Two excerpts from
Mots d'Heures: Gousses, Rames
discovered, edited, and annotated by
Luis D'Antin Van Rooten, (London, Angus and Robertson, 1967.)
1. Eh! dites-le, dites-le
Eh! dites-le, dites-le,
De quatre et méfie de le.1
Haine de caoutchouc2 me Douvres3 de mou.
Le lit le dos que l'a fait de4
Tous s'y sèchent à c'port5
Et de digérant,6 ohé! Ouida7, ce pou.
In this fragment our poet reveals himself as an incurable Anglophobe. Note well the many inferences :
- Four as a mystic number has had, in the superstitious lore of many countries, a sinister or unlucky quality. I point out two instances in literature to bear out this premis. "The Sign of the Four," Arthur Conan Doyle, 1889. And the interesting fact that Dumas titled his novel about Athos, Porthos, Aramis and D'Artagnan, "The Three Musketeers." Sheer superstition. In this case, however, it is obvious that the reader is warned against the four major divisions of Britain, i.e., England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales.
- Guttaperchaphobia. A morbid dislike for cleaning fish. (Rich. Holland, Univ. of Chi., 1945.) A barbed comment on British culinary practices.
- A seaport, 76 miles E.S.E. of London, famed as one of the Cinque-Ports, pop. 39,950 (1938). This, the usual port of entry from France, is also noted for its soft chalk-white cliffs.
- They've made their bed, let them lie in it !
- This may be a reference to the dry, phlegmatic character in the traditional concept of the English "milord," or a comment on the notorious roughness of a Channel passage.
- On the other hand, this may be a play on words--and the port of the kind used by the British as a digestive, imported at Dover.
- Oiuda is the pen name of Louise de la Ramée, 1839-1908, English novelist. Both her pseudonym and patronymic indicate French origin, and it must be one of her male antecedents (because of the gender) that our poet calls a louse. Probably for migrating to England.
|2. Oh, Anne Doux...
|Oh, Anne, doux
But. Cueilles ma chou.1
Buckle my shoe.
Shut the door.
Pie coupe Styx.3
Pick up sticks.
Les dèmes se traitent.4
Lay them straight.
|N'a ne d'haine,
Écoute, fée daine.5
A good, fat hen.
|Éléphant tue elfes
Dit qu'en Delft.6
Dig and delve.
|Fit vetîmes Sixtine
Médecine quitte Chine.8
Maids in the kitchen
|C'est Fantine est d'Inn
Mais Arouet dîne.9
Maids in waiting
|Nanini, Toine est dit,
Met plâtres, sème petit.10
My plate's empty.
We can only consider this series of proverbs and epigrams in rhymed couplet form as a garland or bouquet of versified wit and wisdom.
- A tender dedication to the poet's muse.
- An early version of "When the cat's away, etc., etc."
- "Mangy Indians, Pius cuts the Styx." An attempt to impress unbelievers with the powers of the Popes over pagan mythology and superstition.
- This could be assumed to mean, "When the sap rises, the people (demos, Gr.) rejoice."
- "Harbor no hate, good fairy." In this instance, she appears as a doe. It was the common practice of fairies and sprites to assume animal shapes.
- "Only in Delft is it believed elephants kill elves."
- "Bread or money, give charity of one or the other."
- "We caused the Sistine to be dressed (i.e., decorated). Medicine comes from China." This unquestionably refers to Sixtus IV, saint and pope, 1414-1484. Just what influence he had on the pharmacology of his
time is hard to determine. It is known, however, that the Chinese at that period were far more advanced in medicine than their European contemporaries.
- Fantine must have been a greaty beauty from the Inn River valley in central Europe. In any case, Voltaire preferred to continue dining. He must have been a very old man at this time.
- Nanini (Giovanni Maria), c.1545-1607, Italian composer and for a time choirmaster of the Sistine Chapel. It would seem that Italians have always been called Tony, and it was automatically assumed that they liked to work in plaster and were generally improvident, since they sowed little.