1 October 2019 Susannah

Hilaire Belloc & Tarantella

Italians in Naples dance the Tarantella,

Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc

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 the tar?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteers
(Under the vine of the dark verandah)?
Do you remember an Inn, Miranda,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the cheers and the jeers of the young muleteeers
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 twirl and the swirl
Of the girl gone chancing,
Backing and advancing,
Snapping of a 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.

In 1909 French born English writer Hilaire Belloc published a travel book called The Pyrenees. One of the places he stayed at while in the Spanish side of the mountains was the tiny village of Canfranc and it was the Hotel Sisas which provided his accommodation. The wine was so-so, the cooking dubious, and the locals were very ready to hire him horses. Nearby was the Cascada de Ip, an impressive waterfall. The remains of the inn are still there today, though the barn, where “the tedding and the spreading/ Of the straw for a bedding” took place, has long gone.

In 1929 Belloc dedicated a copy of the poem to Miranda Mackintosh, daughter of a close friend. But she was not the Miranda of the poem as she was only two years old at the time, so could hardly be expected to remember anything much. It has been suggested that the Miranda of the poem was actually the newly created Duque de Miranda, with whom Belloc was known to have corresponded.

A tarantella is a folk dance with an up-beat tempo, a frenetic dance that was said to imitate tarantism, the physical spasms brought on by the bite of a spider. The rhythm of the poem has a hypnotic effect on the reader.
The poem begins with an insistent question which becomes a refrain. Repetitions stress the youth, joy and merriment, while the onomatopoea makes the reader feel the music and movement of the dance. The stanza expresses a longing for one particular wild night in Spain. The second stanza brings an abrupt change of tone, with the melancholy refrain “Never more, Miranda, never more”. Suddenly the sounds are sonorous and sombre (doom, boom, dead) and although the waterfall booms, there is no human sound. The poem has turned into a lament but for all lost experience and youthful pleasures.

We do not have to know exactly who Miranda was, or fully comprehend the meaning of this poem. Rather, it’s an attempt to create the emotions of a moment in the past, and the sense of emptiness when that past has long gone.

You can listen to Hilaire Belloc himself read it, or rather ‘sing’ it below. There are many musical versions of the poem to be found on the web. Or you can hear it on my audio CD Poetry to Fill a Room, available from my shop.


Have you enjoyed this poem? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.

Leave a comment.

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until approved.


Body image credit- Italians in Naples dance the Tarantella, by Anonymous (Italian). Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15861364
Body image credit- Hilaire Belloc portrait, c. 1903. Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=7016958

Comments (38)

  1. Caroline Lancelyn Green

    I learnt to play castanets and tambourine in order to dance the Tarantella at ballet class (for the Royal Academy of Dance Grade II exam). So I particularly like the “Snapping of the clapper and the “Hip Hop Hap” bringing such happy memories of my ballet lessons, over sixty years ago now. And thank you for the explanations. We were told we were trampling grapes for wine and getting bitten by a tarantula and so dancing with great vigour to disperse the poison.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Ii’s a poem with such wonderful rhythm to it. I am glad it brought back good memories for you.

  2. Claire in Auckland

    Hello and thank you for this enlightening description of a classic poem. Like other commenters, my mum learned this off by heart at school in the 60s. She recited it to us frequently and now I recite it for my son. We don’t “sing” it in the same fashion as the author, but I love hearing his original reading, and it is indeed versatile! The rhythm is addictive, and my son at 4 is already hooked.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It’s so lovely to hear from a fellow Kiwi that love for this poem is being passed from one generation to another.
      Do you receive my free monthly newsletter, Notes from a Book Addict? If not, do think of signing up to it on my website. I provide a wonderful poem each month.

  3. Trevor

    I drove through Canfranc from Spain some years before I knew the poem. My great regret now that I didn’t stop to explore.

