William Schwenck Gilbert (1836 - 1911 / London / England)
An Unfortunate Likeness
I'VE painted SHAKESPEARE all my life -
"An infant" (even then at "play"!)
"A boy," with stage-ambition rife,
Then "Married to ANN HATHAWAY."
"The bard's first ticket night" (or "ben."),
His "First appearance on the stage,"
His "Call before the curtain" - then
"Rejoicings when he came of age."
The bard play-writing in his room,
The bard a humble lawyer's clerk.
The bard a lawyer (3) - parson (4) - groom (5) -
The bard deer-stealing, after dark.
The bard a tradesman (6) - and a Jew (7) -
The bard a botanist (8) - a beak (9) -
The bard a skilled musician (10) too -
A sheriff (11) and a surgeon (12) eke!
Yet critics say (a friendly stock)
That, though it's evident I try,
Yet even I can barely mock
The glimmer of his wondrous eye!
One morning as a work I framed,
There passed a person, walking hard:
"My gracious goodness," I exclaimed,
"How very like my dear old bard!
"Oh, what a model he would make!"
I rushed outside - impulsive me! -
"Forgive the liberty I take,
But you're so very" - "Stop!" said he.
"You needn't waste your breath or time, -
I know what you are going to say, -
That you're an artist, and that I'm
Remarkably like SHAKESPEARE. Eh?
"You wish that I would sit to you?"
I clasped him madly round the waist,
And breathlessly replied, "I do!"
"All right," said he, "but please make haste."
I led him by his hallowed sleeve,
And worked away at him apace,
I painted him till dewy eve, -
There never was a nobler face!
"Oh, sir," I said, "a fortune grand
Is yours, by dint of merest chance, -
To sport HIS brow at second-hand,
To wear HIS cast-off countenance!
"To rub HIS eyes whene'er they ache -
To wear HIS baldness ere you're old -
To clean HIS teeth when you awake -
To blow HIS nose when you've a cold!"
His eyeballs glistened in his eyes -
I sat and watched and smoked my pipe;
"Bravo!" I said, "I recognize
The phrensy of your prototype!"
His scanty hair he wildly tore:
"That's right," said I, "it shows your breed."
He danced - he stamped - he wildly swore -
"Bless me, that's very fine indeed!"
"Sir," said the grand Shakesperian boy
(Continuing to blaze away),
"You think my face a source of joy;
That shows you know not what you say.
"Forgive these yells and cellar-flaps:
I'm always thrown in some such state
When on his face well-meaning chaps
This wretched man congratulate.
"For, oh! this face - this pointed chin -
This nose - this brow - these eyeballs too,
Have always been the origin
Of all the woes I ever knew!
"If to the play my way I find,
To see a grand Shakesperian piece,
I have no rest, no ease of mind
Until the author's puppets cease.
"Men nudge each other - thus - and say,
'This certainly is SHAKESPEARE'S son,'
And merry wags (of course in play)
Cry 'Author!' when the piece is done.
"In church the people stare at me,
Their soul the sermon never binds;
I catch them looking round to see,
And thoughts of SHAKESPEARE fill their minds.
"And sculptors, fraught with cunning wile,
Who find it difficult to crown
A bust with BROWN'S insipid smile,
Or TOMKINS'S unmannered frown,
"Yet boldly make my face their own,
When (oh, presumption!) they require
To animate a paving-stone
With SHAKESPEARE'S intellectual fire.
"At parties where young ladies gaze,
And I attempt to speak my joy,
'Hush, pray,' some lovely creature says,
'The fond illusion don't destroy!'
"Whene'er I speak, my soul is wrung
With these or some such whisperings:
''Tis pity that a SHAKESPEARE'S tongue
Should say such un-Shakesperian things!'
"I should not thus be criticised
Had I a face of common wont:
Don't envy me - now, be advised!"
And, now I think of it, I don't!
Comments about this poem (An Unfortunate Likeness by William Schwenck Gilbert )
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