Monday, August 27, 2012

Classic Funny Poems: 'A Nightmare' by W. S. Gilbert

(Once upon a time people actually managed to publish books of light verse. Sadly we've lost our collective sense of poetic humor since then).

The other day, while thumbing through an old book of humorous poems, I came across what-I-thought-was a stunning poem titled 'A Nightmare'. It took me a while to figure out that the unfamiliar-to-me author it was attributed to, one 'WS Gilbert' was none other than the Gilbert from the operatic duo 'Gilbert & Sullivan'. The poem is actually better known as the 'Nightmare Song from Iolanthe', but Sir Gilbert re-published it in a book of poems (Songs of a Savoyard) back around 1894 and I think it's actually a pretty fun and rollicking read as a poem (much better than it is as a song). Here it is in it's entirety for your reading pleasure

Note the way this poem is laid out with long unbroken sentences that contribute a breathlessness and sense of urgency and unease to the poem, which will feel very familiar to anyone who's ever had any kind of nightmare... 


A Nightmare
Poem (and Illustration) by Sir W. S. Gilbert
When you're lying awake with a dismal headache, and repose is taboo'd by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose to indulge in without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire - the bedclothes conspire of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes and uncovers your toes, and your sheet slips demurely from under you;
Then the blanketing tickles - you feel like mixed pickles, so terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you're hot, and you're cross, and you tumble and toss till there's nothing 'twixt you and the ticking.
Then the bedclothes all creep to the ground in a heap, and you pick 'em all up in a tangle;
Next your pillow resigns and politely declines to remain at its usual angle!
Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze, with hot eyeballs and head ever aching,
But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams that you'd very much better be waking;
For you dream you are crossing the Channel, and tossing about in a steamer from Harwich,
Which is something between a large bathing-machine and a very small second-class carriage;
And you're giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat) to a party of friends and relations -
They're a ravenous horde - and they all came on board at Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.
And bound on that journey you find your attorney (who started that morning from Devon);
He's a bit undersized, and you don't feel surprised when he tells you he's only eleven.
Well, you're driving like mad with this singular lad (by the bye the ship's now a four-wheeler),
And you're playing round games, and he calls you bad names when you tell him that "ties pay the dealer";
But this you can't stand, so you throw up your hand, and you find you're as cold as an icicle,
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks), crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle:
And he and the crew are on bicycles too - which they've somehow or other invested in -
And he's telling the tars all the particulars of a company he's interested in -
It's a scheme of devices, to get at low prices, all goods from cough mixtures to cables
(Which tickled the sailors) by treating retailers, as though they were all vegetables -
You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman (first take off his boots with a boot-tree),
And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot, and they'll blossom and bud like a fruit-tree -
From the greengrocer tree you get grapes and green pea, cauliflower, pineapple, and cranberries,
While the pastry-cook plant cherry-brandy will grant - apple puffs, and three-corners, and banberries -
The shares are a penny, and ever so many are taken by ROTHSCHILD and BARING,
And just as a few are allotted to you, you awake with a shudder despairing -
You're a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck, and no wonder you snore, for your head's on the floor, and you've needles and pins from your soles to your shins, and your flesh is a-creep, for your left leg's asleep, and you've cramp in your toes, and a fly on your nose, and some fluff in your lung, and a feverish tongue, and a thirst that's intense, and a general sense that you haven't been sleeping in clover;
But the darkness has passed, and it's daylight at last, and the night has been long - ditto, ditto my song - and thank goodness they're both of them over!  

Don't you just love the perfect meter and rhyme in this poem!

[Note: To my knowledge the copyright for both this poem, and the accompanying illustration above - also by Sir W. S. Gilbert, is in the public domain]

1 comment:

  1. Yes, Vikram : a gem and can't believe its not better known and
    more appreciated .! Well done for bringing it to wider public.


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