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Tarantella -- Hilaire Belloc

(Poem #294) 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 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.
-- Hilaire Belloc
Nice interplay of form and content here - insistent rhythms, strong assonances,
multiple rhymes (internal as well as line-ending), rising and falling cadences -
all these combine to evoke the dance form of the title. At the same time, the
words themselves paint a vivid (if slightly touristy, imho) picture of the
Mediterranean countryside. As Martin mentioned in a previous post about the
poet, Belloc does indeed have the ability to take a perfectly ordinary event or
emotion and craft an original and memorable work of art from it - and if that's
not genius, what is?


PS. 'Tarantella' : a lively folk dance of southern Italy in 6/8 time. (Italian,
from Taranto, Italy.)

PPS. The opening line - 'Do you remember an Inn, Miranda?' - has been the
starting point for any number of parodies and pastiches. It _does_ have a
certain something about it, don't you think?


Though Belloc lived most of his life in Britain, where he wrote works of prose
and verse in tribute to his adoptive Sussex, he was born in the French town of
La Celle St. Cloud, near Paris. His father, a French lawyer, died when he was
just two years old. Shortly afterwards his English mother, Bessie Parkes, moved
the family to London.

Hilaire was enrolled at the Oratory School where he studied under the legendary
Cardinal Newman. He also met Cardinal Manning, the combative English convert,
who had a lasting influence on his brand of Catholic apologetics. Manning's
social teachings became especially evident in Belloc's later economic writings.

At school, the young Belloc delighted in such classical authors as Homer, Virgil
and Horace and took away most of the student prizes. Unsure of his future
vocation, he spent a brief stint at the French Naval "Stanislas College," but
despite his love of sailing, he quit after just a few weeks.

In 1890 Hilaire met his future wife, Elodie Hogan, an American who was visiting
Europe with her mother. The following year he booked passage to New York from
whence he tramped his way across the continent to Napa Valley, California, in
order to make his proposal to Miss Hogan. Belloc returned to France in 1891 to
spend a year as a soldier in the horse artillery, after which he went to Balliol
College at Oxford. He graduated with top honors in History but due to his
outspoken Catholic views was denied a fellowship.

1896 marked Belloc's marriage to Elodie and the successful publication of The
Bad Child's Book of Beasts a collection of whimsical cautionary tales. This was
soon followed by biographies of the French revolutionaries, Danton and
Robespierre. In 1902 Belloc wrote The Path to Rome describing his one man
pilgrimage to the Holy City; a remarkable travelogue which remains his most
popular work.

Belloc served as a member of parliament from 1906-1910. During a campaign speech
he made his famous defense of the Faith before a largely Protestant audience:

    "I am a Catholic. As far as possible I go to Mass every day. This [taking a
rosary out of his pocket] is a rosary. As far as possible, I kneel down and tell
these beads every day. If you reject me on account of my religion, I shall thank
God that He has spared me the indignity of being your representative!"

After a shocked silence there was a roar of applause, and Belloc won the

Over the next thirty years, Belloc was to churn out dozens of titles on varied
subjects including poetry, fiction, social commentary, and military science.
Belloc is particularly noted for his spirited attack on the then predominant
Whig or classical liberal view of European history. Europe and the Faith (1920),
Characters of the Reformation (1936), and The Crisis of Our Civilization (1937)
are typical of his insightful approach. Belloc also wrote a number of
biographies, including Marie Antoinette (1909), James the Second (1928),
Richlieu (1930), Oliver Cromwell (1934), and Milton (1935) which are still
admired for their lucid and engaging style.

