Radish Humor

This is an email I sent to the people in my poetry class about the title of a poem by Wallace Stevens that we mentioned in class today. If you want to read it, you can find it here:

Hey everyone. Since I was curious about the strange spelling of “Unze” in “Cy Est Pourtraicte, Madame St Ursule, et Les Unze Mille Vierges” on page three, and I’m a French minor, I decided to ask my French lit professor about it. He looked at it, and said that it meant “onze” or eleven. He went on to say, more interestingly, that there was a very pornographic book of similar name. Here is what a quick search found:

“Les Onze Mille Verges ou les Amours d’un hospodar is a pornographic novel by French author Guillaume Apollinaire, published in 1907 over his initials “G.A.”. The title contains a play on the Catholic veneration of the “Eleven thousand Virgins” (French: les onze mille vierges), the martyred companions of Saint Ursula, replacing the word “virgins” with a vulgarism for the male member.
The novel tells the fictional story of Prince Vibescu Mony, in which Apollinaire explores all aspects of sexuality: sadism alternates with masochism; ondinism / scatophilia with vampirism; pedophilia with gerontophilia; masturbation with group sex; lesbianism with homosexuality.”

I thought that was rather comical. I’m guessing, then, that the joke of “Les Unze Mille Vierges” is that unze is a similar vulgarism of language, except in a nonsensical way. I would further imagine that the radishes have a meaning based on their incongruity with flowers like marguerites, coquelicots and roses – they are a buried, dirty, earthy, remotely penis-shaped vegetable. Furthermore, I would imagine that, as the allusion to the radish boner amongst other things suggests, the poem is a tribute to the divinity of the quiverings of “not heavenly” love. Perhaps the radish symbolizes the poem itself.


About andrewwhiting

A sentimental and sarcastic poet, lover of language, traveling and nature (not a fan of the Oxford comma).
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