Monday, August 27, 2012

Commander of the nightingale indeed!

My online friend Shooting Parrots who lives in Lancashire over in jolly olde Englande has been having of late what he calls “my temporary obsession with Abdul Abulbul Ameer”; it all started a few days ago when he wrote a post about a man named Percy French for Round Eleven of ABC Wednesday. So far he has made three posts about it (Shooting Parrots I mean, not Percy French). The last one includes an entire 1941 Disney cartoon that Parrots says has been banned because it is not politically correct.

Never one to let a subject drop go unexplored, I thought I would join in the fun by showing you this thoroughly delightful clip of "Abdul Abulbul Ameer" performed by Brendan O’Dowda (3:11).

There now, wasn’t that, er, thoroughly delightful?

I do have one slight correction, however.

People have been getting the title wrong for years. It isn’t “Abdul Abulbul Ameer” and it isn’t “Abdul (The Bulbul Ameer)” either, even though that’s what appears on some sheet music shown at the end of the Brendan O’Dowda clip.

I suppose it could be “The Bulbul” but that is not what Brendan seems to be saying if you watch his mouth closely. In addition, Abulbul does not translate into anything in either Arabic or Persian. Trust me. I tried, using my favorite online translator, Google Translate.

It is therefore my carefully thought-out and considered opinion that the title now and forevermore and even retroactively should be changed to either “Abdul (A Bulbul Ameer)” or “Abdullah, Bulbul Ameer)” and I’ll tell you why.

The word Abulbul does not translate into either Arabic or Persian. I know. I tried. I think I told you that already.

However, Abdullah Bulbul Ameer translates into Arabic as
عبد الله أمير بلبل and into Persian as عبدالله بلبل امیر.

Here are some other fascinating details for your perusal:

Both Abdul and Abdullah are boys’ names commonly used in that part of the world. One famous Abdullah (1882--1951) was emir of Transjordan (1921--46) and first king of Jordan (1946--51). He joined the Arab revolt against Turkish rule in World War I and was assassinated 1951. Another famous Abdullah is Abdullah II, the current king of Jordan. And still another is the current king of Saudi Arabia, Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz. French’s poem was written too early to refer to any of them.

Dictionary definitions include:

bul·bul [bool-bool] noun
1. a songbird often mentioned in Persian poetry, regarded as being a nightingale.
2. any of several oscine birds of the family Pycnonotidae, of the Old World tropics.

a·mir [uh-meer] noun, emir (Also, emeer, amir, ameer.) Origin: 1615–25; from Arabic amīr, commander

e·mir [uh-meer, ey-meer] noun
1. a chieftain, prince, commander, or head of state in some Islamic countries.
2. a title of honor of the descendants of Muhammad.
3. (initial capital letter) the former title of the ruler of Afghanistan.
4. a title of certain Turkish officials.

One dictionary said this:

emir -- 1595, from Fr. emir, colloquial pronunciation of Arabic amir “commander” (see admiral).

Yes. You read that correctly. See admiral.

ad·mi·ral Origin: 1175–1225; Middle English, variant of amira from Old French, from Arabic amīr al, commander of the (as in amīr al-mu’minīn, commander of the faithful)

To round out this interminable post, here is one version of William Percy French’s 1877 poem:

Abdulla Bulbul Ameer

1. The sons of the prophet
Were hardy and bold,
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far,
In the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

This son of the desert,
In battle aroused,
Could spit twenty men on his spear.
A terrible creature,
Both sober and soused
Was Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

2. If you wanted a man
To encourage the van,
Or to harass the foe from the rear,
Or to storm a redoubt,
You had only to shout
For Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

There are heroes aplenty
And men known to fame
In the troops that were led by the Czar;
But the bravest of these
Was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

3. He could imitate Irving,
Play euchre and pool
And perform on the Spanish Guitar.
In fact, quite the cream
Of the Muscovite team
Was Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

The ladies all loved him,
His rivals were few;
He could drink them all under the bar.
As gallant or tank,
There was no one to rank
With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

4. One day this bold Russian
Had shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer
Downtown he did go,
Where he trod on the toe
Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

“Young man” quoth Bulbul,
“Has life grown so dull,
That you’re anxious to end your career?
Vile infidel! Know,
You have trod on the toe
Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.”

5. “So take your last look
At the sunshine and brook
And send your regrets to the Czar;
By this I imply
You are going to die,
Mr. Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.”

Quoth Ivan, “My friend,
Your remarks, in the end,
Will avail you but little, I fear,
For you ne’er will survive
To repeat them alive,
Mr. Abdulla Bulbul Ameer!”

6. Then this bold mameluke
Drew his trusty chibouque
With a cry of “Allah Akbar!”
And with murderous intent,
He ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

Then they parried and thrust
And they side-stepped and cussed
Till their blood would have filled a great pot.
The philologist blokes,
Who seldom crack jokes,
Say hash was first made on that spot.

7. They fought all that night,
’neath the pale yellow moon;
The din, it was heard from afar;
And great multitudes came,
So great was the fame
Of Abdul and Ivan Skivar.

As Abdul’s long knife
Was extracting the life --
In fact, he was shouting “Huzzah!”
He felt himself struck
By that wily Kalmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

8. The sultan drove by
In his red-breasted fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer;
But he only drew nigh
To hear the last sigh
Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

Czar Petrovich, too,
In his spectacles blue
Rode up in his new crested car.
He arrived just in time
To exchange a last line
With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

9. A loud-sounding splash
From the Danube was heard
Resounding o’er meadows afar;
It came from the sack
Fitting close to the back
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

There’s a tomb rises up
Where the blue Danube flows;
Engraved there in characters clear;
“Ah stranger, when passing,
Please pray for the soul
Of Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.”

