Poor Butterfly (from The Big Show at the New York Hippodrome, 1916)

Vocal Range


One of the greatest song hits of 1916, this piece was originated in a mistake by lyricist Golden, who assumed that the Asian singer that was to be featured in the next production of The Big Show was the Japanese soprano who had become famous for her performances as Cio-Cio San in Puccini's Madame Butterfly. He therefore wrote a song about Butterfly, which Hubbell set to music. The actual singer was in fact Chinese and was so unsuccessful that she was replaced by Sophie Bernard after only a few days, but the song proved amazingly popular anyway. In his autobiography Golden wrote that this song “was strummed, hummed, whistled, and wept over by as many voices and hands as there are pianos, ukuleles, typewriters, and tenors in the land. I think that I am safe in saying that T.B. Harms, the publishers, in all their experience, never had a bigger selling song, and I know I never had one which made more money.”


There’s a story told of a little Japanese
Sitting demurely ’neath the cherry blossom trees.
Miss Butterfly her name.
A sweet little incocent child was she,
Till a fine young American from the sea
To her garden came.
They met ’neath the cherry blossoms every day
And he taught her how to love in the ’Merican way,
To live with her soul! ’twas easy to learn;
Then he sailed away with a promise to return.

Poor Butterfly! ’neath the blossoms waiting,
Poor Butterfly! For she loved him so.
The moments pass into hours,
The hours pass into years,
And as she smiles through her tears,
She murmurs low.
The moon and I know that he be faithful,
I’m sure he come to me bye and bye.
But if he don’t come back
Then I never sigh or cry:
I just mus’ die. Poor Butterfly.

“Won’t you tell my love” she would whisper to the breeze,
“Tell him I’m waiting ’neath the cherry blossom trees,
My Sailor man to see.
The bees and the humming birds say they guess,
Ev’ry day that passes makes one day less,
’Till you’ll come to me.”
For once Butterfly she gives her heart away,
She can never love again, she is his for aye,
Through all of the world, for ages to come.
So her face just smiles, though her heart is growing numb.