My first “Coup de foudre”

The French have a term for everything worth noting about life and love.  Especially love.  (It’s beyond my ken how and when they gained this special status with that universal emotion.  Or how deserved it truly is.  But that’s a thesis topic for someone with more time and curiosity.  And a trust-fund since they will never be employable!)  But I digress.

Cleaning up my music library on iTunes this morning, I listened to a song I hadn’t played in years and remembered that it was my first coup de foudre, which is translated literally as “a lightning strike” or “thunderbolt”, with the figurative meaning of “love at first experience”.  It is the encounter with something/someone whose effect is like an electric current coursing through and awakening every nerve to its tip.

If you breathe and can feel, I guarantee that you have had a coup de foudre: a piece of music, a song, a book, a movie, a poem, an objet d’art, a place, and, of course, a person (which would be a “coup de coeur“, the specific “coup de foudre” for love-at-first- sight).  One can’t prepare for (or against) a coup de foudre.  It can be hoped, prayed, and wished for, but that’s just as effective as eating a plateful of oysters in hopes that a lover will materialize.  (If that worked, oysters would have become extinct a long time ago…)

A coup de foudre is a miracle, an affirmation that, somehow, the sum of our experiences  has been rewarded by something that speaks to our whole being and enhances it.  It’s a transfigurative experience, one that will not age or diminish however frequent or sporadic the future encounters with its agent.  Visceral and disturbing in the moment of occurrence, they become centering and enriching once past it.  A coup de foudre, then, is a reminder that even as our lives are embering (thank you Deidra, for the timely image in your poem) with each day passed, our hearts and soul have not.

My earliest coup de foudre is an Irish folk song written in 1884 that entered my life one afternoon, a couple of years shy of fifty years ago, when I was a twelve-year old sitting at the piano avoiding another repetition of a Mozart* sonata.   I was in my seventh year of lessons (which I didn’t mind), and practicing two hours a day (which I did).  As the only twelve year-old Chinese boy playing recitals in a little town in the boonies of my state in the south of Brazil, I was good in the way a talking-dog doesn’t have to recite Shakespeare to be applauded.

For a break from Mozart that day, I picked up a song-book of old English standards that my mother had brought from Hong Kong and began leafing through it, here and there desultorily trying out the first few bars of a song.  I knew a few words in English – my father was already in the US but I didn’t know whether he would be returning or we would join him – but not enough to read and understand anything.  However, one of the few words I could recognize was “love” – I was in deeply in first-love (another story) – and I saw it in the title of a song.

I started sight-reading it, focusing on the fingering more than on the melody the first time throughAnd then a second, third, fourth… I don’t know how many times, concentrating less and less on the mechanics, as my fingers memorized the note sequences.  Technically, it’s not a difficult song and soon I entered that state of being performer and audience as I watched my hands be at-once mine and not-mine.  And then, suddenly, at the umpteenth time at the refrain, it took me over in a way a piece of music had never done before.

Perhaps if I hadn’t been twelve. Or in love.  Or didn’t know what I didn’t know about love, longing, and loss.  But that’s how coups de foudre work.

I don’t remember if it was the same day or soon after, but I translated the lyrics, word-by-word using my mother’s English- Portuguese dictionary.  There is a dim memory of singing it – badly, I’m certain, as I didn’t speak English yet – when my mother was out.

Sometime later I played it for Clarisse at her house on her piano, but I never told her how it had impacted me the first time.

As I have aged, “Love’s Old Sweet Song” has gained in meaning throughout my life, no more so than today, as love is now “... just a song at twilight”.

(A piece of trivia unearthed is that the song appears in Joyce’s Ulyssess as being a song Molly Bloom would sing.)


The lyrics follow a video of a performance by Patricia Hammond (mezzo-soprano) and Michael Brough (piano).  She has a beautiful voice so it’s a shame that it’s not well miked.

The lyrics:

Love’s Old Sweet Song

Music by J.L. Molloy;
words by G. Clifton Bingham

Once in the dear dead days beyond recall,
When on the world the mists began to fall,
Out of the dreams that rose in happy throng
Low to our hearts Love sang an old sweet song;
And in the dusk where fell the firelight gleam,
Softly it wove itself into our dream.

Just a song a twilight, when the lights are low,
And the flick’ring shadows softly come and go,
Tho’ the heart be weary, sad the day and long,
Still to us at twilight comes Love’s old song,
comes Love’s old sweet song.

Even today we hear Love’s song of yore,
Deep in our hearts it dwells forevermore.
Footsteps may falter, weary grow the way,
Still we can hear it at the close of day.
So till the end, when life’s dim shadows fall,
Love will be found the sweetest song of all.

Just a song a twilight, when the lights are low,
And the flick’ring shadows softly come and go,
Tho’ the heart be weary, sad the day and long,
Still to us at twilight comes Love’s old song,
comes Love’s old sweet song.

Audio only, a better-quality recording by Morris and Bouckom:

12 Love’s Old Sweet Song


* Something by Mozart would become a coup de foudre late in high-school in New Jersey, when I saw the film “Elvira Madigan”, which used his Piano Concerto #21, K. 467 as the theme.  This video below uses the footage wherein the theme enters.  Neither the video or audio portions do justice to the film or the music.

About Drachenfutter

It's all in my blog....
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