Reine, Reine Gueux E’veille

June 8, 2009

A joke entry in this week’s Guardian Weekly ‘Notes and Queries’ column , the motto of the French navy – “a l’eau, c’est l’heure”, reminded my of a book that I had forgotten about for the last 30 years which makes similar use of homophones.

The so-called, d’Antin Manuscript entitled Mots D’Heures: Gousses, Rames was published in the late 60’s and purports to be a set of ancient French poems.

image  Scan10001 image

The one I best remember went –

Et qui rit des curés d’Oc?, De Meuses raines, houp! de cloques.

The first time I read them, I laboriously tried to understand the French, until it was pointed out that I should read them out loud. Then the penny dropped.

Hickory dickory dock, the mouse ran up the clock.

Another well-know one is –

Un petit d’un petit, S’étonne aux Halles, Un petit d’un petit, Ah! Degrés te fallent

Each poem is accompanied but a straight-faced translation of the French.  “Et qui rit des curés d’Oc? De Meuses raines, houp! de cloques.” is translated as “he who laughs at the curés of Oc will have frogs leap at him from the Meuse river”.

The whole thing is a wonderfully witty read, as I have rediscovered this week.

D’Antin is in fact one time architect and later Hollywood actor Luis van Rooten. Mexican born Van Rooten was a master of languages and accents and found films roles that made use of this skill. 

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