Wednesday, August 23, 2006


Long ago I was required in high school to memorize a poem. Today I heard from a classmate from back then, and it reminded me of it. The class was reading "The Most Dangerous Game," in which appears a servant named "Ivan". The pupil reading the story pronounced that in the Russian way, EEvan, so some of us, not being much acquainted with such things, shouted "Eye-van"; whereupon Brother Daniel pointed to those he had caught at this, and said we must go and memorize a poem about Ivan Skavinsky Skivar, and gave us no hint of where we might find that. This was well before the Internet: the only computer I had was a thing that used marbles to do minor binary arithmetic.

It took a couple of days in the Memphis city library to find this thing. I suppose I learned something about doing research as well as to not to be such a smart-alec in class.

So for some reason I have transcribed this as I remember it. Odd the things memories will do to you.

I ran this poem in There Will Be War some years ago. The version I gave there is slightly different.



Abdullah Bulbul Amir

The sons of the Prophet are hardy and bold,
And quite unaccustomed to fear,
but of all the most reckless of life or of limb
was Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

When they wanted a man to encourage the van
Or harass a foe from the rear,
Storm fort or redoubt, they had only to shout
For Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

This son of the desert in battle aroused
Could spit twenty men on his spear.
A terrible creature when sober or soused
Was Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

The heroes were plenty and well known to fame
That fought in the ranks of the Czar.
But the greatest of these was a man by the name
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

He could imitate Irving, play euchre or pool
And strum 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.
Come gallant or tank, there was no one to rank
With Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

One day this bold Russian had shouldered his gun
And donned his most truculent sneer.
He went into town, and straightway ran down
Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

"Young man", quoth the Bulbul, "Is existence so dull
That you're eager to end your career?
For infidel, know, you have trod on the toe
Of Abdullah Bulbul Amir."

"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."

Said 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. Abdullah Bulbul Amir."

Then this bold Mamalouk drew his trusty skibouk
With a cry of "Allah Akbar."
With murderous intent he ferociously went
For Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

They parried and thrust, they sidestepped and cussed
Of blood they spilled a great lot.
The philologist blokes, who seldom crack jokes,
Say that hash was first made on that spot.

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

As Abdul's long knife was extracting the life,
In fact he had shouted, "Huzzah!"
He felt himself struck by that wily Calmuck,
Count Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

The Sultan drove by in his red-crested fly,
Expecting the victor to cheer.
But he only drew nigh just to hear the last sigh
Of Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

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

There's a grave by the wave where the Blue Danube rolls,
And 'graved there in characters clear,
Is "Stranger, when passing, oh pray for the soul
Of Abdullah Bulbul Amir."

A splash in the Black Sea one dark moonless night,
Caused ripples to spread near and far.
It was made by a sack fitting close to the back
Of Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

A Muscovite maiden her lone vigil keeps,
'Neath the light of the pale polar star.
And the name that she murmurs so oft as she weeps
Is Ivan Skavinsky Skivar.

-- Unknown


Abdul Abulbul Ameer

Best I can tell (Internet crawl) the song (there's a tune) was written in its original version by Percy French as a 23yr old engineering student at Trinity College in 1877 for a school concert and he subsequently recycled it for sale to a publisher who printed it unattributed. There are 10's of variant lyric versions.

Ben Pedersen

I never heard an origin story before: it was in a book of barroom ballads in the Memphis Public Library. And I am sure there are dozens of versions, and I suspect that the one I recite isn't exactly as I found it in 1948 in the lib