Coucher trois dans un drap, sans feu ni sans chandelle

The wonderfully named Marc-Antoine Girard de Saint-Amant takes us to the lighter side of poetry today. This is supposed to be a satirical or humorous poem, an intention which is signalled by the title, Les Goinfres, which, loosely translated means neer-do-wells. I wonder if this written from personal experience by a poet starving in his garret. Since I know nothing of the life or circumstances of Saint-Amant, I can’t answer that question without doing some googling, which I am trying not to do while posting these poems.

So here we are in eighteenth century France for Les Goinfres.

• Marc-Antoine Girard de SAINT-AMANT   (1594-1661)

Les goinfres

Coucher trois dans un drap, sans feu ni sans chandelle,
Au profond de l’hiver, dans la salle aux fagots,
Où les chats, ruminant le langage des Goths,
Nous éclairent sans cesse en roulant la prunelle ;

Hausser notre chevet avec une escabelle,
Etre deux ans à jeun comme les escargots,
Rêver en grimaçant ainsi que les magots
Qui, bâillant au soleil, se grattent sous l’aisselle ;

Mettre au lieu de bonnet la coiffe d’un chapeau,
Prendre pour se couvrir la frise d’un manteau
Dont le dessus servit à nous doubler la panse ;

Puis souffrir cent brocards, d’un vieux hôte irrité,
Qui peut fournir à peine à la moindre dépense,
C’est ce qu’engendre enfin la prodigalité.


From <;

The poem is a down to earth, comical depiction of the condition of life of a down at heel , out of luck gentleman who has wasted his assets by profligate living.

From the first line, which describes the poet sleeping three to a bed in a room with no fire and no candle (so freezing in the dark, as we might say today). The rest of the poem goes on piling up examples of the hardships endured by the poet and his friends. And the final line nails the cause of this discomfort and distress – profligacy -la prodigalite – leading to ruin and discomfort.

The reader is clearly intended to be amused by the circumstances described but it also has a bit of a moral message to live frugally if you want to avoid these pitfalls. It reminds me rather of one of those paintings of dissolute scenes which set out to both amuse and educate.

The Poetry Dude


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