Libretto for The Unicorn, the Gorgon and the Manticore


There once lived a Man in a Castle, and a strange man was he.
He shunned the Countess' parties; he yawned at town meetings;
he would not let the doctor take his pulse; he did not go to church on Sundays.
Oh what a strange man is the Man in the Castle!


Ev'ry Sunday afternoon, soft winds fanning the fading sun,
all the respectable folk went out walking slowly on the pink promenade by the sea.
Proud husbands velvety-plump, with embroider'd silk-pale ladies.
At four o'clock they all greeted each other; They spoke ill of each other at six:
"How d'you do?" "Very well, thank you."
"Have you heard?" "Pray, do tell me."
"Tcha tcha tcha tcha tcha ra tcha ra tcha..."
"How funny, how amusing, how odd! Ha ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!"
"How well you look!" "How pretty your dress!"
"Thank you." "Thank you." "Good-bye." "Good-bye."
"Isn't she a gossip!" "Isn't she a fright!"
"How d'you do?" "Very well, thank you."
"What do you think of this and that?"
"In my humble opinion: Bla bla bla bla bla la la la la bla..."
"How profound, how clever, how true! Only you could understand me."
"Thank you." "Thank you." "Good-bye." "Good-bye."
"Oh, what a pompous ass!" "Oh, what a fool!"

(Enter the Man in the Castle and the Unicorn)

One Sunday afternoon the proud Man in the Castle joined the crowd in the promenade by the sea.
He walked slowly down the quai leading by a silver chain a captive unicorn.
The townsfolk stopped to stare at the ill-assorted pair.
Thinking the man insane some laughed with pity, some laughed with scorn:
"What a scandalous sight to see a grown-up man
promenade a unicorn in plain daylight all through the city"
"If one can stroke the cat and kick the dog;
if one can pluck the peacock and flee the bee;
if one can ride the horse and hook the hog;
if one can tempt the mouse and swat the fly,
Why, why would a man both rich and well-born raise a unicorn?"
"If one can strike the boar with the spear and pierce the lark with an arrow;
if one can hunt the fox and the deer,
and net the butterfly and eat the sparrow;
if one can bid the falcon fly and let the robin die;
Why, why would a man both rich and well-born raise a unicorn?"
"If one can skin the mole and crush the snake;
if one can tame the swan on the lake and harpoon the dolphin in the sea;
if one can chain the bear and train the flea;
if one can sport with the monkey and chatter with the magpie,
Why, why would a man both rich and well-born raise a unicorn?"

(Dance of the Man in the Castle and the Unicorn)

Unicorn, my swift and leaping Unicorn,
Keep pace with me, stay close to me, don't run astray, my gentle rover.
Beware of the virgin sleeping under the lemon tree,
her hair adrift among the clover.
She hides a net under her petticoat, and silver chains around her hips,
and if you kiss her lips the hidden hunter will pierce your throat.
Unicorn, beware!
Her crimson lips are hard as coral and her white thighs are only a snare.
For you who likes to roam, a kiss is poisoned food;
Much sweeter fare is the green laurel; much safer home is the dark wood.

(The Count and the Countess)

"Why are you sad, my darling?
What shall I buy to make you smile again?
Velvets from Venice, furs from Tatary or dwarfs from Spain?"
"Why was I ever born? Ah, my husband dear!
I fear that you cannot afford to calm my sorrow.
Why was I ever born if I must go through life without a Unicorn!
Ah, my master, my lord!"
"Ah, dry your tears, my pet, my wife.
Whether I swim or fly, whether I steal or borrow.
I swear that you will own a Unicorn tomorrow."

(Enter the Man in the Castle with the Gorgon)

Behold the Gorgon stately and proud.
His eyes transfixed but not unaware of the envious stare of the common crowd.
Behold the Gorgon tall, big and loud.
He does not see the smiling enemy.
He does not pause to acknowledge the racket of the critical cricket
nor to confute the know-how of the sententious cow.
He slowly sarabands down the street ignoring the hunter but mixing with the elite.
Fearless and wild, his wings widespread.
He fascinates the maiden and frightens the child.

(The Townsfolk and the Man in the Castle)

"And what is that? A Bloody-Nun, a were-wolf?"
"This is a Gorgon."
"And what did you do with the Unicorn, please?"
"He only liked to gambol and tease.
I quickly grew tired of the fun,
So I peppered and grilled him."
"Do you mean?"
"Yes, I killed him."
"Oh but the man must be out of his mind.
How ungrateful of him,
to wilfully destroy the pretty Unicorn so gentle and coy.
and had he found something prettier at least,
but look at the Gorgon the horrible beast."
Wicked is Man, Patient is God,
All He gives Man to enjoy Man will destroy.
Banish all sleep, weep for the dead.
Cover my head with a black veil.
Muffle the horn and the lute, silence the nightingale.
For the Unicorn, slain by Man, will not leap ever again.

