V is for Ver-Vert

VWhen I was looking for early usages of “septuagenarian” for my “S” blog, I found a favorite in Jean-Baptiste-Louis Gresset’s 1793 poem Ver-Vert. 

Ver-Vert is an irreverent, witty narrative about a pious parrot who lives in a convent. While he travels by ship to another convent, he’s exposed to bawdy language. “The boatmen all in chorus swore/Oaths never heard by him before And sad and glum, Ver-Vert sat still/In silence, though against his will.” At the new convent he’s assigned a new caretaker: “A sulky, sour septuagenarian maid is made the keeper of the Renegade.”

The attribution of unpleasant characteristics (sour and sulky) to seventy-year olds, reinforce exactly what I, a card carrying septuagenarian for three years, don’t want to be. Insert smiley face here.

Ver-Vert quickly established his reputation, particularly among Parisian literati who were surprised that such wit could come from within the Catholic Church. Gresset was brought up by Jesuits. His churchly superiors were unhappy with his work, but he continued to write light verse, as well as candid accounts of life in a Jesuit College which led to his expulsion from the order because he was impious! Unclerical! Frivolous! Absurd!

Gresset began to write plays. EdouardIII (1740) was the first French play to include the enactment of a murder on stage. One play The Sorry Man was an expose of salon life.

The “S” quote mentioned above came from the Oxford English Dictionary, with A. Geddes credited as the translator. I couldn’t find that translation online, so I used Bartleby.com’s excerpt from The World’s Wit and Humor (1906). The translator has rewritten the words differently: “The oldest, ugliest, sourest nun/an ape in veils, a skeleton, bent double with her 80 years; She’d moved the hardest sinner’s tears.”

Gresset, the writer with three hyphenated first names, died at 68, never achieving septuagenarian status. I’d have never discovered him and his interesting bio had I not dipped into the OED.  Should you want to read the amusing Ver-Vert, a 387-line poem, check it out here.

 

Additional Resource: Britannica

 

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