The Impossible Dream

With nary a second pause for thought, the most influential song of my life has been “The Impossible Dream” from Man of La Mancha.

I first heard this in the sixth grade when our teacher presented this musical to us. Gary Maxwell. A quiet, reserved, pleasant man who had the unfortunate task of taking over from the amazingly talented teacher who had been summoned to Washington, D.C. to teach what he knew to other teachers. Gary Maxwell had to follow on the heels of Gary Griffin, a man talented in teaching art, music, literature, etc. Our fifth grade had been exposed to “Oliver!,” learning every song and performing it for all the other classes. That was Maxwell’s challenge. He chose “Man of La Mancha” and knocked it out of the park. What that man set off in me was a lifelong pursuit of The Quest. He told us the story and then played each song in the order of the story. If there is such a thing as a Soul’s song, this is mine. If somehow you have made it through the last 50 years without knowledge of my Soul’s song and the story behind Don Quixote de la Mancha, you owe it to yourself to make room for a touch of the Divine. Trust me on this. It set my heart on fire, it dragged me across finish lines I would never have run in the first place, it held me together in my darkest hours. I have done speeches on this, written a manual for a class I taught attorneys based on the principles outlined in the song and the story itself.

Picture if you will a stage that shows a cold dark dank prison filled with the harshest of miscreants, thugs, thieves and whores. From far above, a sound clangs and there is a pinpoint of light from a trap door in the ceiling opening, a ladder is lowered and a prisoner is sent down. The ladder is withdrawn and bamn! the trapdoor closes, all light is gone. The prisoner blinks in the semi-darkness and becomes aware of the others circling him like wolves. They dart in and out, touching his clothes, taking whatever he came in with, threatening his life. But, this is no ordinary thief. He is Cervantes, a playwright, thrown in prison with his troop of actors for questioning the government. The others sneer, jeer and spit on him. What a useless man he is. A dreamer, gawd! a writer. Forsooth – kill him now. With ringing tones, he cries out above the menacing sounds. “Give me a chance,” He cries, “let me perform my story, then you be the judge of my crime.” They begrudgingly agree – after all, they can kill him afterwards. A space is cleared. He walks slowly to the center and says softly, “I shall impersonate a man. Come! Enter into my imagination and see him!” It is dark around the edges of the circle and somehow the light in that dark, dank space underground finds him as he begins:

CERVANTES
May I set the stage? I shall impersonate a man.
Come, enter into my imagination and see him!
His name… Alonso Quijana… a country squire,
no longer young… bony, hollow-faced… eyes
that burn with the fire of inner vision. Being
retired, he has much time for books. He studies
them from morn to night and often through the
night as well. And all he reads oppresses him…
fills him with indignation at man’s murderous
ways toward man. And he conceives the strangest
project ever imagined… to become a knight-errant
and sally forth into the world to right all
wrongs. No longer shall he be plain Alonso Quijana…
but a dauntless knight known as –
Don Quixote de La Mancha!

Before their eyes, he takes on the appearance of the old scholarly man. He begins to sing, his voice ringing out clearer, stronger with each line:

DON QUIXOTE
Hear me now
Oh thou bleak and unbearable world,
Thou art base and debauched as can be;
And a knight with his banners all bravely unfurled
Now hurls down his gauntlet to thee!
I am I, Don Quixote,
The Lord of La Mancha, þ
My destiny calls and I go,
And the wild winds of fortune
Will carry me onward,
Oh whithersoever they blow.
Whithersoever they blow,
Onward to glory I go!

SANCHO PANZA
I’m Sancho! Yes, I’m Sancho!
I’ll follow my master till the end.
I’ll tell all the world proudly
I’m his squire! I’m his friend!

DON QUIXOTE
Hear me, heathens and wizards
And serpents of sin!
All your dastardly doings are past,
For a holy endeavor is now to begin
And virtue shall triumph at last!