(The Count and the Countess. The latter has secretly poisoned her Unicorn)

"Why are you sad, my darling?
Gone is the swallow from your limpid eyes,
Gone is the silver from your clarion voice."
"Ah, my Unicorn.
Whether he grazed on mandrake or hellebore or only caught a chill
I very much fear, my Unicorn is done for, he is so very ill."
"Do not grieve, my dear,
once he's dead and gone we shall buy a younger one."
"Ah, my Unicorn, no younger one can take his place.
Besides they have grown too commonplace.
The Mayor's wife has one, so does the doctor's wife.
Now that my Unicorn is gone I want a Gorgon."
A Gorgon! Ha, God forbid!"
"Ah, you no longer love me. You must love another.
Ah me, that's clear: I must go back to mother."
"Bon voyage, my dear."
"Ah, abandoned and betrayed, I shall take the veil and die a nun."
"Why not an abbess? I couldn't care less."
"Think of our son who has done no wrong."
"The little monster, take him along."
Countess, crying
"Ho, ho, Oh! No! Not that, I pray, not that, I pray!"
"Calm yourself, my dear. I shall find a Gorgon this very day."

(Enter the Man in the Castle with the Manticore)

Do not caress the lonely Manticore. Do not unless your hand is gloved.
Feeling betrayed, feeling unloved, so lost he is in cabalistic dreams
he often bites the hand he really meant to kiss.
Although he's almost blind and very, very shy and says he loves mankind.
His glist'ning back whenever tapped will quickly raise its piercing quills.
How often as if in jest inadvertently he kills the people he loves best.
Afraid of love he hides in secret lairs and feeds on herbs more bitter than the aloe.
Fleeing the envious, the curious and the shallow, he keeps under his pillow
a parchment he thinks contains Solomon's seal and will restore his sight.
And late at night he battles with the Sphinx.

(The Townsfolk and the Man in the Castle)

"And who is that? Methuselah or Beelzebub?"
"This is the Manticore."
"And what of the Gorgon? How is he these days?"
"He was so proud and pompous and loud I quickly grew tired of his ways.
First I warned him and then I caged him. Fin'ly he died."
"He died? of what?"
"Of murder."
"Oh, but the man must be out of his mind.
How ungrateful of him, to slaughter in a cage the gorgeous Gorgon, the pride of his age.
Had he found something prettier at least, but this Manticore is a horrible beast."

(The Count and the Countess)

"Why are you sad, my darling?".
"Why are you sad, my darling? I like that, I like that!
Are you drunk, are you asleep, or just blind?"
"I must be all three for I dreamt you were charming and kind."
"I dare say, with the exception of you,
the whole town is aware of my terrible plight.
My Gorgon is lost, my Gorgon, my Gorgon is hopelessly lost!"
"Hardly a reason to weep.
I can now get you a dozen at half his original price."
"How dare you suggest such a thing.
You have no intuition or sense, you are vulgar and dense."
"I bow to your eloquence, but what have I said?"
"Do you expect me to keep and pamper and feed a breed that is common and cheap?"
"I shall say no more."
"Not even to offer me a Manticore."
"A Manticore? That ghost, that golem, that ghoul in my house! Never!"
"You are a fool!"
"I married you!"
"You are a mule!"
"You are a shrew!"
"How dare you, Oh, I faint."
"(Oh what a wife have I, Medusa she is and Xantippe,
still she must share my bed, I wish I were dead.)"
"Saying something?"
"Oh nothing."
"May I then have my Manticore?"
"Don't be a bore."
"Oh, why did I marry a count of no account, since I could have married a duke or a prince."
"(Because they were clever and I was a fool.)"
"Saying something?"
"Oh nothing!"
"I heard you." she slaps him
"(Oh what a wife have I, Medusa she is and Xantippe,
Oh what a wife have I, I wish she would die.)"
"Do you still refuse?"
"You are much too convincing and forceful and deft."
"I knew we would finally see eye to eye."
"Yes, the one eye I have left."

(The Townsfolk)

Have you noticed the Man in the Castle is seen no more Walking on Sundays his Manticore.
I have a suspicion. Do you suppose? Do you? The Manticore too?
We must form a committee to stop all these crimes.
We should arrest him, we should splice his tongue and triturate his bones.
He should be tortured with water and fire, with pulleys and stones
(He should be put on the rack, on the wheel, on the stake.)
in molten lead, in the Iron Maiden.
Let us all go to explore the inner courts of the Castle
and find out what he has done with the rare Manticore.


Slow, much too slow, is the judgement of God.
Quick is the thief. Speedy architect of perfect labyrinths the sinner.
But God's law works in time and time has one flaw: it is unfashionably slow.
We, the few, the elect, must take things in our hands.
We must judge those who live and condemn those who love.
All passion is uncivil. All candor is suspect.
We detest all, except, what by fashion is blest.
And forever and ever, whether evil or good, we shall respect what seems clever.

(The Man in the Castle on his death-bed, surrounded by the Unicorn, the Gorgon, and the Manticore.)

Oh foolish people who feign to feel what other men have suffered.
You, not I, are the indifferent killers of the poet's dreams.
How could I destroy the pain wrought children of my fancy?
What would my life have been without their faithful and harmonious company?
Unicorn, My youthful foolish Unicorn, please do not hide, come close to me.
And you, my Gorgon, behind whose splendor I hid the doubts of my midday, you, too, stand by.
And here is my shy and lonely Manticore, who gracefully leads me to my grave.
Farewell. Equally well I loved you all.
Although the world may not suspect it,
all remains intact within the Poet's heart.
Farewell. Not even death I fear as in your arms I die.

Bryan Butler
Email: bbutler at nrao dot edu
Snail mail:
     1003 Lopezville Rd.
     Socorro, NM    87801
Phone: 505.835.7261

Last Modified on 2003-Oct-15