Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Poems of Places: An Anthology in 31 Volumes.
France: Vols. IX–X. 1876–79.


Val de Vire

By Jean le Houx (1551–1616)

Translated by James Patrick Muirhead

SONG, wine, mirth, in olden days

Did our fathers cheer;

Basselin unwritten lays

Improvised by ear;

Vocal stanzas, very sweet,

Which they ever since repeat

In the Val de Vire,

O gay!

In the Val de Vire.

Cradled there, of yore, in sedge,

Was old Vaudevire;

Born beside the water’s edge,—

Cruel tale to hear!

But he all the better trolled

Love that ’s young, and wine that ’s old,

In the Val de Vire,

O gay!

In the Val de Vire.

With an artful fancy born,

Self-willed child was he;

He resolved to go, one morn,

Paris town to see;

He left off his Norman name,

One of noble rank to claim,

Maître Vaudeville,

O gay!

Maître Vaudeville.

There he of satiric sport

Caught the taste and style;

His fine talent town and court

Often would beguile,

And, with sharply pointed wit,

Frondeurs, Mazarins, would hit:

That good Vaudeville,

O gay!

That good Vaudeville.

Next the great King’s feats employ

His song’s plastic mould;

La Vallière and Villeroy,

Love and Fame he told;

All that stately age went past,

His peruke there dancing fast

To wine-music old,

O gay!

To wine-music old.

In La Pompadour’s sunshine,

Fashioned in her school,

France, of joy, and love, and wine,

Frantic, served the rule;

He, beneath the lively sway

Of the volatile Collé,

Played in song the fool,

O gay!

Played in song the fool.

But at Paris the grand thing

Is dramatic wit:

Going on the stage to sing,

He made quite a hit;

And, not fearing hiss or groan,

Stanzas in unfaltering tone

Spouted to a pit,

O gay!

Spouted to a pit.

All the theatre he had

Was La Foire awhile;

All the audience, folks glad

Just to drink and smile:

With Panard, in frankest ways,

He sang rustic roundelays,

Aping no fine style,

O gay!

Aping no fine style.

When a theatre his name

Owned, in times of late,

He retained his tone the same,

And changed not his state:

With Merle and Desaugiers,

And a host as good as they,

Quite regenerate,

O gay!

Quite regenerate.

True to early days, he trolled

Songs of love and fame,—

Sang of wines of vintage old,

And Love’s youngest flame.

To his deft Horatian stave

Violins sweet music gave,

Cruel girls to shame,

O gay!

Cruel girls to shame.

But at length did Scribe appear;

Master-mind was he

Higher the stage-tone to rear,

Erst too light and free.

On the next page you will learn

How he gave a novel turn

To old Vaudeville,

O gay!

To old Vaudeville.