Ballad: A Nightmare

by W. S. GILBERT (1836-1911)

When you’re lying awake with a dismal headache,
and repose is taboo’d by anxiety,
I conceive you may use any language you choose
to indulge in without impropriety;
For your brain is on fire— the bedclothes conspire
of usual slumber to plunder you:
First your counterpane goes and uncovers your toes,
and your sheet slips demurely from under you;
Then the blanketing tickles— you feel like mixed pickles,
so terribly sharp is the pricking,
And you’re hot, and you’re cross, and you tumble and toss
till there’s nothing ‘twixt you and the ticking.
Then the bedclothes all creep to the ground in a heap,
and you pick’em all up in a tangle;

Next your pillow resigns and politely declines
to remain at its usual angle!
Well, you get some repose in the form of a doze,
with hot eyeballs and head ever aching,
But your slumbering teems with such horrible dreams
that you’d very much better be waking;
For you dream you are crossing the Channel,
and tossing about in a steamer from Harwich,
Which is something between a large bathing-machine
and a very small second-class carriage;
And you’re giving a treat (penny ice and cold meat)
to a party of friends and relations—
They’re a ravenous horde— and they all came on board
at Sloane Square and South Kensington Stations.

And bound on that journey you find your attorney
(who started that morning from Devon);
He’s a bit undersized, and you don’t feel surprised
when he tells you he’s only eleven.
Well, you’re driving like mad with this singular lad
(by the bye the ship’s now a four-wheeler),
And you’re playing round games, and he calls you bad names
when you tell him that “ties pay the dealer”;
But this you can’t stand, so you throw up your hand,
and you find you’re as cold as an icicle,
In your shirt and your socks (the black silk with gold clocks),
crossing Salisbury Plain on a bicycle:
And he and the crew are on bicycles too—
which they’ve somehow or other invested in—
And he’s telling the tars all the particuLARS
of a company he’s interested in—

It’s a scheme of devices, to get at low prices,
all goods from cough mixtures to cables
(Which tickled the sailors) by treating retailers,
as though they were all vegeTAbles—
You get a good spadesman to plant a small tradesman
(first take off his boots with a boot-tree),
And his legs will take root, and his fingers will shoot,
and they’ll blossom and bud like a fruit-tree—
From the greengrocer tree you get grapes and green pea,
cauliflower, pineapple, and cranberries,
While the pastry-cook plant cherry-brandy will grant—
apple puffs,and three-corners, and banberries—
The shares are a penny, and ever so many
are taken by ROTHSCHILD and BARING,
And just as a few are allotted to you,
you awake with a shudder despairing—

You’re a regular wreck, with a crick in your neck,
and no wonder you snore, for your head’s on the floor,
and you’ve needles and pins from your soles to your shins,
and your flesh is a-creep, for your left leg’s asleep,
and you’ve cramp in your toes, and a fly on your nose,
and some fluff in your lung, and a feverish tongue,
and a thirst that’s intense, and a general sense
that you haven’t been sleeping in clover;
But the darkness has passed, and it’s daylight at last,
and the night has been long— ditto, ditto my song—
and thank goodness they’re both of them over!

W.S. Gilbert

William Schwenck Gilbert was born on November 18, 1836 at 17 Southampton Street, Strand, London. He was named for his father, a retired naval surgeon. His parents toured Europe throughout much of his first 13 years. During that time, he learned to read and write in French. Upon their return to London in 1847, Gilbert was educated at Western Grammar School, Brompton, London, and the Great Ealing School. He went on to King’s College London and graduated in 1856. After taking a crack at the law, he found success with his true calling as a writer and illustrator. He would go on to collaborate with Sir Arthur Sullivan to produce the fourteen comic operas known as the Savoy operas, which famously include “The Pirates of Penzance”, “H.M.S. Pinaford” and “The Mikado”.

W.S. Gilbert Contemporaries
Algernon Swinburne
Lewis Carroll
Emily Dickinson
Gerard Manley Hopkins

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