Lyrics: Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger |
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Beware Of The Beautiful Stranger

by Clive James and Pete Atkin

On the midsummer fairground alive with the sound
And the lights of the Wurlitzer merry-go-round
The midway was crowded and I was the man
Who coughed up a quid in the dark caravan
To the gypsy who warned him of danger
"Beware of the beautiful stranger"

"You got that for nothing" I said with a sigh
As the queen's head went up to her critical eye
"The lady in question is known to me now
And I'd like to beware but the problem is how
Do you think I was born in a manger?
I'm in love with the beautiful stranger"

The gypsy (called Lee as all soothsayers are)
Bent low to her globular fragment of star
"This woman will utterly screw up your life
She will tempt you from home, from your children and wife
She's a devil and nothing will change her
Get away from the beautiful stranger"

"That ball needs a re-gun" I said, shelling out
"The future you see there has all come about
Does it show you the girl as she happens to be
A Venus made flesh in a shell full of sea?
Does it show you the shape of my danger?
Can you show me the beautiful stranger?"

"I don't run a cinema here, little man
But lean over close and tune in if you can
You breathe on the glass, give a rub with your sleeve
Slip me your wallet, sit tight and believe
And the powers-that-be will arrange a
Pre-release of the beautiful stranger"

In the heart of the glass I saw galaxies born
The eye of the storm and the light of the dawn
And then with a click came a form and a face
That stunned me not only through candour and grace
But because she was really a stranger
A total and beautiful stranger

"Hello there" she said with her hand to her brow
"I'm the one you'll meet after the one you know now
There's no room inside here to show you us all
But behind me the queue stretches right down the hall
For the damned there is always a stranger
There is always a beautiful stranger"

"That's your lot" said Miss Lee as she turned on the light
"These earrings are hell and I'm through for the night
If they'd put up a booster not far from this pitch
I could screen you your life to the very last twitch
But I can't even get the Lone Ranger"
One last word from the beautiful stranger

"You live in a dream and the dream is a cage"
Said the girl "And the bars nestle closer with age
Your shadow burned white by invisible fire
You will learn how it rankles to die of desire
As you long for the beautiful stranger"
Said the vanishing beautiful stranger

"Here's a wallet for you and five nicker for me"
Said the gypsy "And also here's something for free
Watch your step on my foldaway stairs getting down
And go slow on the flyover back into town
There's a slight but considerable danger
Give my love to the beautiful stranger"

Note (from Collected Poems)

The revelatory female face has been a theme for poetry since Homer raved about Helen in the Iliad, and not even the Divine Comedy would be the miracle it is if Dante had not had an eye for the girls. But in real life no woman wants to hear from a writer that he worships women, or even that he worships an abstract woman called the Muse. She wants to hear that he worships her. Nevertheless the theme, or dream, drives on. This lyric was one of my earliest statements of it. At first I thought Pete would never be able to set a stanza so four-square and regular. He did so by repeatedly, but not predictably, altering the spaces. The song was, of course, far too long to record as a single; but we were still taking pride in asking the impossible. It will be noticed that the Beautiful Stranger is not described; but then, Helen’s beauty is not described by Homer, he just evokes it by describing how thousands of men react when they see her.