Finding a folly euphonic



Qu’il est heureux de se défendre
Quand le coeur ne s’est pas rendu!
Mais qu’il est fâcheux de se rendre
Quand le bonheur est suspendu!
Par un discours sans suite et tendre,
Égarez un coeur eperdu;
Souvent par un mal-entendu
L’amant adroit se fait entendre.



How happy to defend our heart,
When Love has never thrown a dart!
But ah! unhappy when it bends,
If pleasure her soft bliss suspends!
Sweet in a wild disordered strain,
A lost and wandering heart to gain,
Oft in mistaken language wooed
The skilful lover’s understood.


I found this poem and its translation in Literary Frivolities, Fancies, Follies and Frolics (1880) by William T. Dobson, who in turn found them in Isaac D’Israeli’s Curiosities of Literature (1791–1823). Some lines seem rather loosely translated, but no matter. Dobson writes that the French author Claudine Guérin de Tencin once sang this verse to the writer and scientist Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, who was impressed enough to request that she repeat the performance. When she pointed out that the verses were mere nonsense, he admitted that they were “so much like the fine verses I have heard here, that it is not surprising I should be for once mistaken!”

An amphigouri, also amphigourie or amphigory, can be considered a burlesque equivalent of what is known in English as a nonsense poem or nonsense verse. The OED says the word is a learned jocular formation from amphi- (Greek for around, about) and allégorie, where the Greek -agoria means speech or speaking. Alternatively, the latter part of the word may have come from gyros, Greek for circle or ring: like these entities, an amphigouri is well-rounded and attractively presented, but has nothing of substance inside. As Dobson put it, the verse is “richly-rhymed, elegantly expressed, but actual nonsense!”

Nonsense it may be, but my ears prefer it to the non-rhyming, inelegantly expressed nonsense that sometimes passes for meaningful communication.


12 Responses to Finding a folly euphonic

  1. Ah I had not heard of of amphigourie before. THanks

  2. Stan says:

    You’re welcome, Jams! It was new to me too, until yesterday.

  3. Sean Jeating says:

    Poetry at its peak,
    each word of praise
    would be too weak.

    And it’s a shame
    that criticaster
    would dare to blame
    such genial master
    who earneth fame
    for all her words.

    It really hurts.

  4. Claudia says:

    For me is all
    What poetry
    Should ever be.
    Nonsense, you say?
    Don’t spoil my day.
    Deserves glory!

    Si peu de temps
    Un coeur si grand
    Un à la fois?
    Non, pas pour moi.
    C’est en aimant
    Plus qu’un poète
    Qu’on fait la fête
    La vie durant.


  5. Stan says:

    Sean, Claudia: It’s Monday morning and you have already made my week.

    It’s been too long since
    has written nonsense
    So unglum

    Where now is Lear
    His eyes to leer?
    And whither Nash
    With teeth to gnash?

    not dead, I see:
    His legacy.

    Et Claudia,
    Bilinguisme subtil!
    C’est difficile.
    (Mais comme tu en
    as réussi.)

    This rotten verse
    I stop before
    It gets much worse.

    (Readers who are baffled or beguiled by this bout of unBardness might enjoy a visit to McGonagall Online.)

  6. Tim says:

    But what about the
    Haiku, man. Have you forgot
    Or just ignored it!

    Perhaps it is me
    Or the influences of
    past interests hence gone

    Wherein does rhyme for
    a poem decide its flow
    or give it merit

    Interesting, that
    entry and translated writ
    Scribed upon this page

    The language of France
    Flows cleanly but it makes no
    Sense at all to me

    Now I take my leave
    And also take with my self
    All I know and see

  7. Stan says:

    There was a young fellow called Tim
    Who wrote some haiku on a whim;
    His readers enjoyed
    The verse he employed
    In haiku, though its form is quite slim.

  8. Sean Jeating says:

    One syllable less,
    and this could easily go
    for a fine haiku.

  9. Sean Jeating says:

    Haiku follows soon
    looking for words in the moon
    und schlachte ein Huhn.

    [Please don’t call me a silly sod,
    just needed to be a bit polyglott,
    to save the beauty of the ryhme
    otherwise it had gone out of the Leim.]

  10. Claudia says:

    Haiku has a way
    To make a blue sky, bluer
    Goodbye gray and clouds.

  11. Stan says:

    You’re right, Claudia. Ireland was drenched by almost incessant rain again today, but seeing poetry appear on my blog from three different continents helped to blue the grey. Thank you, and thanks Sean, Tim, and Jams.

  12. Claudia says:

    For a folly euphonic
    None of us wrote an epic.
    Imagine what you would get
    If you would mention Macbet.

    The rhyme is correct as the French have a problem to say the h of Macbeth.

    Thank you for the fun, Stan. It was also interesting to click on Tim’s blog.

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