  4. Tadeusz Hanski

    I have problem understanding the line “only the high peaks hoar”. More exactly, how does the word “hoar” fit into it?
    I suppose hoar is used here as a verb. But if so, what does “to hoar” mean?
    I am not a native English language speaker, so please bear with me…
    Thank you

    • Susannah Fullerton

      Hoar is a type of frost, so it is the frost / snow on the top of the mountain peaks.
      I hope you enjoyed the poem and well done for tackling a poem that must be challening if English is not your first language.

    • Jeb Raitt

      I believe “hoar” in that usage is an adjective. The more common (though nowadays not all that common) form is “hoary,” meaning frosty or snow-covered – or to describe a person, old and white-haired.
      So as I understand it, “the high peaks hoar” would be rendered prosaically as “the high snowy mountains.”

  5. Lynette Clements

    A talented English teacher introduced this poem to me in my first year of high school in 1960, in Zambia. ( Northern Rhodesia in those days.) She taught the whole class to recite it, boys and girls. She taught us to recite it with the rhythm and atmosphere of the poem, to perfection. I never forgot it or her, but I can’t recite it like we did so long ago.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      With that wonderful rhythm, it is a great poem for learning by heart. I’m not surpsried your teacher chose it and I hope seeing it in my newsletter posts brought back good memories.

    • Colleen

      I learnt this poem in 1965 and have never forgotten it; can still recite it. Absolutely loved it. 🤗

      • Susannah Fullerton

        I also learned it when young and its words and rhythm have stayed with me ever since. It is such a fabulous poem.

  6. As a child in Western Queensland I loved the sound of rain on our tin roof. So comforting while lying snug in bed in the middle of the night.

  7. Coroneos

    Yes I do remember the poem. My Sad used to recite it to us as children, and I also learnt it at school. For some reason the lines “the fleas that tease in the high Pyrenese” was thought extremely funny by ou family! I have not thought of the poem in years. Thank you

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad the poem brought back good memories and the fabulous line about the fleas. It’s a wonderful poem, isn’t it.

      • Sanurah

        It is but as for me, l don’t understand it and l don’t even know the meaning of tarantella

        • Susannah Fullerton

          It’s a poem about the power of memory, and looking back on fun times of long ago. The tarantella is a type of dance, and the rhythm of the dance is caught up in the lines of the poem, as part of the memory.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I’m delighted you are enjoying it, Pat. I’ve now chosen a fabulous selection for next year and you can sign up for that on my website. Lots more gorgeous reading to come!

  8. Susannah Fullerton

    So glad it brought back good memories – the poem seems to have been a popular school choice when we were all younger!

  9. Rosemary Stipanov

    One of my favourite poems, encouraged me to learn by heart when I was young. I prefer to hear Sussanah reading it than the author.
    It is sad that young children are not exposed to poetry the way we were.It is now the grandparents job to encourage them & read poetry to the little ones.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      I agree that it is really sad that children get so little exposure to hearing poetry now.
      So glad you enjoyed my reading, Rosemary.

      • John OSullivan

        I learnt this poem in school in 1964.It always stuck in my mind and recently booking into an Inn where Miranda was a receptionist it came flooding back.A visually evocative poem of a folk dance I came to see it in a different light in the twilight of my life as I reminisce about good memories that still exist if we bring them back to life

        • Susannah Fullerton

          I also learned the poem at school and have always loved it. I’m glad it brought back good memories for you too.

  10. Kathleen Coote

    I did not know this poem until now and I loved it. I so much enjoyed the poet reciting and singing his work.

  11. Faye Shortal

    Thank you for posting this link Susannah. I had forgotten Tarantella but now remember having to learn this poem by heart at primary school. I always thought its rhythm wonderful. It was great to hear the author’s reading of it.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      So glad you enjoyed the poem and that it brought back good memories.

  12. Susannah Fullerton

    Yes, the Hilaire Belloc reaidng is a very weird one. I am so glad my choice of poem this month brought back wonderful memories. It is a fabulous poem.

  13. Lorna Nawran

    I remember the poem from childhood. I never knew who wrote it. Truly delightful

  14. Rosaleen Kirby

    And yes I learnt this at school and loved the insistent rhythm, and like much learned at school, I still remember quite a lot of it, but don’t ask me what I read last week!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *