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.