issue 24 > light verse > hoffman & foley
Gérard de Nerval was a 19th-century French poet, one of the early Symbolists. He was subject to fits of insanity and given "cures" by Dr. Blanche, who lived in Montmartre. During one of these fits, Nerval tied a blue ribbon to a lobster's shell and walked with it as if it were a dog in the Bois de Boulogne. Asked why he did this, he answered, "Because it does not bark and because it knows the secrets of the sea." Nerval committed suicide on a freezing night in January, 1855; his body was found at dawn the next day hanging by an apron string to the bar of a window.
The first of the poems, "Pot Aux Foux" (not "feu" but "foux") was written by Daniel Hoffman and published in his book, A Little Geste and Other Poems(1960); the second, "The Lobster's Testimony," is by Jack Foley and was written in 1962 in response to Hoffman's poem.
Pot Aux Foux
Gérard de Nerval's ribbon led
A large live lobster. Men, like geese
At their communion hissed, or fled,
Made hue, and cried, 'Breach of the peace!'
Enjoined by irate hierarch
He pled non vult contendere
'Because,' he said, 'it does not bark
And knows the secrets of the sea.'
Gérard they packed to Dr. Blanche
(Cold-water cures in a year, or less);
The lobster, after that dimanche
When Gendarme's wife served
Lost interest in philosophy.
Now Nerval's hung himself, who'll heed
The lucubrations of the sea?
The tides, in bowls, resound, recede.
The Lobster's Testimony
Not even Dr. Blanche could tell
And poor Nerval would not confess:
Instead of making bouillabaisse
He tied a ribbon to my shell.
(He did it for the sake of art.)
Alas! How could the bourgeoisie
Have understood the sea or me:
They sent him packing to Monmartre!
And I,—the concierge was chosen
To serve me up as lobster stew:
While I turned red, Nerval turned blue.
Dead, dead as a fish and flesh quick-frozen,
They found him hanging presently—
Le bon Gérard, unmindful of
The calefaction of my love
Among the secrets of the sea.