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Location: Great Boreal Deciduous Hardwood Forest, New England, United States

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24 April 2005

song of the roont virgin

The former U.S. Poet Laureate, Richard Wilbur (born 1921), lives about 20 miles west of me in the hilltown of Cummington. This place is lousy with poets. I should write some of the stuff myself, but it scares me. Faulkner said all novelists are failed poets. I can live with that.

Anyway, what we got here is a very funny comic opera version of Voltaire's "Candide," music by Leonard Bernstein at the height of his powers for this sort of thing, and lyrics by Mr. Wilbur, clearly at the height of his. I have been listening (on my spiffy new modern speakers) to Dawn Upshaw warbling this tale of woe of Cunegund, an aristocratic young maiden from the Westphalian baronetcy of Thunder-ten-tronckh around 1755. This book is filthy, vulgar, obscene, objectionable, horrifying, disgusting and more fun than a barrel of monkeys, and the opera very much does it justice. Cunegund and her boyfriend the Baron's sister's illegitimate son Candide are exiled (for the usual teenage hay romp), and roam around Europe and the Mediterranean, with their sage old tutor Professor Pangloss, enduring unimaginable brutalities, violations and ... well, shortly, you can read Cunegond's beautifully sung account of her experiences. The song wanders from profound shame and depression to hysterical manic glee (usually stimulated by expensive jewelry).

In the book -- I don't know about the opera -- Candide, Cunegund and Professor Pangloss are kidnapped by pirates, shipwrecked on a bleak North African shore, and to escape starvation, the pirates hack off an edible cut of everyone's rump. So they go to the end of the book alive and in good health, but each missing a part of their rump.

Voltaire wrote it to stick it to a contemporary philosopher, Liebniz, the co-discoverer (with Newton) of the calculus. Liebniz went around telling everyone that "All's for the best in this best of all possible worlds," Voltaire (who believed differently) thought that was screamingly funny, and invented the Liebnizian Pollyanna Pangloss, professor of metaphysico-theologo-cosmolonigology,
who repeats his belief during fire, flood, famine, torture, earthquake, kidnapping, shipwreck, and ass-slicing.

Cunegund used to be a virgin, but now she's not anymore. She's roont.


Glitter and Be Gay
from the opera "Candide"
music: Leonard Bernstein
lyrics: Richard Wilbur

Glitter and be gay
That's the part I play
Here I am in Paris, France
Forced to bend my soul
To a sordid role
Victimized by bitter, bitter circumstance

Alas for me, had I remained
Beside my lady mother
My virtue had remained unstained
Until my maidenhead was pierced
By some Grand Duke
Or other

Ah, 'twas not to be
Harsh necessity
Brought me to this gilded cage
Born to higher things,
Here I droop my wings, ah!
Singing of a sorrow nothing can assuage

And yet, of course, I rather like to revel, ha ha!
I have no strong objection to champagne, ha ha!
Perhaps it is ignoble to complain

Enough, enough
Of being basely tearful!
I'll show my noble stuff
By being bright and cheerful!
Ha ha ha ha ha!

Pearls and ruby rings ...
Ah, how can wordly things
Take the place of honor lost?
Can they compensate
For my fallen state,
Purchased as they were at such an awful cost?

Bracelets ... lavalieres ...
Can they dry my tears?
Can they blind my eyes to shame?
Can the brightest brooch
Shield me from reproach?
Can the purest diamond purify my name?

And yet, of course, these trinkets are endearing, ha ha!
I'm oh so glad my sapphire is a star, ha ha!
I rather like a twenty-carat earring, ha ha!
If I'm not pure, at least my jewels are.

Enough, enough!
I'll take their diamond necklace
And show my noble stuff
By being gay and reckless.
Ha ha ha ha ha!

Observe how bravely I conceal
The dreadful, dreadful shame I feel,
Ha ha ha ha ha!

(c) 1956 The Amberson Group (ascap)
Boosey & Hawkes Inc. (ascap)


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