W.H. Auden and “Man of La Mancha”

ImageFun fact: Poet W.H. Auden was the original lyricist for Man of La Mancha.

So what happened? How did one of the 20th century’s greatest writer‘s end up losing his job to Joe Darion, a relative newcomer.

As La Mancha book writer Dale Wasserman recalls in his memoir The Impossible Musical, Auden’s original lyrics – though lovely on the page – were not stage-worthy.

“They were not lyrics,” Wasserman explained. “Some were poems. Some were diatribes, not against the world of Cervantes but the world of today. They made free use of anachronism, which tore the fabric of the play to shreds.”

For comparison’s sake, here’s the beginning of Auden’s “Song of the Quest:”

Once the voice has quietly spoken, every knight
Must ride alone
On the quest appointed him into the unknown.
One to seek the healing waters, one the dark
Tower to assail,
One to find the lost princess, one to find the grail.

Through the wood of evil counsel, through the
Desert of dismay,

Past the pools of pestilence he must find the way.
Hemmed between the haunted marshes and the
Mountains of the dead,

To the valley of regret and the bridge of dread.

What do you think? How do they stack up against Joe Darion’s now-famous lyrics for “The Impossible Dream:”

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;
To right the unrightable wrong.
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

We’d love your thoughts. Leave a comment below or on our Facebook page.


post by Communications and Education Director Bill D’Agostino

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2 Responses to W.H. Auden and “Man of La Mancha”

  1. Daniel Chadwick says:

    Speaking as both a poet and an omnivorous and far-reaching music lover (in terms ot the number of styles and genres I’ve devoured over the years),,, Sure. as singable lyrics Darion’s words might work better, but in terms of imagination, imagery (which is still a plus even in a song) and general coolness they’re pathetic!!! But I love the music so much I’m willing to overlook the triteness… THAT’s the word I was reaching for… of the words.

  2. Dallas Valerian says:

    I remember professors extolling the poetry of Bob Dylan’s lyrics or Jefferson Airplane’s. But seeing them written out as verses made it clear to me that music leaves the words diminished in luster by its absence.
    Auden so greatly mastered the art of making words sing that I can imagine how alien to him was the task of constraining them to some other’s melody.
    I think Darion’s lyrics are well-suited to a show-stopping number, but since my talents lie in reading well, I’d prefer the Auden, especially if he had written it as literature rather than lyric.

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