Rain, Soup, and Time Standing (Briefly) Still
When I glanced back through Bob’s poetry break archives from this week in July, several things drew me to this poem by Thackeray. Today happens to be a rainy, dark, and dreary day here in the subtropics, so light verse seemed like a good idea. And with the rain, I decided to stay in for lunch, and had soup. Not Thackeray’s entertaining Bouillabaisse, but a ‘vegetarian chili’ concoction that merits no further description here. This also happens to be my oldest son’s last summer at home before going off to University, and he is spending his non-working hours dashing off to be with one friend or another, before they all go their separate ways in the annual educational diaspora. My wife and I would like to see more of him, but we can’t begrudge him his time with friends, knowing, as we do, that life accelerates from here, and we, and the places we know, and the people we remember, change – sometimes unrecognizably with time. While Thomas Wolfe may have said that “You Can’t Go Home Again”, Thackeray’s ballad takes a different tack, and suggests that, perhaps at least you might be able to find the same restaurant.
--Steve ( - ;
A lot of William Makepeace Thackeray's light verse is entertaining. A few pieces, like today's poem, The Ballad of Bouillabaisse, are also modern-sounding and affecting. I'm not sure why, but this account of a nostalgic return to long-remembered café makes me share the nostalgia. That result may have to be added to the list of characteristics of successful light verse.
July 18 is the day Thackeray was born in 1811. I have submitted several Thackeray poems to The Poets' Corner, so visit his alphabetic entry if you want to read more to celebrate.
The Ballad of Bouillabaisse
A STREET there is in Paris famous,
For which no rhyme our language yields,
Rue Neuve de petits Champs its name is --
The New Street of the Little Fields;
And there's an inn, not rich and splendid,
But still in comfortable case;
The which in youth I oft attended,
To eat a bowl of Bouillabaisse.
This Bouillabaisse a noble dish is --
A sort of soup, or broth, or brew,
Or hotchpotch of all sorts of fishes,
That Greenwich never could outdo;
Green herbs, red peppers, muscles, saffern,
Soles, onions, garlic, roach, and dace;
All these you eat at Terré's tavern,
In that one dish of Bouillabaisse.
Indeed, a rich and savory stew 'tis;
And true philosophers, methinks,
Who love all sorts of natural beauties,
Should love good victuals and good drinks.
And Cordelier or Benedictine
Might gladly, sure, his lot embrace,
Nor find a fast-day too afflicting,
Which served him up a Bouillabaisse.
I wonder if the house still there is?
Yes, here the lamp is as before;
The smiling, red-cheek'd écaillère is
Still opening oysters at the door.
Is Terré still alive and able?
I recollect his droll grimace;
He'd come and smile before your table,
And hoped you like your Bouillabaisse.
We enter; nothing's changed or older.
"How's Monsieur Terré, waiter, pray?"
The waiter stares and shrugs his shoulder --
"Monsieur is dead this many a day."
"It is the lot of saint and sinner.
So honest Terré's run his race!"
"What will Monsieur require for dinner?"
"Say, do you still cook Bouillabaisse?"
"Oh, oui, Monsieur," 's the waiter's answer;
"Quel vin Monsieur désire-t-il ?"
"Tell me a good one." "That I can, sir;
The Chambertin with yellow seal."
"So Terré's gone," I say, and sink in
My old accustom'd corner-place;
"He's done with feasting and with drinking,
With Burgundy and Bouillabaisse."
My old accustom'd corner here is--
The table still is in the nook;
Ah! vanished many a busy year is,
This well-known chair since last I took.
When first I saw ye, cari luoghi,
I'd scarce a beard upon my face,
And now a grizzled, grim old fogy,
I sit and wait for Bouillabaisse.
Where are you, old companions trusty
Of early days, here met to dine?
Come, waiter! quick, a flagon crusty --
I'll pledge them in the good old wine.
The kind old voices and old faces
My memory can quick retrace;
Around the board they take their places,
And share the wine and Bouillabaisse.
There's Jack has made a wondrous marriage;
There's laughing Tom is laughing yet;
There's brave Augustus drives his carriage;
There's poor old Fred in the Gazette;
On James's head the grass is growing:
Good Lord! the world has wagged apace
Since here we sat the Claret flowing,
And drank, and ate the Bouillabaisse.
Ah me! how quick the days are flitting!
I mind me of a time that's gone,
When here I'd sit, as now I'm sitting,
In this same place--but not alone.
A fair young form was nestled near me,
A dear, dear face looked fondly up,
And sweetly spoke and smiled to cheer me.
-- There's no one now to share my cup.
. . . . . . . .
I drink it as the Fates ordain it.
Come, fill it, and have done with rhymes;
Fill up the lonely glass, and drain it
In memory of dear old times.
Welcome the wine, whate'er the seal is;
And sit you down and say your grace
With thankful heart, whate'er the meal is.
Here comes the smoking Bouillabaisse !
--William Makepeace Thackeray