I met Yum-Yum when I was a kid, banging out beloved Gilbert & Sullivan songs from an old piano book on our old upright. I accompanied myself, performing for a select audience (me). All the names in “The Mikado” were hilarious to me, as were many of the lyrics, but the lyrics to “The Moon and I” — or “The Sun and I,” if you prefer — were a stumbling block: I didn’t quite get the point. What IS she singing about?
“We really know our worth, the sun and I…We are not shy, the moon and I.”
Little did I know, back in the mid-50s when I stretched my tinny little voice over the notes, that I would take those lyrics with me the rest of my life.
I think of them now, as I marvel at the luminous white overhead. Without “a trace upon her face of diffidence or shyness,” the moon does not apologize for her beauty or her powers. Yum-Yum’s understanding of this unapologetic acceptance of, if not exultation in, one’s own gifts was mysterious to me then. Wasn’t she guilty of boast?
But I get it now. I see the moon, and I hear Yum-Yum with older ears. She’s right: there is an expectation that some oughtn’t be too talented, and they should apologize for their talents. They should be diffident and know their “place,” pretending to be less than they are. Her refusal to capitulate to such expectation comes back to me with every beautiful moonlit sky in my life, and it never fails to make me listen to her.
I know, dear reader, that this is International Women’s Day, but this post is coincidental to that. In my perception, Yum-Yum sings of something wasteful, yes, shamefully, but not exclusively, wasteful to women.