The Mad Gardener's Song - (2005) 

Lewis Carroll

for mezzo soprano or baritone and piano


He thought he saw an Elephant
That practised on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
'At length I realize,' he said,
'The bitterness of Life!'

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister's Husband's Niece.
'Unless you leave this house,' he said,
'I'll send for the Police!'

He thought he saw a Rattlesnake
That questioned him in Greek:
He looked again, and found it as
The Middle of Next Week.
'The one thing I regret,' he said,
'Is that it cannot speak!'

He thought he saw a Banker's Clerk
Descending from the 'bus:
He looked again, and found it was
A Hippopotamus.
'If this should stay to dine,' he said,
'There won't be much for us!'

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
A Vegetable-Pill.
'Were I to swallow this,' he said,
'I should be very ill!'

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bear without a Head.
'Poor thing,' he said, 'poor silly thing!
It's waiting to be fed!'

He thought he saw an Albatross
That fluttered round the lamp:
He looked again, and found it was
A Penny-Postage-Stamp.
'You'd best be getting home,' he said,
'The nights are very damp!'

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
'And all its mystery,' he said,
'Is clear as day to me!'

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
'A fact so dread,' he faintly said,
'Extinguishes all hope!'

from Sylvie and Bruno, Lewis Carroll

[ 8 pages, circa 4 '00" ]

Lewis Carroll

Lewis Carroll (1832-1898), of course, was the nom-de-plume of Charles Dodgson, rector at Christ Church, Oxford, but known worldwide as by his fictions and the fictional Lewis Carroll.

Mark Burstein, to whom this setting is dedicated, is currently Vice President of the Lewis Carroll Society of North America; I am sometimes a mad gardener. It seemed only logical so see the Elephant, Buffalo, Rattlesnake and Bank Clerk, the Kangaroo, the Coach-and-Four, the Albatross and Garden-Door as something to set to music as a gift for my friend who is not so mad as am I. At least, thanks to Lewis Carroll's wondrous work, I may make this Argument once more. Of course, to " realize... the bitterness of Life" which "extinguishes all hope" is as much nonsense as the remainder of the text and the music, for the real bitterness of life is always bittersweet and not simply bitter.

The music is rooted in wrong notes, as the treble and bass lines oppose one another in whole tone relationships all the while rooted on" good old" C major, just as nonsense is rooted in sense. The basis of humor is tragedy, and fiction lies over fact.



A cycle of texts by Carroll is titled "Alice" Songs, and a two act opera of the Alice Liddell stories with a libretto adapted from Lewis Carroll by Marilyn Barnett and me is simply titled, Alice. In addition to such silliness as setting Carroll's delightful nonsense as song, I had the distinct honor to co-officiate at Mark and Llisa's wedding in Petaluma, California. This bit of nonsense is dedicated to their most sensible family.