Along with his friend and literary companion G. K. Chesterton, Belloc helped to
found the economic theory of Distributism. Rooted in Leo XIII's landmark
encyclical Rerum Novarum, Distributism was, and is, a meaningful alternative to
the materialism of both laissez-faire capitalism and socialism. According to
Belloc, Europe had seen the decline of slavery and the rise of an independent
property holding yeomanry in the Middle Ages only to have this balanced economic
arrangement upset by the Lutheran revolt of the 16th century. Acquisitive
aristocrats—ostensibly promoting religious reformation, but mostly bent on
filling their own pockets—brought about a polarization of classes and the
emergence of a rootless proletariat which has continued to this day. Ironically,
while Belloc is denounced by liberals for his Catholic "triumphalism" his social
analysis of the Reformation has been largely vindicated by recent scholarship.
The ideas of Distributism were enunciated in The Servile State (1912), The
Restoration of Property (1936) and in the pages of G.K.'s Weekly.

Belloc's contributions to poetry, collected in Sonnets and Verse (1938), are
still acclaimed by literary critics. According to Michael Markel, he "was a
first rate craftsman in the classical tradition of A. E. Housman." Belloc also
tried his hand at novel writing, producing satirical works like The Postmaster
General (1932), as well as light fiction including The Green Overcoat (1912) and
Belinda (1928). What is perhaps his best and most unusual novel, The Four Men
(1911), was later made into a BBC play and has since been reprinted by Oxford
Press with an introduction by A.N. Wilson. The Four Men describes a ramble
through the Sussex countryside by Sailor, Grizzlebeard, Poet and Myself— aspects
of Belloc's own personality. The book's timeless appeal lies in its expression
of the fact that though a man's "loves are human, and therefore changeable, yet
in proportion as he attaches them to things unchangeable, so they mature and

Despite his outward exuberance as a writer and individual, Belloc faced a number
of personal losses —the death of his wife Elodie in 1914, his sons Louis, in
World War I, and Peter, in World War II. Belloc weathered these storms with that
sort of hard-headed faith he once ascribed to St. Thomas More, who had "nothing
to uphold him except resolve." In 1942, however, he suffered a stroke which put
an end to his literary work though he continued to live in quiet retirement for
another eleven years. This redoubtable Catholic genius died in his beloved
Sussex on July 16, 1953. The BBC interrupted all its programmes to announce the
passing away of one of England's greatest literary figures.

    -- from the Web, [broken link]

[Minstrels Links]

Belloc is most famous for his children's verse, especially the many poems about
beasts like the hippopotamus: poem #124

Of a more serious bent are the poems tinged by religious thought, such as 'Is
there any reward?', at poem #176

For sheer imagery, 'October' is hard to beat: poem #226

while 'The Pelagian Drinking Song' is as funny as they get: poem #78

77 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Teirney R said...

Has this poem got into anyone else's brain? It was one of many I learned as
a 12 year old in a Catholic school and though I enjoyed reciting it because
of its rhythm, I just didn't get it.

Years later, at a party, I was amazed that a friend from another state and I
could still recite almost the whole thing. Why did it stick in my brain? I
didn't try to learn it.

Help! What does it mean? Forty years later, I still want to know.


Doug Armitage said...

my wife and I were discussing excellent school teachers of English . She has always been able to remember the opening line andnow e have the full piece.
Her teacher was a Miss Betts at Monkwearmouth Grammar School in about 1936. Any other readers of this remember her?
How wonderful that such teachers live on in our memories!

Roderick Louise A (Castrol) said...

Some 33 years ago I was privileged to have an english teacher who was so
passionate about her subject that she managed to every student of hers with
a love for poetry and literature. Whenever I hear the first line of this
poem it evokes the most wonderful memories of Thelma Sacks. She passed away
on the operating table table about two years after I completed school in
1970 and I still mourn the loss of a beautiful soul.
Louise Roderick
South Africa

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The Cowells said...

Like it a lot. I'm 15 and doing it for a 9th grade English assignment. Most
amazing poem I have ever read really. Makes me think about Spain, and the
Mediterranean. Also makes me think of sundries tomatoes.

clempage said...

Some composer whose name I don't recall set "Tarantella" for four-part male chorus with piano accompaniment, and I sang it on tour with my college glee club in 1967. It's a tribute to both the poet and the musician that I can still sing much of it today (in the shower, I mean), and the closing lines still give me goosebumps.

sybil gange said...

