William Schwenck Gilbert ( )


The Bab Ballads. At a Pantomime


          BY A BILIOUS ONE

An Actor sits in doubtful gloom,
   His stock-in-trade unfurled,
In a damp funereal dressing-room
   In the Theatre Royal, World.

He comes to town at Christmas-time,
   And braves its icy breath,
To play in that favourite pantomime,
   Harlequin Life and Death.

A hoary flowing wig his weird
   Unearthly cranium caps,
He hangs a long benevolent beard
   On a pair of empty chaps.

To smooth his ghastly features down
   The actors art he cribs,
A long and a flowing padded gown.
   Bedecks his rattling ribs.

He cries, Go onbegin, begin!
   Turn on the light of lime
Im dressed for jolly Old Christmas, in
   A favourite pantomime!

The curtains upthe stage all black
   Time and the year nigh sped
Time as an advertising quack
   The Old Year nearly dead.

The wand of Time is waved, and lo!
   Revealed Old Christmas stands,
And little children chuckle and crow,
   And laugh and clap their hands.

The cruel old scoundrel brightens up
   At the death of the Olden Year,
And he waves a gorgeous golden cup,
   And bids the world good cheer.

The little ones hail the festive King,
   No thought can make them sad.
Their laughter comes with a sounding ring,
   They clap and crow like mad!

They only see in the humbug old
   A holiday every year,
And handsome gifts, and joys untold,
   And unaccustomed cheer.

The old ones, palsied, blear, and hoar,
   Their breasts in anguish beat
Theyve seen him seventy times before,
   How well they know the cheat!

Theyve seen that ghastly pantomime,
   Theyve felt its blighting breath,
They know that rollicking Christmas-time
   Meant Cold and Want and Death,

StarvationPoor Law Union fare
   And deadly cramps and chills,
And illnessillness everywhere,
   And crime, and Christmas bills.

They know Old Christmas well, I ween,
   Those men of ripened age;
Theyve often, often, often seen
   That Actor off the stage!

They see in his gay rotundity
   A clumsy stuffed-out dress
They see in the cup he waves on high
   A tinselled emptiness.

Those aged men so lean and wan,
   Theyve seen it all before,
They know theyll see the charlatan
   But twice or three times more.

And so they bear with dance and song,
   And crimson foil and green,
They wearily sit, and grimly long
   For the Transformation Scene.



William Schwenck Gilbert's other poems:
  1. The Bab Ballads. The Ghost, the Gallant, the Gael, and the Goblin
  2. The Bab Ballads. The Sensation Captain
  3. The Bab Ballads. The Periwinkle Girl
  4. The Bab Ballads. Thomson Green and Harriet Hale
  5. The Bab Ballads. Bob Polter


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