Modern Major General Lyrics

The General's Song from Gilbert and Sullivan's Opera, Pirates of Penzance

Actors Kevin Kline, Rex Smith and Tony Azito in a fight scene from the film 'The Pirates of Penzance', based on the Gilbert and Sullivan operetta, The Pirates of Pinzance (1983).

Stanley Bielecki Movie Collection/Getty Images

W.S Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan's comic opera also referred to as opera buffa, The Pirates of Penzance, premiered in New York City's 5th Avenue Theatre in 1879. Since its creation over 100 years ago, it has become one of the most frequently performed Gilbert and Sullivan operas. The "Modern-Major General", a satire of the ideal modern British army officer, is sung by the Major-General when he first appears near the end of the opera's first act. It's an incredibly difficult song to sing - not because it demands an extraordinary vocal range, but because of the tongue-twisting nature of its hilarious lyrics. It can take weeks or months for singers to memorize the lyrics let alone perform them clearly and coherently at the speed in which the opera requires.

Recommended Performances

Before diving into the lyrics below, check out a few of the top performances of the spirited Modern Major-General, found on YouTube. 

"Modern Major General" English Lyrics

I am the very model of a modern Major-General,
I've information vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I know the kings of England, and I quote the fights historical
From Marathon to Waterloo, in order categorical;
I'm very well acquainted, too, with matters mathematical,
I understand equations, both the simple and quadratical,
About binomial theorem, I'm teeming with a lot o' news,
With many cheerful facts about the square of the hypotenuse.

I'm very good at integral and differential calculus;
I know the scientific names of beings animalculous:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

I know our mythic history, King Arthur's and Sir Caradoc's;
I answer hard acrostics, I've a pretty taste for paradox,
I quote in elegiacs all the crimes of Heliogabalus,
In conics I can floor peculiarities parabolous;
I can tell undoubted Raphaels from Gerard Dows and Zoffanies,
I know the croaking chorus from The Frogs of Aristophanes!
Then I can hum a fugue of which I've heard the music's din afore,
And whistle all the airs from that infernal nonsense Pinafore.

Then I can write a washing bill in Babylonic cuneiform,
And tell you ev'ry detail of Caractacus's uniform:
In short, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.

In fact, when I know what is meant by "mamelon" and "ravelin",
When I can tell at sight a Mauser rifle from a Javelin,
When such affairs as sorties and surprises I'm more wary at,
And when I know precisely what is meant by "commissariat"
When I have learnt what progress has been made in modern gunnery,
When I know more of tactics than a novice in a nunnery
In short, when I've a smattering of elemental strategy
You'll say a better Major-General has never sat a gee.

For my military knowledge, though I'm plucky and adventury,
Has only been brought down to the beginning of the century;
But still, in matters vegetable, animal, and mineral,
I am the very model of a modern Major-General.