Thursday, May 05, 2011

Belloc's "fleas that tease" prompt a look at the hard-nosed poet

Clawing at my still itchy insect bites, collected during our abbreviated trip to the High Country, the opening lines of a poem learned in school, long ago and far away, sprang into my mind:

Tarantella by Hilaire Belloc:

Do you remember an Inn,
Do you remember an Inn?
And the tedding and the spreading
Of the straw for a bedding,
And the fleas that tease in the High Pyrenees,
And the wine that tasted of tar?

Full text at

Allegedly (sources conflict) Miranda was not the beautiful black-haired young woman we schoolgirls had envisaged, but a more prosaic Duke of Miranda in a scenario during the Peninsular War. As for the poem's title, performing the tarantella, a lively Italian dance, was thought to minimise the effects of poisonous spider bites -possibly folk fable. The poem's rhythm is certainly lively enough to reflect the dance.

I haven't, so far, looked into Belloc's natal chart. I shall take a peek in a mo.

Belloc, writer, orator, poet, satirist and political activist was born in France but lived much of his life in England, becme a British citizen in 1902 .

A little background from Comic Verse, Serious Man,
John Gross's review of Joseph Pearce's book Old Thunder: A Life of Hilaire Belloc. Link:

I've highlighted some significant observations.

Pearce has his naive moments, but he gives a clear and generally fair account of Belloc's career from his French background (on his father's side) and his early Oxford triumphs to his long decline into semi-senility. He steers a judicious course through the choppy waters of the Marconi Affair (which came close to rocking Asquith's government) and Belloc's long acrimonious dispute with H. G. Wells (over Wells's Outline of History). ..............
......... Belloc's life revolved around his Catholicism, but it was Catholicism of a hard, unaccommodating kind that you seldom encounter nowadays. He preached the Church Militant or, in his case, you might say, the Church Truculent. And to an outsider, at least, he rarely seems to touch any great spiritual depths. You don't have to be a Catholic or a believer of any sort to be stirred by Newman or Hopkins (or even, I would say, Chesterton). With Belloc, it is more a simple question of whether or not you belong to the club.

He was someone it can be equally hard to come to terms with at more mundane levels. He was aggressive by nature; he could be brutal and coarse. That doesn't mean that he didn't also have his charm (he commanded the affection of friends as civilised as Max Beerbohm and Maurice Baring), or that his faults aren't often interesting to read about. But he can seem tiresome, too - in his pontifications as amateur military expert during the First World War, for instance, or in his boisterous goings-on about beer. (Punch once called him - not the worst joke it ever printed - "The Man Who Was Thirsty".) ...................

As for the unpleasant but inescapable question of Belloc's anti-Semitism, Pearce plays it down. What he says in mitigation is true enough - that Belloc distanced himself from extreme anti-Semites, that he was never in any danger of falling for Hitler. But his prejudice was deeper and more inveterate than Pearce suggests; and his claim that he wrote his book "The Jews" to do the Jews a favour - to warn them how unpopular they were - is downright creepy.

Born 27 July 1870 in St Cloud, France, at (according to Astrotheme) 4:00 PM

So....Belloc doesn't strike me as a pleasant guy! His four sensitive Cancer planets, including Moon Mars and Venus must have been pretty much eclipsed by his ebullient Leo Sun conjunct Mercury and Sagittarius rising. He sounds to have been anything but a shy sensitive soul!

Sagittarius rising clearly reflects his religiosity, and with Saturn in Sagittarius in first house of self we have an indication of the reputed "hardness" of his take on religion.
There's a Yod (Finger of Fate) with Saturn in Sagittarius at its apex, linked by two quincunx (150*) aspects to the Moon/Uranus conjunction and Pluto in Taurus. Such a configuration is said to relate to the way the "energies" of the linked sextiled planets will manifest through the planet at the apex. Again, we have emphasis on Saturn, here funelling a softer Cancerian Moon with a rather rebellious Uranus and a darkish Pluto via Saturn at the apex in religious (or at least spiritual)Sagittarius. Sagittarius's ruler Jupiter, however, is in sociable Gemini, which could account for Belloc's occasional rather more charming side, as mentioned in the extract above.

Some of his books:

He was right about one thing though:

Even his books for children have a hard-nosed air about them!

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