Monday, November 23, 2009

Contrerime VII

This conterime is a bit of an oddity, bringing Clostridium botulinum, sausages, and apparently a German customs officials into the realm of poetry - well, verse anyway.
It is generally forgotten now that for much of the 19th and 20th century the Germans were called Boches in quite a pejorative mood. In France Francophililia and Germanophobia were two very complementary attitudes characteristic of the culture of postwar 1870, when the Prussians gave the French a very bloody nose. This attitude can be detected in many of the works of Toulet - when he tried to enlist in the '14-'18 war, he was very eager to have the Rhineland occupied and under French control, as Jacques Boulenger recounts in Toulet au bar et à la poste (still findable on eBay, or try
The word us is seen here as meaning a learned individual, not a customs official: Steinmetz notes : le –us serait celui d’un savant professeur, évidemment latinisé.
During the 19th century, it was believed that botulinum toxins developed from eating rotten sausages; the term botulism or the Latin botulus means black sausage. At the end of the 18th century, some well-documented outbreaks of sausage poisoning in Southern Germany, especially in Württemberg, prompted early systematic botulinum toxin research. The German romantic poet and district medical officer Justinus Kerner (1786-1862) published the first accurate and complete descriptions of the symptoms of food-borne botulism between 1817 and 1822. Kerner did not succeed in defining the suspected biological poison which he called sausage poison or fatty poison.
Eighty years after Kerner's work, in 1895, a botulism outbreak was recorded after a funeral dinner in the Belgian village of Ellezelles. Musicians in a brass band developed double vision and muscle paralysis after sharing a meal of pickled ham. This led to the discovery of the pathogen Clostridium botulinum by Emile Pierre van Ermengem, Professor of bacteriology at the University of Ghent. Ermengen found the bacterium in both the pickled ham and in the three unfortunate victims at post-mortem. Toulet seems to have published the first versions of the poem in 1913, first in Les Marches de Provence, in the first trimester of that year, then in the October-December issue of Vers et prose. Goodness knows where he read about the bacterium.

Here's the poem:

Le microbe : Botulinus
     Fut, dans ses exercices,
Découvert au sein des saucisses
     Par un alboche en us.

Je voudrais, non moins découverte,
     Floryse, que ce fut
Vous que je trouve, au bois touffu
     Dormante à l' ombre verte ;

Si même l' archer de Vénus
     Des traits en vous dérobe
Plus dangereux que le microbe
     Nommé : Botulinus.

Translation (don't look for too much poetry):

The Botulinum microbe
Was, while doing his worst,
Unmasked in the bratwurst
by a Boche in a robe.

Floryse, I would give thanks
To find you in the shade,
Asleep in the green glade,
Displaying your flanks;

Even if Cupid’s bow
Buries in you arrows
As deadly as the sorrows
Clostridium might sow.

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