An Evening of Patience

I spent the evening at a performance of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience or, Bunthorne’s Bride and feel compelled to share.

Patience is the story of two poets–Reginald Bunthorne, an idyllic poet; and Archibald Grosvenor, a fleshly poet–both of whom love Patience, the milkmaid. Patience, a happy girl who at first says she has never loved anyone except her great-aunt, confesses she does loves her childhood friend, Grosvenor; and Grosvenor loves Patience.

Patience, however, having been told that pure love is unselfish, says she cannot love Grosvenor, because her love would be selfish, since she really loves him. She says she must love Bunthorne, because, since she does not love him, that love would be unselfish and therefore pure.

Are still with me?

Bunthorne, at first delighted with Patience’s profession of love, becomes jealous when the handsome Grosvenor appears and attracts the attention of the twenty lovesick maidens, who leave Bunthorne to tag along after Grosvenor (from Monday to Saturday, until he requests a half-holiday). The jealous Bunthorne makes Patience miserable, which is exactly what a person loving unselfishly is supposed to be…

And then there are Jane and the 35th Dragoons.

And more complications.

In the passage below, Bunthorne reads one of his poems to the twenty lovesick maidens and the completely un-lovesick Patience.

*****

Bunthorne. … The poem is finished, and my soul has gone out into it. That was all. It was nothing worth mentioning, it occurs three times a day. (Sees Patience, who has entered during this scene.) Ah, Patience! Dear Patience! (Holds her hand; she seems frightened.)

Angela. Will it please you read it to us, sir?

Saphir. This we supplicate. (All kneel.)

Bunthorne. Shall I?

Dragoons. No!

Bunthorne. (annoyed – to Patience) I will read it if you bid me!

Patience(much frightened) You can if you like!

Bunthorne. It is a wild, weird, fleshy thing; yet very tender, very yearning, very precious. It is called, “Oh, Hollow! Hollow! Hollow!”

Patience. Is it a hunting song?

Bunthorne. A hunting song? No, it is not a hunting song. It is the wail of the poet’s heart on discovering that everything is commonplace. To understand it, cling passionately to one another and think of faint lilies. (They do so as he recites)

“OH, HOLLOW! HOLLOW! HOLLOW!”

What time the poet hath hymned
The writhing maid, lithe-limbed,
Quivering on amaranthine asphodel,
How can he paint her woes,
Knowing, as well he knows,
That all can be set right with calomel?

When from the poet’s plinth
The amorous colocynth
Yearns for the aloe, faint with rapturous thrills,
How can he hymn their throes
Knowing, as well he knows,
That they are only uncompounded pills?

Is it, and can it be,
Nature hath this decree,
Nothing poetic in the world shall dwell?
Or that in all her works
Something poetic lurks,
Even in colocynth and calomel?
I cannot tell.

Exit Bunthorne.

Angela. How purely fragrant!

Saphir. How earnestly precious!

Patience. Well, it seems to me to be nonsense.

Saphir. Nonsense, yes, perhaps – but oh, what precious nonsense!

Precious nonsense: Mr. Gilbert’s words describe Bunthorne’s poem–and the entire play.

As Andy Griffith said of Hamlet, it’s a pretty good show.