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Finishing the Hat

Stephen Sondheim is widely hailed as the greatest modern American musical theater composer. In this episode, Broadway stage actors Raúl Esparza, Melissa Errico, Donna Lynne Champlin, Kerry O’Malley, Andrew Arrow, and writer Adam Gopnik give voice–in speech and song–to Sondheim’s singular ability to blend lyrics and music, using as their case study this song from his Pulitzer Prize-winning musical Sunday in the Park with George.

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Read the Poem

Finishing the Hat

by Stephen Sondheim

Mademoiselles…
You and me, pal…
Second bottle…
Ah, she looks for me…
Bonnet flapping…
Yapping…
Ruff!…
Chicken…
Pastry…

Yes, she looks for me–good.
Let her look for me to tell me why she left me–
As I always knew she would.
I had thought she understood.
They have never understood,
And no reason that they should.
But if anybody could…
Finishing the hat,
How you have to finish the hat.
How you watch the rest of the world
From a window
While you finish the hat.

Mapping out a sky.
What you feel like, planning a sky.
What you feel when voices that come
Through the window
Go
Until they distance and die,
Until there’s nothing but sky

And how you’re always turning back too late
From the grass or the stick
Or the dog or the light,
How the kind of woman willing to wait’s
Not the kind that you want to find waiting
To return you to the night,
Dizzy from the height,
Coming from the hat,

Studying the hat,
Entering the world of the hat,
Reaching through the world of the hat
Like a window,
Back to this one from that.

Studying a face,
Stepping back to look at a face
Leaves a little space in the way like a window,
But to see–
It’s the only way to see.

And when the woman that you wanted goes,
You can say to yourself, “Well, I give what I give.”
But the women who won’t wait for you knows
That, however you live,
There’s a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat…
Starting on a hat..
Finishing a hat…
Look, I made a hat…
Where there never was a hat

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Mademoiselles…
You and me, pal…
Second bottle…
Ah, she looks for me…
Bonnet flapping…
Yapping…
Ruff!…
Chicken…
Pastry…

Yes, she looks for me–good.
Let her look for me to tell me why she left me–
As I always knew she would.
I had thought she understood.
They have never understood,
And no reason that they should.
But if anybody could…
Finishing the hat,
How you have to finish the hat.
How you watch the rest of the world
From a window
While you finish the hat.

Mapping out a sky.
What you feel like, planning a sky.
What you feel when voices that come
Through the window
Go
Until they distance and die,
Until there’s nothing but sky

And how you’re always turning back too late
From the grass or the stick
Or the dog or the light,
How the kind of woman willing to wait’s
Not the kind that you want to find waiting
To return you to the night,
Dizzy from the height,
Coming from the hat,

Studying the hat,
Entering the world of the hat,
Reaching through the world of the hat
Like a window,
Back to this one from that.

Studying a face,
Stepping back to look at a face
Leaves a little space in the way like a window,
But to see–
It’s the only way to see.

And when the woman that you wanted goes,
You can say to yourself, “Well, I give what I give.”
But the women who won’t wait for you knows
That, however you live,
There’s a part of you always standing by,
Mapping out the sky,
Finishing a hat…
Starting on a hat..
Finishing a hat…
Look, I made a hat…
Where there never was a hat

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