Don Quixote and Sancho Panza mount their horses and set out along a road, coming to an inn and staying for the night. Don Quixote is wholly centered in his vision, each person he comes in contact with he greets within the context of his quest. The innkeeper is the Lord of the Castle, a team of muleteers fellow travelers, the whore, whose true name is Aldonza, Don Quixote sees as His Lady and he addresses her as Dulcinea. Aldonza is hard-used woman and she swiftly sums up Don Quixote as a moonbat from whom she will not see a penny, yet he persists in treating her like a lady, whereas the muleteers definitely do not. As tough as she is, he is breaching her hard won defenses and she is determined to set him straight:

DON QUIXOTE
My lady…

ALDONZA
I am not your lady!…
I am not any kind of a lady!
I was spawned in a ditch
By a mother who left me there,
Naked and cold and too hungry to cry;
I never blamed her.
I’m sure she left hoping
That I’d have the good sense to die!
Then, of course, there’s my father…
I’m told that young ladies
Can point to their fathers
With maidenly pride;
Mine was some regiment
Here for an hour,
I can’t even tell you which side!
So of course I became,
As befitted my delicate birth,
The most casual bride
Of the murdering scum of the earth!

DON QUIXOTE
And still thou art my lady.

ALDONZA
And still he torments me!
How should I be a lady?
For a lady has modest and maidenly airs,
And a virtue I somehow suspect that I lack;
It’s hard to remember these maidenly airs
In a stable laid flat on your back!
Won’t you look at me, look at me,
God, won’t you look at me!
Look at the kitchen slut reeking with sweat!
Born on a dung heap to die on a dung heap,
A strumpet men use and forget!
If you feel that you see me
Not quite at my virginal best,
Cross my palm with a coin,
And I’ll willingly show you the rest!

DON QUIXOTE
Never deny thou art Dulcinea.

ALDONZA
Take the clouds from your eyes
and see me as I really am!

You have shown me the sky,
But what good is the sky
To a creature who’ll never
Do better than crawl?

Of all the cruel bastards
Who’ve badgered and battered me,
You are the cruelest of all!
Can’t you see what your gentle
Insanities do to me?
Rob me of anger and give me despair! Blows and abuse
I can take and give back again,
Tenderness I cannot bear!
So please torture me now
With your “Sweet Dulcineas” no more!
I am no one! I’m nothing!
I’m only Aldonza the whore!

DON QUIXOTE
Now and forever thou art my lady Dulcinea!

But mischief is afoot. Back home, Don Quixote’s niece and her fiance profess to worry about her dear Uncle, when in truth they want his estate. They get the local priest involved in their search for Don Quihote and they find him at the inn. Clearly, Don Quihote is living in a fantasy, but his fantasy has reached out and touched the lives he has come in contact with, always seeing in them something good, even holy.

There is the barber he met along the road, who is set up to give shaves on the go. Don Quixote sees his basin that holds the barber’s hot water and demands he hand over the Helmet of Mambrino, known for its illustrous past. The barber looks askance at Sancho, who shrugs and says, “If he says that that’s a helmet, I suggest that you agree…” “But when he finds it ’tis not golden, will not make him bold and brave?” “Well, at least he’ll find it useful if he ever needs a shave!”

With everyone questioning him, Don Quixote, having battled a windmill and, I think, he lost, has come back to the inn and here is where he lays out the terms of his quest:

ALDONZA
Why do you do these things?

DON QUIXOTE
What things?

ALDONZA
These ridiculous… the things you do!

DON QUIXOTE
I hope to add some measure of grace to the world.

ALDONZA
The world’s a dung heap and we are maggots that crawl on it!

DON QUIXOTE
My Lady knows better in her heart.

ALDONZA
What’s in my heart will get me halfway to hell.
And you, Señor Don Quixote-you’re going to take
such a beating!

DON QUIXOTE
Whether I win or lose does not matter.

ALDONZA
What does?

DON QUIXOTE
Only that I follow the quest.

ALDONZA
(spits)
That for your Quest!
(turns, marches away; stops, turns bock
and asks, awkwardly)
What does that mean… quest?

DON QUIXOTE
It is the mission of each true knight…
His duty… nay, his privilege!
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!

This is my Quest to follow that star,
No matter how hopeless, no matter how far,
To fight for the right
Without question or pause,
To be willing to march into hell
For a heavenly cause!

And I know, if I’ll only be true
To this glorious Quest,
That my heart will lie peaceful and calm
When I’m laid to my rest.

