Gal, amant de la reine…

Gal, amant de la reine, alla tout magnanime
Galamment à l’arène à la Tour Magne à Nîmes.

gal, ah-MAH duh lah RENN, ah-lah too mah-nyah-NEEM
gah-lah-mah tah lah-RENN ah lah toor MAH-nyah NEEM.

Gal, the queen’s lover, quite magnanimous, went
Gallantly to the arena in the Great Tower in Nîmes.

Just for the record, no one knows who Gal was. No one knows which queen. And I don’t think there is a Tour Magne in Nîmes, though there is a Roman coliseum-style arena. No tower. If there ever was one, it fell down quite a few centuries ago!

Not great poetry–just verse. This charming little ditty was invented for one purpose only: to demonstrate the possibilities of rich rhyme, or what the French call la rime riche (lah REEM REESH). Basically, la rime riche consists of rhyming more than one syllable at the end of a line of poetry. The more syllables that rhyme, counting backwards from the last syllable, the richer the rhyme.

French poetry traditionally does not consider la rime riche to be a particularly beautiful thing.  It is often scorned as the product of a lazy thinker, or (if used intentionally) selected to emphasize an image or a point in a somewhat derogatory way. So no French speaker would be likely to expect great poetry from these two lines. But it is a rather amazing accomplishment, don’t you think?

It’s what the French-speaking world–and often the English-speaking world–calls un tour de force (uh TOOR duh FORCE), a trick of strength. Not a trick like magic, but nothing as glamorous as a feat, either. It’s something you do that demonstrates your strength, your cleverness, your talent, your skill, in a dazzling way, a way that seems almost impossible–but may not give results that can be called “great”.

A pair of lines that rhyme syllable for syllable–in perfect vers alexandrin, yet!–is not very likely to happen in English. It’s much more possible in French, since French is so rich in homonyms.

A word about the adverb galamment, gallantly: You’ll find the rule for forming most adverbs here. This one is another exception. When the adjective ends in -ant or -ent, you don’t make it feminine and then add -ment. In this case, that would give a very awkward *galantement: galant + e + ment. (That asterisk means a word that doesn’t exist.) Instead, you take the masculine form, galant, change the nt to m, and then add -ment: galamment. Smoother, prettier, and easier to say.  The adverb ending -amment or -emment is always pronounced ah-MAH.

And finally, there are two very small differences between the pronunciation of the first line and the second. Can you find them? Do you know why they exist?

I believe we’ve beaten that horse to death! Without a horse, will Gal ever make it to the arène?

3 responses to “Gal, amant de la reine…

  1. Carolyn Ulrich

    So what about punning in ordinary language? What do the French call that?

    This reminds me of a French joke:

    Quel est le couleur d’un tiroir?

    Il est ouvert.

  2. Oh, very good! I like it!

    Tu permets? C’est LA couleur.

    A pun in ordinary language is called un calembour, or a jeu de mots.

  3. There is a “tour Magne” in Nimes !

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