Monday, October 11, 2010

A lyric for Columbus Day, and a spot of trouble

It is the Columbus Day holiday, and history notes that a New World was discovered on October 12 in 1492 -- well, by Europeans, at any rate. As is often the case in the writing of history there are some subtleties about such occasions, unpleasant ones, that must be omitted from the history books. Later, much later, it may be possible to admit that perhaps everything did not turn out for the best. The rest is comedy.

Here is a lyric written for the comic operetta based on Voltaire's Candide, produced in New York in 1958, and written by the poet Richard Wilbur. Dr. Pangloss is the optimistic philosopher who assures his friend, the ingenuous Candide, that all evils, even syphilis, are for the best, and that this is the best of all possible worlds. The "love disease" may be a small price exacted when one considers the solace of tobacco.

Pangloss's Song

(Richard Wilbur)

Dear boy, you will not hear me speak
With sorrow or with rancor
Of what has paled my rosy cheek
And blasted it with canker;
'Twas Love, great Love, that did the deed
Through Nature's gentle laws,
And how should ill effects proceed
From so divine a cause?

Sweet honey comes from bees that sing
As you are well aware;
To one adept in reasoning,
Whatever pains disease may bring
Are but the tangy seasoning
To Love's delicious fare.


Columbus and his men, they say,
Conveyed the virus hither
Whereby my features rot away
And vital powers wither;
Yet had they not traversed the seas
And come infected back,
Why, think of all the luxuries
That modern life would lack!

All bitter things conduce to sweet,
As this example shows;
Without the little spirochete
We'd have no chocolate to eat,
Nor would tobacco's fragrance greet
The European nose.


Each nation guards its native land
With cannon and with sentry,
Inspectors look for contraband
At every port of entry,
Yet nothing can prevent the spread
Of Love's divine disease:
It rounds the world from bed to bed
As pretty as you please.

Men worship Venus everywhere,
As plainly may be seen;
The decorations which I bear
Are nobler than the Croix de Guerre,
And gained in service of our fair
And universal Queen.

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