Biographical Poetry posted January 30, 2017


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The true story of Meme Le Blanc, the 'Wild Child' of Chalons

Call her Savage

by Meia (MESAYERS)


They called you savage.
but in the French tongue
as if that made it more 'romantic'.
L' Enfant Sauvage,
'The Maid of Chalons'.

Covered in rags and skins
and a gourd leaf in your matted hair,
painted up like a blackamoor girl
a panther, startled from your lair.

So they called you a devil
the blood on your lips,
the bone you carried
seemed to confirm their diagnosis
''La Fille est Diabolique.''

But in that terrible drought
the most basic of instincts
drove you to the region of Champagne.

It was not the fizzy liquid you craved
but water, blood, and meat
and perhaps, a human connection.

Your guttural raspings
were a source of puzzlement to all
as was your love of the unskinned rabbit
you hastily devoured, with hands and teeth
scooping the blood, fur and flesh in lumps
to your quivering, shuddering lips.

Your eyes were bulging,
blue and mistrustful
cornflower spheres,
unused to the curious gazes.

Yet why should you trust
what you could not comprehend?
The Gallic babble must have appeared
as alien to you
as the meals of salted soups and bread
offered to your carnivorous stomach.

You were a gazelle as you ran
a squirrel as you climbed
with unnatural speed
and flat, paddled thumbs.

Swimming like a newt
you were equipped for survival
in a way they thought impossible.
That you were of this planet
seemed most improbable.

Gobbling an apron full of frogs,
like fine cheeses
is no rarity to the French,
but in their RAW state-
"Yes, call her savage!"

It was if you craved life
on its most basic level-
you wanted to inhale it
you wanted to taste it
to rip apart its innards
and examine,
then consume
the heart and brain within.

Like some wild scientist
with nothing of the scientific about you-
yet you had a sad story
relayed through sad grunts and mime.

A little black girl
had been your companion.
Another little 'savage'
had been your friend.

You quarrelled,
brought her down with a blow
and in the tussle,
saw that from her head poured red.

As you bayed at the moon for your loss
you draped frog skin over the wound
but breath no longer came from her
and you knew that she was dead.

Your memories, scant at best,
blocked that trauma
nights spent sleeping in trees
days spent walking
on perfectly calloused feet
hard-wearing as moccasins
over stone, flint and sands.

Was it just the drought
or that innate longing
to be held and understood
that made you come forth from the woods.
Only to be force-fed cooked food
that made you vomit
to be questioned and tested
sequestered.



Begging the question
of who to call savage.

Still, you ran endlessly
amongst the bucolic plains,
your now scrubbed white face
always tilted towards the sun
until cocooned into rough nun's hessian
and a life of candlelight,
darkness and cloistered vigils,
you ran toward a different light
and the life of the little wild girl was done.

You were flesh and blood.
You were skin and bone.
You were just like us.
You were all alone.
But to call you savage is hardly fair.
We all need the sun,
the wind in our hair.

We all need love, and you loved the earth
though no one knows your place of birth.
You were a thing so rare and wild
the earth your mother, the planet's child.


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Recognized


Memmie Le Blanc -A REAL Wild Child

The following feral child case is unusual in several aspects. Though the child had obviously lived most of her life relatively isolated from human contact, she was allegedly seen with a young companion from time to time. Another strange characteristic of her case are the stories she told of her origins, and the fact that she survived into adulthood, although by then she was extremely poor, being forced to sell her memoirs in the street.

Memmie was first sighted around the village of Songi, near Chalns, in the French district of Champagne, one September evening in 1731. She appeared from the woods armed with a club and in search of water. When one of the frightened villagers set a guard dog on her, she gave it a heavy blow on the head with her club, killing it instantly. Then, after jumping over the dead animal several times in ecstatic celebration, she climbed to the top of a tree and fell asleep. The villagers brought the news to Viscount d'Epinoy at his chateau in Songi who, curious about the child, ordered them to try and catch her. Knowing she was thirsty they left a pitcher of water beneath the tree in which she was sleeping. As they thought, she came down and drank from the water, and a group of men who'd been waiting behind some bushes seized her and took her away. She was brought to the kitchen of the chateau of Viscount d'Epinoy, where the cook was preparing some rabbits for the viscount's dinner. Suddenly, the girl rushed at the unskinned rabbits, grabbed one and began to devour it. When d'Epinoy arrived and saw the savage child, he told the cook to give her another unskinned rabbit, which the little girl immediately skinned and ate greedily. The villagers questioned the girl, but she couldn't understand any French; the only way she knew how to communicate was by shrieks and squeaks.