I learned this lovely poem at school and have never forgotten it. Cynara

CaligalinFL said...

In response to the person who sang the four-part men's arrangement... that
was by Ron Nelson. I'm preparing that piece as part of my doctoral study in
conducting, and came to this website researching the poem. What a small internet


CaligalinFL said...

BTW, couldn't help but notice that this is a Rice website. I did my MM at
Rice at the same time this site went up. The internet world gets smaller.


sybil gange said...

I learned Tarantella at school fifty years ago and still love the poem to this day. Cynara.

Jarrad Mills 04 said...

To Suzanne, and the person who sang the four-part men's arrangement:
the setting may also have been that of Randall Thompson. I visited this
website while doing preparatory research to conduct the Thompson
setting. I don't know Ron Nelson's setting, but I would be most
interested to hear it.

Chad (Amherst, Massachusetts)

Darren J Schaffer said...

I learnt this poem at primary school and have been trying to find it ever since. I am now 40 years old and am extremely happy that thanks to your website and the internet I have finally been able to find it and read the last versus that I was unable to remember. Thank you for ever Darren J Schaffer Australia

Nelson Sheila said...

I too, learned this poem in high school (2nd Form) in Kingston, Jamaica, WI.
It was taught to me by a British teacher of English Literature, who on first
day in class wanted to know if we knew what a "walrus" was? Ha! in Jamaica.
That line led to our learning Lewis Carroll's Cabbages and Kings. It, like
many others, is stuck in my brain. How about another Hillaire Belloc poem -
Lines from Goblin Market? I can only remember one portion of it regarding
fruit (apples and quinces, come buy, come buy).


Glen Hills said...

Re Tarantella
I've also had fragments of this poem running around in my head for
years, since my primary schooling in Maryborough, Queensland Australia.
Just recently, I was hanging around waiting for my partner to fix and
older lady's computer and picked up an old book of poetry on her
shelves. I started to look for it but couldn't rmeember the title. She
came over and when I quoted a few lines, she said, "Oh, you want
Tatantella!" Next time he went over she had printed me out a version of
it. Now my son likes the poem and wants to perform it as an own choice
item in the local eisteddfod. Tarantalla lives on! Zela

David Lettvin said...

Tarantella is another poem (Monro's Overheard on a Saltmarsh is the
other) that I first read in Walter de la Mare's 'Come Hither' anthology.
I recommend it highly.

barbara said...

Hi. I am research the poetry of Hillaire Belloc and I, too, learned
Tarantella fifty years ago, and like you, have never forgotten it. Pity I
didn't understand it all those years ago - but I think it is a beautiful
poem with real pace and rhythm.
I am from England.
Barbara Tierney

Sheamrock said...

Never really knew the name of this beautiful poem "Tarentella" by Hilaire
Beloc, but I too learned it from a Christian Brother at Mount Sion CBS in
Waterford City, Ireland, wow, 40 years ago. I can still see Brother Maher ( Leather
Lips) reciting this poem to the class. It certainly had an impact on me then
and still does to the present day.

Séamus Connolly


I once heard a recording of Hilaire Belloc reciting "Tarantella" in person. He had a remarkable voice, and performed the poem in a wonderful rythm. Does anyone know if this recording is available anywhere online? I've searched and searched, but with no luck so far.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Anne Reeves said...

I am fifteen and I have to write a pratical criticism on this poem but I can't get what the whole poem is about. This sight has been really helpful but i still don't understand it. Is it about a forgoten in? or a lost youth? I really don't know.

WJimtex said...

Re: Tarantella

I, too, learned this at an English school in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the
early 50s and have never forgotten the first few lines of it. I'm thrilled
to find it on the internet.

As to its meaning, I would hazard a guess that it's final stanza refers to
the Spanish Civil War's effect. Don't know what year this was penned.

Susan White

Jack Robinson said...

