X 15 A CARELESS PATRICIAN
1568 Lyon Benoist Rigaud
Pere duc vieux d’ans & de soif chargé,
Au iour extreme filz desniant les guiere
Dedans le puis vif mort viendra plongé,
Senat au fil la mort longue et legiere.
Line 2, OF ‘filz’, related to filament, is either a son or else roped strands. OF ‘aiguiere’ is a ewer for washing oneself or a pitcher for refreshments.
Father Duke old in years and fired up by thirst,
At the last day the son OR the strands having denied him the refreshing jug
The careless patrician becomes immersed within a well,
And by a thread his living death draws out.
I have swapped the positions of ‘patrician’ and ‘careless’ (senat, legiere) from Line 4 to Line 3 and my interpretation ‘living death’ (vif mort) from Line 3 to Line 4 to straighten the narrative in English.
The household or village well is a major human support system with inputs and outputs. A good king works to keep natural wellwater clean and accessible by all his people. (But lesser aristocrats have refused water to passing beggars.) A rope that does not reach the water level in a well is not fit for purpose. Neither is a jug that shatters. Nor a rope that snaps. Those driven too hard by thirst might kill and a deep well is a danger to the unheeding.
Water is essential to life. It will also cleanse or dissolve many things. H2O is constantly hydrogen-bonding and held covalently to oxygen. It has energy and entropy and is fundamentally sticky but alien to oil. Unlike fire it cannot be permanently extinguished. Mist over the ice on a lake fed from a warm spring is all the same thing. Drinking water is one of the most urgent of inputs for the human system. A couple of days without food might endanger long-term health or it may not but total lack of water will cause the system to breakdown and halt forever. As will drowning out all the air from the lungs by immersion under water, a substance which penetrates where it can.
There is something here which feels biblical to me. The lingering death in Line 4 suggests slow and painful crucifixion. The cruelty of this Roman execution was that, like modern methods of torture, the victim brings the pain on hisself. Pulling clear of asphyxiation stresses the shoulder muscles to extreme pain. Escaping the pain returns the victim into desparate asphyxiation. The old man of this short story has somehow erred too lightly and has brought a lingering torment upon himself as if in punishment.
Ultimate self-destruction as the result of searching too hard for the water of material life conjures up the mystery phrase uttered by Jesus, ‘he who would seek to save his life will lose his life’. Perhaps it feels like that to me because I am writing this on Good Friday, a black day of unhappy thoughts, and also because it has been pointed-out that, curiously, word-sounds here like ‘duc’ and other transliterate associations in this quatrain may suggest Hebrew nouns that are appropriate to thirst, destruction and the veil. The subject is suspended exactly on the edge of that thin veil between human life and death.
Line 2, OF ‘Au iour extreme’ means ‘At the last day’. The Christian Bible starts with the days of creation – and on the final day He rested – and ends with revelations over the last days of mankind. The separate mentions of father, duke and son suggests a hierarchical yet interlinked trinity of powers. How New Testament can you get? Well, I suppose that is not quite accurate as father and son here in this Nostradamus Quatrain X 15 are in a dispute over allocation of the water of life. Is this an allegory of Christianity vs Judaism or Islam? Is the old father duke no less than Abraham the patriarch of all three? (And ancient curator of Astrology.) As a Duke he qualifies for but has not attained to the kingdom which remains with the King who alone may dispense ultimate fates at will. The son is where inheriting sons always are, waiting in happy or unhappy juniority for the promotion that can only come by virtue of the senior’s death.
A mystery of this carbon-based planet is that there is water here at all. A good king must keep natural wells open for everybody to use freely and without error. Precious water is a gift from the heavens. Whilst effort comes into water distribution this is not inordinately so with the better point-of-supply. Water carries its own energy. Making a great effort is not the business of old dukes. Indeed it is our propensity to achieve sublimity that makes some superhuman. Physical strength will usually fade. Spiritual strength may seem more possible with age. Forgetting all this and competing physically against an act of youthful folly is a senior folly and sometimes fatally so it would seem.