The "Bab" Ballads/At a Pantomime

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At a Pantomime  (1867) 
by W.S. Gilbert
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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 actor's art he cribs,
A long and a flowing padded gown
Bedecks his rattling ribs.

He cries, "Go on—begin, begin,
Turn on the light of lime—
I'm dressed for jolly Old Christmas, in
A favourite pantomime!"

The curtain's up—the 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.

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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—
They've seen him seventy times before,
How well they know the cheat!

They've seen that ghastly Pantomime,
They've felt it's blighting breath,
They know that rollicking Christmas time,
Meant Cold and Want and Death.

Starvation—Poor Law Union fare—
And deadly cramps and chills,
And illness—illness everywhere,
And crime and Christmas bills.

They know old Christmas well, I ween,
Those men of ripened age,
They've 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,
They've seen it all before,
They know they'll 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.

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