Jan. 15, 2006

I am the Monarch of the Sea

by W. S. Gilbert

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Poem: lyrics from "I am the Monarch of the Sea," by W.S. Gilbert from H.M.S. Pinafore.

I am the Monarch of the Sea

When I was a lad I served a term
As office boy to an Attorney's firm.
I cleaned the windows and I swept the floor,
And I polished up the handle of the big front door.
I polished up that handle so carefullee
That now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee!
As office boy I made such a mark
That they gave me the post of a junior clerk.
I served the writs with a smile so bland,
And I copied all the letters in a big round hand-
I copied all the letters in a hand so free,
That now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee!
In serving writs I made such a name
That an articled clerk I soon became;
I wore clean collars and a brand-new suit
For the pass examination at the Institute,
And that pass examination did so well for me,
That now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee!
Of legal knowledge I acquired such a grip
That they took me into the partnership.
And that junior partnership, I ween,
Was the only ship that I ever had seen.
But that kind of ship so suited me,
That now I am the ruler of the Queen's Navee!
I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party's call,
And I never thought of thinking for myself at all.
I thought so little, they rewarded me
By making me the Ruler of the Queen's Navee!
Now landsmen all, whoever you may be,
If you want to rise to the top of the tree,
If your soul isn't fettered to an office stool,
Be careful to be guided by this golden rule--
Stick close to your desks and never go to sea,
And you all may be rulers of the Queen's Navee!

Literary and Historical Notes:

It's the birthday of civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., born in Atlanta, Georgia (1929). As president of the Southern Christian Leadership Council, he organized voter registration drives, sit-ins and marches throughout the South, protesting segregation. He was shot and killed on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tennessee, where he'd gone to support a sanitation workers' strike. He was thirty-nine years old.

It's the birthday of writer Frank Conroy, born in New York City (1936). He's the author of the novels Stop-Time (1967), and Body and Soul (1993), and the story collection Midair (1985). He was the director at the Iowa Writers' Workshop from 1987 up until his death last year.

It's the birthday of author Ernest J. Gaines, born in Oscar, Louisiana (1933), best known for his classic, The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971), and for A Lesson Before Dying, which won the 1993 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

It's the birthday of French playwright and actor Molière, born Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, in Paris (1622). As a young man, he refused to join his father's upholstery business, and ran off with an actress and her family's itinerant theater troupe. They toured all around the provinces with great success for about 14 years (1645 until 1658), but avoided Paris because Molière had been imprisoned there three times for debt. When they finally did return to Paris, Molière attempted to win the king's favor by presenting a tragedy, but bad reviews of his acting nearly ruined his career. He found success only when he staged one of his own short farces, "Love's The Best Doctor." King Louis XIV became a champion of his work, and even appeared as a ballet dancer in one of them. His plays include: Tartuffe, Don Juan, The Miser, and The Misanthrope. He once said, "It's an odd job making decent people laugh."

On this day in 1879, Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore: or, The Lass That Loved a Sailor was first performed in New York. A Pinafore craze quickly swept the country, thanks to the show—a clean show at a time when the theater was considered disreputable. Its success prompted producers to create more musicals and, since then, Broadway has been home to the American musical theater. H.M.S. Pinafore remains one of the most popular Gilbert and Sullivan operettas.

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