1 October 2019 Susannah

Tarantella

Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc

Do you remember an Inn,
Miranda?
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 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,
Glancing,
Dancing,
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,
Miranda?
Do you remember an Inn?

Never more;
Miranda,
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.

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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 (12)

  1. 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!

    • Susannah Fullerton

      You were lucky to get it at school. I just found it in an old poetry book and loved it. Yes, we do remember so clearly those literary works of our childhood, and last week’s reading is getting harder! Oh dear!

  2. Lorna Nawran

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

  3. 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.

  4. 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.

  5. 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.

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