A poem for Columbus Day
Richard Wilbur, our wittiest and most urbane American poet, wrote a patter song for Dr. Pangloss for the original production of Candide. It was. I believe, not used, but it has been preserved in his New and Collected Poems.
The occasion is the point in the narrative at which Candide meets Pangloss after a long separation, to discover that the good doctor is in the advanced stages of syphilis. But, Pangloss explains, it is all for the best on the best of all possible worlds. Two stanzas from “Pangloss’s Song: A Comic-Opera Lyric”:
“Columbus and his men, they say, / Conveyed the virus hither / Whereby my features rot away / And vital powers wither; / Yet had they not traversed the seas / And come infected back, / Why, think of all the luxuries / That modern life would lack!
“All bitter things conduce to sweet, / As this example shows; / Without the little spirochete / We’d have no chocolate to eat, / Nor would tobacco’s fragrance greet / The European nose.”
If your library lacks a volume of Mr. Wilbur’s verse, it is sadly incomplete.