A man achieves his dream of leaving the Earth.

In the 1950’s, Asimov did a number of science fiction-y parodies of songs from various Gilbert and Sullivan operas. Two of them appear in Earth is Room Enough: “The Author’s Ordeal,” and “The Foundation of SF Success.”

This poem was published in the Summer 1957 issue of Future Science Fiction and so was slightly too late for inclusion in Earth is Room Enough. In this case, the poem is modeled on “I Have a Song to Sing, O!” from The Yeomen of the Guard, and already Asimov is in trouble.

Yeomen was the only serious opera written by the pair. Sullivan always felt that doing comic operas was beneath him (but he needed the money), and Gilbert knew that he didn’t have the talent for a grand opera. This was something of a compromise: serious enough that Sullivan was willing to set it to music, and lighthearted enough that Gilbert could manage writing the libretto.

“I Have a Song to Sing, O!” is one of the most beautiful and lyrical songs in any of the Savoy Operas, and the only one whose tune (according to legend) was supplied by Gilbert. It’s frankly a sad song about unrequited love. It’s a duet for a baritone and soprano: the man sings verse one, the woman responds in verse two, the man responds back in verse three, and the woman brings it all to its conclusion in verse four. When sung in Act One, it has all four verses and a happy resolution, but when reprised at the end of Act Two, it’s cut in half and provides a bitter-sweet resolution to the love triangle at the heart of Yeomen’s story.

Asimov, therefore, in using it to write a fluffy bit of comic verse is breaking radically with the mood of the song itself. To compound matters, “I Have a Song to Sing, O!” is a cumulative song: verses two through four repeat the story of the song so far and add to it, so each verse is longer than the previous one.

The “pioneer” of the title is a man on the Earth who dreams of flying to the Moon or possibly a planet. A scientist works out how to build a spaceship, an engineer builds it, and an astronaut flies it to allow for his trip to his destination. Asimov doesn’t make the story out-and-out funny, perhaps in deference to the original. He does not, however, attempt to match the antiphonic nature of the original; the poem is purely cumulative. Nor, moreover, does he make the story feel really compelling.

Now, I can’t be a fair judge, because I know “I Have a Song to Sing, O!” very well and this little ditty pales in comparison with the original. The lyrics are clever enough—even if they speak of space flight in a kind of 1950’s, Destination Moon sort of way—but they feel enormously out-of-place and inappropriate. Perhaps one unfamiliar with Gilbert and Sullivan would appreciate the poem’s story more than I can—but they would likely be put off by its cumulative nature.

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