And the world will be better for this,
That one man, scorned and covered with scars,
Still strove, with his last ounce of courage,
To reach the unreachable stars!

The priest, in his heart, sees Don Quixote means no harm, only good,

and yet… and yet…. the niece and her fiance wear him down. The fiance comes up with the idea to challenge Don Quixote to a battle and Don Quixote agrees. The terms are if he wins, he shall go onward. But, but, if he loses, he shall give up his quest and go home. The day dawns, the battle begins. The fiance is dressed in mirrors, so that at all times, Don Quixote is forced to see his reflection. He loses. And, in losing, he collapses. They are gathered around his bedside. Don Quixote is dying.

DON QUIXOTE
(courteously, but without recognition.)
Now then. What is it you want?

ALDONZA
Don’t you know me?

DON QUIXOTE
Should I?

ALDONZA
I am Aldonza!

DON QUIXOTE
I’m sorry. I do not recall anyone of that name.

ALDONZA
Sancho knows. Please, my Lord.

DON QUIXOTE
Why did you say “my lord”? I am not a lord.

ALDONZA
You are my lord, Don Quixote!

DON QUIXOTE
Don Quixote? You must forgive me, I have been ill…
I’m confused by shadows. It is possible I knew you once,
but I do not remember

ALDONZA
Please! Try to remember!

DON QUIXOTE
Is it so important?

ALDONZA
Everything. My whole life.
You spoke to me and everything was… different!

DON QUIXOTE
I spoke to you?

ALDONZA
And you looked at me!
And you called me by another name!

ALDONZA
Dulcinea… Dulcinea…
Once you found a girl
And called her Dulcinea,
When you spoke the name
An angel seemed to whisper…
Dulcinea… Dulcinea…

Dulcinea… Dulcinea…
Won’t you please bring back
The dream of Dulcinea…
Won’t you bring me back
The bright and shining glory
Of Dulcinea… Dulcinea…

DON QUIXOTE
Then perhaps… it was not a dream…

ALDONZA
(kneeling beside Quixote again.)
You spoke of a dream. And about the Quest!

DON QUIXOTE
Quest?

ALDONZA
Yes, how you must fight and it doesn’t matter whether
you win or lose if only you follow the Quest!

DON QUIXOTE
The words. Tell me the words!

Aldonza, now and forever more Dulcinea, begins haltingly:

ALDONZA
“To dream the impossible dream”…
but they’re your own words!
“To fight the unbeatable foe”…
Don’t you remember?
“To be with unbearable sorrow”…
You must remember!
“To run where the brave dare not go!”

DON QUIXOTE
To right the unrightable wrong.

ALDONZA
Yes.

DON QUIXOTE
To love, pure and chaste, from afar

ALDONZA
Yes.

DON QUIXOTE
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

ALDONZA
Thank you. My Lord!

DON QUIXOTE
But this is not seemly, My Lady.
On thy knees? To me?

.ALDONZA
Oh, my Lord, you are not well!

DON QUIXOTE
Not well? What is sickness to the body of a knight-errant?
What matter wounds? For each time he falls he shall rise
again… and woe to the wicked! Sancho!

SANCHO
Here, Your Grace!
More misadventures!

DON QUIXOTE
Adventures, old friend!

and he struggles to rise from his bed, to stand straight and tall, and he sings out loudly and true:

DON QUIXOTE
Oh the trumpets of glory
Now call me to ride,
Yes, the trumpets are calling to me,
And wherever I ride,
Ever staunch at my side
My squire and my lady shall be!
I am I, Don Quixote…

DON QUIXOTE, ALDONZA, SANCHO
The Lord of la Mancha
My {Our} destiny calls and I {we} go!
And the wild winds of fortune Shall carry me {us} onward,
Oh, whithersoever…
(Don Quixote falters)

ALDONZA
My Lord!

SANCHO
Master!

DON QUIXOTE
Whithersoever they blow
Onward to glory… aah!… I… go…
(crumples to the floor, dead.)

ALDONZA
My Lord…

SANCHO
He is dead.
My master is dead.

