Reading: Tarantella by Hillaire Belloc

Hillaire Belloc (1870-1953) was a prolific Anglo-French poet and historian who was considered one of the four great British writers of the Edwardian age, along with Chesterton, Shaw and H.G. Wells. “Among his best-remembered poems are Jim, who ran away from his nurse, and was eaten by a lion and Matilda, who told lies and was burnt to death.” I read a wonderful thing called ‘Tarantella‘:

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.

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.”

This is fun! Read it aloud, the upbeat tarantella rhythm in the first part of the poem. How playfully it describes the stay in the Inn in the Pyrenees, with Miranda! The penniless muleteers, the pretty girl who went dancing, the cheap wine and the guitar sounds.

What a powerful effect the second verse has on the reader. Twenty years later, his hair greyish white like the peaks. No more! The finale is absolutely breathtaking. Sung with the same vital rhythm of the intoxicating Tarantella dance it invokes death and doom. This is a most incredible poetic achievement, what do you think?

The voice of Hilaire Belloc is a wonderful discovery. Listen to this, it’s wonderful:

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