Fans of Gilbert and Sullivan introduce themselves
This parody of the song “If You Give Me Your Attention” from the Gilbert and Sullivan opera Princess Idea was published as part of Asimov’s introduction to the second edition of The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon by Harry Benford. The book is—well, I don’t want to say “an amateur production,” because that comes across as needlessly insulting, particularly given the number of very good “amateur productions” of Gilbert and Sullivan out there—not published by a large, mainstream publisher and has as a result a certain amount of quirkiness. For example, the paragraph “About Isaac Asimov” notes that he wrote “highly-respected textbooks in many scientific disciplines,” which is news to me.
(It’s still better than the introduction to Isaac Asimov’s Book of Facts.)
The book itself is basically an annotation to the Savoy operas without the actual texts of the operas themselves and as such is comparable to Asimov’s Annotated Gilbert and Sullivan, among other books. After all, the Savoy operas were written over a century ago for London audiences, and there are some terms and concepts that modern Americans may find unfamiliar.
As for the poem, it was actually written fourteen years earlier, in 1977, to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of New York’s Gilbert and Sullivan Society. The Gilbert and Sullivan Lexicon merely provided a convenient place for it to be acutally published for a wider audience.
“If You Give Me Your Attention” is what TV Tropes calls an “I Am Song”—it exists to give a character a chance to introduce himself to the audience. Asimov has taken this particular “I Am Song” and made it a “We Are Song” (which, of course, one also finds in Gilbert and Sullivan, usually in the opening numbers, such as H.M.S. Pinafore’s “We Sail the Ocean Blue” or “If You Want to Know Who We Are” from The Mikado), here to introduce Gilbert and Sullivan enthusiasts to the rest of the world—or to each other, it’s not entirely clear.
Structurally, it is like nothing so much as Asimov’s Sherlockian Limericks, in that it’s basically a list of the canonical Savoy operas from Thespis through The Grand Duke together with brief comments about them. Since each opera gets about two lines, that means that there’s not really any meat here outside of the list of titles.
It is not Asimov’s best work either as comic verse or as a parody. There are really a lot of problems with scansion, for one thing, inevitable because Gilbert didn’t give his operas titles that fit neatly into any particular meter. Some of the rhymes are rather forced, too (not that Gilbert never used a forced rhyme). In some sense, it’s not fair to count these against the poem, since they’re not entirely Asimov’s fault—but they weaken the overall effect nonetheless, and there’s nothing particularly clever to compensate for them.
“The Gilbert and Sullivan Enthusiasts” does end on a somewhat ironic note, however, given Asimov’s death within a year of this poem’s book publication. Among the final lines is: “Why couldn’t G and S have written fifty thousand more?”
Amen to that sentiment, Dr. A. Amen.