ALDONZA
A man died.
He seemed a good man, but I did not know him,

SANCHO
But…

ALDONZA
Don Quixote is not dead. Believe, Sancho, believe.

SANCHO
Aldonza…

ALDONZA
My name is Dulcinea.

Softly, the bell tolls out the news of Don Quixote’s death. All the people he crossed paths with stop to hear the tolling and to grieve the passing of a good man. Slowly, one by one, each takes up The Impossible Dream for themselves and they sing, at first quietly, then gaining strength from the words and from one another, they stand straight and tall and sing truly the words of Don Quixote’s Quest, The Impossible Dream.

I tell you truly I have sung every song in a hotel room with my sister as audience as she had never heard the story of The Man of La Mancha. (I have the voice of a bullfrog and still I torment them.) The man I married, the first time we slept together, with no knowledge of my commitment to the Dream, suddenly began singing the first lines the Barber sings “Oh, I am a little barber and I go my merry way. With my razor and my basin, I can always earn my pay.” I stared at him in fascination. “I know that song.” He looked askance. Clearly, he doubted me. I sang back at him, “Tho your skin be smooth as satin, you will need me soon, I know. For the Lord protects his barbers and he makes the stubble grow!” He was as dumbfounded as I was. Needless to say, that very morning, lying in bed, we sang each and every song on that album – some of which I skipped here today, though all lift me up and make my heart sing.

All the lyrics came from here. The lyrics are by Joe Darion and the music by Mitch Leigh. It is adapted from Dale Wasserman’s non-musical 1959 teleplay I, Don Quixote, which was in turn inspired by Miguel de Cervantes’s seventeenth century masterpiece Don Quixote. And, here is my secret: I never saw the play. I never had to, it was so strongly carved in my heart and on my soul. But, perhaps that was because I was 11 or 12 years old… Today, I found this, the best of the actors who played Don Quixote, Man of La Mancha, Richard Kiley:

26 thoughts on “The Impossible Dream

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  4. Hunt, I had to come back to this time and again to get thru it. I understand your love for it, I can even appreciate it, but I couldn’t sit thru it more than once. I never saw the movie, because it would have had to have been a movie a “chick” wanted to see, before I would take her. But having said all that, I completely get why you are so completely taken by it. My daughter is the same way about Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. She can quote chapter and verse, and she teaches it to her seniors. It is always nice to see other folks passions, this is clearly one of yours. Take care, Bill

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    • I am stunned, Bill. A chick flick? – Frankly, the film sucked – Peter O’Toole and Sophia Loren do nothing for me. But the concept, the music, the words? Did nothing for you? Huh.

      (I suspect you will not like the rest of the AWOL manual then!) Grin. I salute and respect and am grateful you kept trying to get through this, Bill. You are, in deed, a man of honor!

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      • Hunt, When I started I threw out a promise to read every one of your posts. And it has been a wonderful experience. I know have to like and love everything, but I am honor bound to read and pay attention to everything. I am also honor bound to check and recheck to see where you have commented to I can continue to have these wonderful conversations. Besides your a damn good writer. Take care, Bill

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        • Hunt, Months and months have gone by, and I can say in all honesty, you are the only blogger who I have read every single word they wrote. When I started I promised you I would do this, and it has been a total joy to keep this promise. But I still haven’t watched or listened to Man of La Mancha completely. Take care, know that I think of you often. Bill

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  5. Pingback: Rule 11: You Can Remember It Whenever You Want | Chasing Rabbit Holes

  6. An amazing play. I never knew there was a movie…only saw the play, on Broadway.and saw the production with Kiley. I know Impossible Dream was song at every graduation ceremony and choral recital at my school from1967 intil I graduated in 69. And maybe off to the side, one of my favorite Quantum Leap episodes was when Dr. Sam Beckett played Don Quixote in a play production during one of his leaps. Scott Bakula sang it well and acted it with much feeling in the parts that were used in the program. And Climb every Mountain…another one of those I heard about 20 times before I graduated. But the repetition doesn’t lessen the impact. One does not have to be a culture maven or musical buff to appreciate the words of the song. It is a loft aspiraton and inspiration to us all. To dream and reach for what seems impossible. Good Job as always Huntie. 🙂

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