10. A Muscovite maiden
Her lone vigil keeps,
Neath the light of the pale polar star;
And the name that she murmurs
As oft as she weeps
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

The sons of the prophet
Were hardy and bold,
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
But the bravest by far,
In the ranks of the Shah,
Was Abdulla Bulbul Ameer.

Other than the facts that in some versions "Black Sea" replaces "Danube" and Abdul is not a diminuitive of Abdullah, I have nothing else to add.

The best way to celebrate having waded through the entire poem is to listen one more time to Brendan O’Dowda’s thoroughly delightful performance.

Class is now dismissed. Before our next class, you should read "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

In your spare time, of course.

Yours for precision in lyrics, I remain...
Rhymes W. Plague, Esq.


  1. In order to help my fellow classmates, I have taken the liberty of pasting the first part of Coleridge's famous poem below. You know how testy Satan (Mr Brague) can be when we don't do our homework!


    Part I

    It is an ancient Mariner,
    And he stoppeth one of three.
    `By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
    Now wherefore stopp'st thou me?

    The bridegroom's doors are opened wide,
    And I am next of kin;
    The guests are met, the feast is set:
    Mayst hear the merry din.'

    He holds him with his skinny hand,
    "There was a ship," quoth he.
    `Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!'
    Eftsoons his hand dropped he.

    He holds him with his glittering eye -
    The Wedding-Guest stood still,
    And listens like a three years' child:
    The Mariner hath his will.

    The Wedding-Guest sat on a stone:
    He cannot choose but hear;
    And thus spake on that ancient man,
    The bright-eyed Mariner.

    "The ship was cheered, the harbour cleared,
    Merrily did we drop
    Below the kirk, below the hill,
    Below the lighthouse top.

    The sun came up upon the left,
    Out of the sea came he!
    And he shone bright, and on the right
    Went down into the sea.

    Higher and higher every day,
    Till over the mast at noon -"
    The Wedding-Guest here beat his breast,
    For he heard the loud bassoon.

    The bride hath paced into the hall,
    Red as a rose is she;
    Nodding their heads before her goes
    The merry minstrelsy.

    The Wedding-Guest he beat his breast,
    Yet he cannot choose but hear;
    And thus spake on that ancient man,
    The bright-eyed Mariner.

    "And now the storm-blast came, and he
    Was tyrannous and strong:
    He struck with his o'ertaking wings,
    And chased us south along.

    With sloping masts and dipping prow,
    As who pursued with yell and blow
    Still treads the shadow of his foe,
    And foward bends his head,
    The ship drove fast, loud roared the blast,
    And southward aye we fled.

    And now there came both mist and snow,
    And it grew wondrous cold:
    And ice, mast-high, came floating by,
    As green as emerald.

    And through the drifts the snowy clifts
    Did send a dismal sheen:
    Nor shapes of men nor beasts we ken -
    The ice was all between.

    The ice was here, the ice was there,
    The ice was all around:
    It cracked and growled, and roared and howled,
    Like noises in a swound!

    At length did cross an Albatross,
    Thorough the fog it came;
    As it had been a Christian soul,
    We hailed it in God's name.

    It ate the food it ne'er had eat,
    And round and round it flew.
    The ice did split with a thunder-fit;
    The helmsman steered us through!

    And a good south wind sprung up behind;
    The Albatross did follow,
    And every day, for food or play,
    Came to the mariner's hollo!

    In mist or cloud, on mast or shroud,
    It perched for vespers nine;
    Whiles all the night, through fog-smoke white,
    Glimmered the white moonshine."

    `God save thee, ancient Mariner,
    From the fiends that plague thee thus! -
    Why look'st thou so?' -"With my crossbow
    I shot the Albatross."

  2. I enjoyed both poems, but had never read the first. As for Yorkie's contribution, I have loved it forever, and have a copy that includes Dore's superb illustrations. You realize, I'm sure, the Coleridge sometimes found his inspiration through drugs. Drugs do indeed have the power to steer one's thoughts in directions that they wouldn't otherwise go.

  3. Thank you Mr Plague for adding greatly to this subject. I think we have the basis for a dissertation on Percy French's magnum opus.

    A note of clarification, it wasn't me who said that the cartoon had been banned, but the person who posted it on YouTube. I'm not aware of any UN convention that might apply, indeed I suspect that any attempt to ban it could be regarded as an attack on freedom of expression.

    Your scholarly research on the origins of the title of the eponymous hero does you great credit, however Ireland was not particularly culturally diverse at the time it was written and Percy French is unlikely to have had any Turkish acquaintances to draw from.

    I suspect that you would find similar discrepancies with the name Ivan Skavinsky Scavar.

    There is more research to be done I'm afraid!

  4. An excellent post and comments gentlemen, I applaud your scholarly effort. Thank you too, YP for allowing me to revisit the Rime, without benefit of "the Google!"

  5. Yorky, you barely scratched the surface. Only the tip of it is showing, like an iceberg.

    Snowbrush, yes, Coleridge used drugs. All you have to do is read his "Kubla Khan" to realize that.

    Parrots, I believe I will leave the research on Ivan Skavinsky Skavar to someone else.

    Reamus, thanks for stopping by. To revisit the Rime in toto, click here.

  6. Thanks York shire for putting the Mariner in as well.
    Both great poems. I think I read the Mariner one before but not the first one about abdullah
    (abdullah is a funny name because it always means to me about someone who tricks or is tricked.)
    Well, Coleridge was a sick man.Once you begin taking medicines, they can become addictive as we saw in Elvis and Michael Jackson.

  7. For the Emir poem maybe Coleridge put in bulbul ameer to mean a song bird since skivincky was noted to play the guitar.(sorta for balance)