• Rain

Hiroshige Shōno - Hakuu/Shōno - Sudden Rain (1831-34)

Ochiba ochi
kazanarite ame
ame wo utsu 

Falling leaves fall,
pile up; rain
on rain, beats

Gyōdai (1732-93)

• Charles Trenet in ‘Cavalcade des heures’

Following on from yesterday’s ‘What Are You Up To, Radio 3 – Essentially?’, I thought I’d point up one of the delights of ‘inessential’ revelations in Classical Collection which I caught two years ago.  I think it was Rob Cowan who played Mam’zelle Clio, sung by Charles Trenet.  I fell for its joie-de-vivre and humour straightaway and immediately ordered CDs and sheet music.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Here was a singer and composer with a very special talent to amuse, à la français, bien sûr (he was known as ‘le fou chantant’), as well as to pull on the strings of sentiment.  I knew La Mer, his greatest international hit, but nothing else.  Thank you, Rob Cowan.  May you continue to throw unexpected, non-mainstream and ‘inessential’ items into the mix of your new programme, whatever its title.

I’m attaching two contrasting clips from a film Trenet appeared in when he was turning 30, La Cavalcade des Heures (Yvan Noé, 1943).  In the first, he doesn’t sing on screen, but listens to a 78 of a song that he co-wrote and recorded a year earlier, Que reste-t-il de nos amours?.  Its mood is suitably seasonal: ‘Tonight, the wind that knocks on my door/talks to me of dead loves/in front of the fire which is going out.  Tonight, it’s a song of autumn/in the house that shivers/and I think of distant days.  [Refrain] What is left of our loves?/What is left of those fine days?/A photo, old photo/of my youth. …’  You may recognise the melody, which was reused for I Wish You Love and recorded by Marlene Dietrich, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Rod Stewart and others.  But nothing beats Trenet’s understated original.

The second clip shows Trenet singing a very different song, in his trademark trilby.  Débit de l’eau … Débit de lait is one of his most popular in France, mainly because of its clever and delightfully whimsical lyrics and tongue-twisting patter.  The refrain includes lines such as:

Ah qu’il est beau, le débit de lait, Ah qu’il est laid, le débit de l’eau
Débit de lait si beau, débit de l’eau si laid
S’il est un débit beau, c’est bien le beau débit de lait.
Au débit d’eau y a le beau Boby, Au débit d’lait y a la bell’Babée …

Here’s a resumé of the main threads of the story: two shops (débits) in the street, one ugly (laid) selling water (l’eau), one pretty (beau) selling milk (lait); Boby sells the water, Babée the milk.  They don’t get on and quarrel over the churns (bidons).  But they get married; Boby puts milk in his water and Babée puts water in her milk.  And Boby makes sure he keeps pretty Babée’s two best churns of milk for himself (Oui mais Boby garde pour lui Les deux plus beaux bidons de lait de la Babée jolie) …

• Conundrum – When Does A Shower Become Rain?

Yesterday at 06.30, BBC Radio’s weather forecasters predicted “showers in the West”.  It then proceeded to rain solidly – and heavily – for three hours.

So when does a shower become rain?

I’d like to think that there’s Zen-like enlightenment to be found in that elusive moment of transition.

• John Clare’s ‘August’

John Clare’s The Shepherd’s Calendar (1827) is a constant source of delight.  His eye for detail and linguistic turns of phrase constantly surprise.  I’m very fond of this episode from ‘August’, where ‘the bawling boy’ goes stealing fruit under the cover of darkness.  As I frequently walk home at night, with unexpected animal and bird noises and looming shapes on all sides, I can identify with the boy’s alarm!

When day declines and labour meets repose
The bawling boy his evening journey goes
At toils unwearied call the first and last
He drives his horses to their nights repast
In dewey close or meadow to sojourn
And often ventures on his still return
Oer garden pales or orchard walls to hie
When sleeps safe key hath locked up dangers eye
All but the mastiff watching in the dark
Who snufts and knows him and forbears to bark
With fearful haste he climbs each loaded tree
And picks for prizes which the ripest be
Pears plumbs or filberts covered oer in leams
While the pale moon creeps high in peaceful dreams
And oer his harvest theft in jealous light
Fills empty shadows with the power to fright
And owlet screaming as it bounces nigh
That from some barn hole pops and hurries bye
Scard the cat upon her nightly watch
For rats that come for dew upon the thatch
He hears the noise and trembling to escape
While every object grows a dismal shape
Drops from the tree in fancys swiftest dread
By ghosts pursued and scampers home to bed
Quick tumbling oer the mossy mouldering wall
And looses half his booty in the fall
Where soon as ere the morning opes its eyes
The restless hogs will happen on the prize
And crump adown the mellow and the green
And makes all seem as nothing ne’er had been


• Words

Whenever I find myself in need of a good dictionary – and this happens all too often – I remember that one of my favourite poets, Edward Thomas (1878-1917), wrote a poem with such a spring in its step that it never fails to remind me that sometimes I should let the right word instead ‘choose me’, as Thomas memorably puts it.  So here are the final eight lines of Words (1915), briefer than brief, but more eloquent than many a long verse:

Let me sometimes dance
With you,
Or climb
Or stand perchance
In ecstasy,
Fixed and free
In a rhyme,
Like poets do.

After my current writing project I’m going to sequester myself with two books by and about Thomas that I’ve been really looking forward to reading: Thomas’s account of his journey through the English countryside in The South Country (1909, republished 2009) and Matthew Hollis’s just-released biography of Thomas’s last years, Now All Roads Lead to France.  By all accounts, Hollis brings his poet’s insight and a penetrating eye to this extraordinarily raw episode in English literature.

Paul Nash: Ruined Country (1918)

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