Monday, August 10, 2015

Poem: Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc

Here's a poem I simply have to share! I first discovered it in some anthology or another, years ago, and fell in love with it. Then the anthology vanished somehow, and I completely forgot this poem until just yesterday afternoon, at a concert I was playing in, when someone mentioned that Funiculi Funicula was based on the rhythm of tarantella music. And all of a sudden the words slipped into my mind--Do you remember an inn, Miranda? I looked it up as soon as I got home, and was astonished to see who wrote it--Hilaire Belloc.

Well, imagine that.

Here it is--even better than I remember:

Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark veranda)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
Who hadn't got a penny,
And who weren't paying any,
And the hammer at the doors and the din?
And the hip! hop! hap!
Of the clap
Of the hands to the swirl and the twirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of the clapper to the spin
Out and in--
And the ting, tong, tang of the guitar!
Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Never more.
Only the high peaks hoar;
And Aragon a torrent at the door.
No sound
In the walls of the halls where falls
The tread
Of the feet of the dead to the ground,
No sound:
But the boom
Of the far waterfall like doom. 
Isn't that an amazing poem? Here are some explanatory notes I found on the Internet:
The Miranda of Hilaire Belloc's "Tarantella" is Miranda Mackintosh whom Belloc met at an inn in the Pyrenean hamlet of Canranc on the River Aragon in 1909. The poem, written twenty years later, was a New Year's present to the Scottish Miranda. The holograph copy is inscribed: "For Miranda: New Year's 1929."
The tarantella is a dance (for two) that is supposed to be brought on by the intoxication induced by the sting of the tarantula, which is similar to that induced by falling in love.
Between this poem and Belloc's wonderfully evocative Joan of Arc, I'm thinking I should keep an eye out for more of his work. The man could write.


Hanna said...

I had heard of Hilaire Belloc before (in connection with G. K. Chesterton), but I hadn't read any of his work. Very nice. :)

Also, if you don't mind my asking, what instrument do you play?

Suzannah said...

I've really enjoyed what I've read of his writing so far, and this poem is magical.

I play the French Horn! I know, not the typical homeschooler-girl instrument, but my one true musical love all the same :)

Jamie W. said...

Belloc is definitely worth reading. I was reading in Chesterton's Autobiography the other day that (according to him) Belloc could be incredibly interesting when he tried, or he could be incredibly dull if he was just making a nonfiction point. Chesterton seemed impressed with this skill, which I suppose is pretty impressive if, like Chesterton, you can't help being interesting no matter what you do. But when Belloc *is* interesting, as here, he's definitely worthwhile. (And if you want military history, I understand he's an excellent writer of that too, only I haven't happened to want his military history.)

I haven't been able to get my hands on any of his novels, but I've really enjoyed some of his poetry and rhymes. Cautionary Tales for Children and More Peers are really extraordinarily clever semi-nonsense verse. Got them on (American) Project Gutenberg.

Suzannah said...

I've skimmed bits of one of Belloc's non-fiction history books, "Europe and the Faith", which was informative, and I've read one of the volumes of nonsense verse for children--the "Book of Beasts"--which I loved (especially the Gnu). I wonder how much verse he wrote for adults (like this), though? I bet it'd be amazing :D

Jamie W. said...

I think he wrote a good bit of serious (as opposed to humorous) verse, but I haven't had much success in getting my hands on it. I've mostly read bits of it in books about Chesterton. George Bernard Shaw called the pair of them "the Chesterbelloc" because they were friends and always backed each other up on the same issues.

St. Reeves said...

I've always loved how you can't help but read the poem faster and faster as you go through it, mimicking the actual dance. =)

Suzannah said...

Yes! You can do some amazing things just picking the right words.

Kim Marsh said...

I have loved this poem for what seems like forever. I am afraid Belloc's Catholicism and his reputation for anti-semitism has rather put me off pursuing his other writing.

Suzannah said...

Kim, I've noticed his Catholicism in his other works, though not any anti-Semitism (personally). You might be well-advised to sample his poetry for children--it's hilarious!


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