewing
this as a sequence of three poems (they're nicely self-contained) and not
being unduly distracted by the differences in style between them.

The first segment is by far the weakest (excepting the initial four lines,
which serve more as an introduction to the whole) - Gilbert's weakness at
writing love songs, even (or perhaps especially) in parody, shows up once
again, and even Sullivan's music strikes me as uncharacteristically lacking.

The improvement in the next piece is immediate - both Gilbert and Sullivan
are in their element here, with wonderfully quotable (and singable!) bits
  Our warriors, in serried ranks assembled,
  Never quail -- or they conceal it if they do --

Gilbert at his satirical finest.

And finally, for yet another shift in tone, the "song of the sea" is a
different kind of 'parody' altogether - despite the twist on the traditional
theme, I find it more thought-provoking than satirical. Sailors in the
audience, feel free to chime in :)


p.s. While on the subject of The Mikado, I cannot resist sharing this
delightful cryptic clue by Thomas Thurman:

  What the town of Titipu was to the Mikado (8)

The answer in ROT13 (paste into the box at to decipher):
FHOGVGYR (gur pbzcyrgr gvgyr vf "Gur Zvxnqb, be Gur Gbja bs Gvgvch")

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