I learned this poem 63 years ago when I was 14 years at Seatoun Primary School, Wellington, NZ

I have been trying to recall the words ever since and thanks to this wonderful website I have last found it-wonderful!

Jack Robinson, Nelson, New Zealand

nancy zananiri said...

I am an arab woman from Jordan, seventy four years old. A Miss Harrison from UK then was my english teacher at the CHURCH MISSIONARY SCHOOL in Amman. She made me read it to the class, and ever since have not forgotton the first few lines,sound of the words, and sound of the implications.

I would like to have more information about whoever composed musical scores for the poem.

Nancy E. Zananiri
Gi.Rho.Ma. Music

Ewan D O'Donohoe said...

I'm 16 and learned this poem in primary school, i fell in love with it though totally forgot about it until today 5 years later and i found myself saying it and had the urge to look it up!!cheers!!

Doug Hasler said...

Although learned just over 60 years ago in Form II /Std 6 (NZ) I too,
have happily remembered "Tarantella"
Doug Hasler

Mark Trigg said...

Hi, I am researching this poem for English.does any one know what it is
really about?

Roy Halstead said...

I have the poem as lyrics in a song written by Francis toye. What I'm
looking for is any background on the poem.
Roy H

ADBurrows said...

Hi Barbara ! I've been reading a Martha Grimes mystery in which our hero
thinks (in italics) "Do you remember ------?" and Miranda came back to me - but
only thru the' fleas in the high Pyrenees' So of course I had to look it up
and found you. What an amazing poem - that it should stay with us so long.
I learned it at least 60 years ago. Annie

Jasa Penerjemah Tersumpah | Jasa Penerjemah | Penerjemah Resmi said...

in this case, the enchantment of the night. (This takes a page
from Jacques Derrida's postmodernist playbook.) And yet we keep trying,
as the poem so wonderfully points out.

Busana Muslim said...

in this case, the enchantment of the night. (This takes a page
from Jacques Derrida's postmodernist playbook.) And yet we keep trying,
as the poem so wonderfully points out.

ดูหนังโป๊ออนไลน์ said...

in this case, the enchantment of the night.

Kimberly said...

I knew tarantella when I travelled to Argentina. It turnes out that populations there consists mostly on Italian descendants so all that culture is present there. Its architechture, traditions, food and everything is european. The Buenos Aires apartments were in the neighbourhood of Caminito where all Italians first lived in "conventillos" and they used to dance the tarantella!

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Julian said...

I get more of a Pyrenean vibe rather than Italian.

Baby Clothes said...

I want some more interesting and readable content from you. this is finest poetry of yours. I am so glad to read this thanks for sharing this with us.

International Flights said...

Hi, I am researching this poem for English, in this blog post you have been shared such a great thoughts and experience, i really impressed with this quotes.

Cheap Flights to Thailand said...

Nice content over here, Belloc is most famous for his children's verse, especially his poems, he has a huge collection of poem and all that.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I'm 17. I have always loved Hilaire Belloc and when I found this poem in my A2 anthology I all but begged my teacher to be allowed to annoate it despite it not being one she had chosen for our course. She only allowed me to do so because she knew how much I adore Belloc.
This is not my favourite but I know it is one I will remember for a long time. I enjoy reading all these comments and I hope that I, like a lot of you, still remember it 30 years after I leave school.

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Mike Day said...

Amazing to learn how so many people around the world remembered the poem and rediscovered it years later. I learned it from a very enlightened primary school teacher at a tiny village school in rural Lincolnshire UK, 66 years ago. Something reminded me of a line buried deep in my fading memory and I have now found it again. Still don't really understand it though. Greetings to all to whom it still brings back a lost past.

Anonymous said...

Over 40 years ago in Johannesburg our English teacher introduced this poem to us by telling us that it was written to increase awareness about the Spanish Civil war and its effect on the local people. Joyous prior to the war and on then only death and silence, I think it most effective. I think HB has used words where where Picasso used art in his painting of Guernica.

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