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The Village Inn

Ben Victor

(with apologies to Goldsmith and Gray)

Here in a tiny valley by the Seine
The district bistro held its drunken sway.
Long had its folding doors kept out the rain,
And welcomed travellers from the public way.

Today its portals know no sudden sound,
Its hinges rust from the want of ‘three in one’,
A pile of sodden fag-ends hides the ground
That boots of lovesick Frenchmen trod upon.

Fled are the days when on the tables round
Stood glasses of bière and dil. Vin rose,
Soon to be raised by hands tobacco-browned,
Then to find rest on tables cellulose.

Fled are the hours when after ten at night
Sat crowds of Paris workmen playing cards,
Poker and baccarat, each caused its separate fight,
All worthy subjects for Pindaric bards.

There in a corner sat the brawny Pierre,
Hero of a thousand bistro brawls,
His body, objet digne du dieu de guerre,
Has left its massive mark on these old walls.

Those other giants, Titans one and all,
Have wielded mighty arms about the room,
Wreaked havoc on the weaker that did call
To quench their thirst, only to meet their doom.

What epic deeds lie hidden ‘neath the floor,
What souvenirs of French heroic fame
Lie buried, with a pile of louis d’or,
In fitting tribute to the patron’s name!

What hearts of oak have spewed the blood around
Those massive arteries encased in steel,
To muscles that did in mighty strength abound,
And of others of weaker oak the fate did seal.

Now all those days of martial splendour past,
And all those hours of living legend o’er,
Let us evoke, we humble mortals last
Of all, the myth that sadly is no more.

Here in a tiny pool of water dark,
Steepèd in mud of origin obscure,
Primaeval man decided to embark
On city building of construction pure.

Out of this teeming filth and odorous dirt,
Aeolian splendours circling round her crown,
Arose a city with great towers girt,
Of Gallic tales the pride and the renown.

Like ancient Babel did its columns rise
In times when stalked proud Vercingetorix,
Ascending heavenward through the azure skies,
Inspired by architects, and occasional bricks. 

Paved were its streets in cobbled harmony,
Adornéd its walls with adverts manifold,
Ruléd its dwellings by la conciergerie
With honest hearts, and for substantial gold.

To one great man from out this noble flock,
Bacchus his name, his patron Beelzebub,
Who revelled day and night on ancient hock,
There fell the honour, to erect a pub. 

With Herculean sinews, Titan might,
With solitary toil, blood, sweat and tear.
He laboured to assuage the sorry plight
Of thirsty citizens with no place to beer.

Stone after stone, plank after plank impaled
With Stygian inexorableness unmatched,
It upwards mounted, to the sky unveiled,
Until the builder clothed the deficit with thatch.

Then came that day of splendour and renown
When, all his mighty labours at an end,
Did lordly Bacchus don his kingly crown
And take up empire, and begin bartend. 

Fast-flowing, full and free, came crimson wine,
Sweet alcohol, both strong, weak, dark and pale.
Ere morning’s chariot came with Queen Diane,
Found all but the hero in the city jail.

Here thou, great Bacchus, whom all men adore,
Hast wielded sceptre with unrivalled fame,
Adjudged libations with impartial score,
Maintained true stupor with unquenchèd flame.

Now read the inscription on those ruins base,
With hanging plaster and with crumbling wall:
‘No mortal man shall ever his name erase,
The noblest licensed vintner of them all.’