Here is the tale of Carrousel,
The barber of Meridian Street,
He cut, and coiffed, and shaved so well,
That all the world was at his feet.
The King, the Queen, and all the Court,
To no one else would trust their hair,
And reigning belles of every sort
Owed their successes to his care.
With carriage and with cabriolet
Daily Meridian Street was blocked,
Like bees about a bright bouquet
The beaux about his doorway nocked.
Such was his art he could with ease
Curl wit into the dullest face;
Or to a goddess of old Greece
Add a new wonder and a grace.
All powders, paints, and subtle dyes,
And costliest scents that men distil,
And rare pomades, forgot their price
And marvelled at his splendid skill.
The curling irons in his hand
Almost grew quick enough to speak,
The razor was a magic wand
That understood the softest cheek.
Yet with no pride his heart was moved;
He was so modest in his ways!
His daily task was all he loved,
And now and then a little praise.
An equal care he would bestow
On problems simple or complex;
And nobody had seen him show
A preference for either sex.
How came it then one summer day,
Coimng the daughter of the King,
He lengthened out the least delay
And loitered in his hairdressing?
The Princess was a pretty child,
Thirteen years old, or thereabout.
She was as joyous and as wild
As spring flowers when the sun is out.
Her gold hair fell down to her feet
And hung about her pretty eyes;
She was as lyrical and sweet
As one of Schubert's melodies.
Three times the barber curled a lock,
And thrice he straightened it again;
And twice the irons scorched her frock,
And twice he stumbled in her train.
His fingers lost their cunning quite,
His ivory combs obeyed no more;
Something or other dimmed his sight,
And moved mysteriously the floor.
He leant upon the toilet table,
His fingers fumbled in his breast;
He felt as foolish as a fable,
And feeble as a pointless jest.
He snatched a bottle of Cologne,
And broke the neck between his hands;
He felt as if he was alone,
And mighty as a king's commands.
The Princess gave a little scream,
Carrousel's cut was sharp and deep;
He left her softly as a dream
That leaves a sleeper to his sleep.
He left the room on pointed feet;
Smiling that things had gone so well.
They hanged him in Meridian Street.
You pray in vain for Carrousel.
Beardsley's poem first appeared in the July 1896 issue of The Savoy. According to Karl Beckson, "The idea of the demon barber may have come from John Gray's "The Barber," a sexual fantasy which had appeared in Silverpoints (1893)" (p. 6).
Aesthetes and decadents of the 1890's: An Anthology of British Poetry and Prose. Ed. Karl Beckson. Rev. Ed. Chicago: Academy, 1981.
Last modified 27 November 2006