At first they thought she was black, but after several hot baths which washed away the dirt - and possibly paint - they found her skin to be white. She had blue eyes and was thought to be about nine or ten years old. On further examination she was found to have unusually shaped hands, with enlarged fingers and thumbs. This feature was later attributed to her swinging from one tree to another, grabbing at the branches with her strong hands, and her using her thumbs to dig up roots. Her feet were bare, but she wore a tattered dress of rags and animal skins, and a gourd leaf on her hair in place of a hat. The strange girl also wore a necklace, pendants, and a pouch attached to a large animal skin wrapped around her body. Inside the pouch she carried a club, and a knife inscribed with strange characters, which nobody could decipher. There was much conjecture about her origin, Norway was mentioned, but at the time somewhere in the West Indies was thought more likely.

The Viscount put the wild girl in the care of a shepherd, but she frequently tried to escape, once being found in the top of a winter tree during a severe snow storm. The girl refused to sleep on a bed, preferring the floor instead, and would only eat bread and drink only water, cooked meat making her vomit. Memmie ran and swam exceptionally well, had incredibly sharp eyesight, and caught and ate small animals and fish from the bottoms of rivers. On 30 October, 1731, she was put in the charge of the hospital general at St. Maur in nearby Chalns, though she still seems to have spent time with the shepherd at Songi or with Viscount d'Epinoy at his chateau. At first she was terrified at even being touched, and she would shriek and become wild-eyed when it happened.

But gradually she became tamer and more 'civilised', and also began to progress well at learning French, indicating not only that she was fairly intelligent, but that she had been able to speak before her abandonment. Her mother tongue, however, was completely lost.
On 16 June, 1732, the girl was baptized with the name Marie-Anglique Memmie Le Blanc. Unfortunately, despite the novel appeal of her case, captivity was detrimental to Memmie's health and spirits. The Viscount d'Epinoy had been careful to give her the raw meat and root vegetables she was used to, but the increasing amount of time she spent at the hospital at St. Maur changed this. The cooked meats, food preserved with salt, and wine provided for her at St. Maur made her teeth and nails drop out, and she was frequently in poor health. The bleedings directed by the doctors to try and lessen her savageness only made her more ill, and in combination with the new diet brought her close to death. Indeed her health was permanently ruined by this treatment.

Very little is known about the next ten years of Memmie's life. In September 1747, now a young woman and fluent in French, she left Chalns for the convent at St. Menehold, in Paris, perhaps hoping to avoid attention.Shee had her moved to another Parisian convent where she prepared to become a nun. But while there one of the windows collapsed on her head and left her life in danger once again. She was taken to the house of the Hospitalires, where she obtained the best possible medical help, paid for by a rich patron, the Duke of Orlans. But circumstances were against her once more, when the Duke died and she was left alone, sick and without financial support of any kind. In this way she spent the next few years of her life.

Then, in November 1752, she met another patron, her biographer Madame Hecquet. Her biography of Memmie was published in 1755. Madame Hecquet had much difficulty getting Memmie to remember her life before the capture. The girl told her that she hadn't began to reflect on her life until after being taken. She could remember no home or family, the only particular memory was of seeing a large sea animal with a round head and big eyes, that swum with two feet like a dog. Madame Hecquet thought it might be a seal and wondered if Memmie was in fact an Eskimo. But Memmie did not look at all like an Eskimo, she was fair-skinned and had softer European features.

In March 1765, still in Paris, Memmie met yet another patron, James Burnett, the future Lord Monboddo. She was unwell at the time and had tried to make a living, unsuccessfully as a public curiosity. When she met Burnett she was scraping an existence by making artificial flowers and selling her memoirs.

Memmie Relates Her History

As told to Burnett, Memmie's story of her life previous to her capture at Songi is, if true, an incredible one. She thought she must have been seven or eight years old when she was carried off from her native land, the name or location of which she couldn't remember. She said she was put on board a large ship and taken on a voyage to a warm country, where she was sold into slavery. Unlike today's comfortable Viking Yachts for sale, ships of the Atlantic slave trade were known for their brutality and cramped conditions. Before selling her, however, her captors had painted her entire body black, in order to pass her off as a black slave and not give rise to any suspicions about her origins.
But disaster followed, the ship was wrecked and the crew took the life boat, leaving Memmie and a black girl to look after themselves. They managed to swim from the sinking ship, with the black girl, a weak swimmer, keeping herself from drowning by clutching Memmie's foot.

Finally the two girls reached shore. They then journeyed a long distance across land, travelling only at night to avoid being seen. Sleeping through the day in the tops of trees, they survived by eating roots dug out from the ground, and when they managed to, catching wild animals which they ate raw, like the beasts of the forest. Apparently Memmie learned to imitate birdsong, as that was the only kind of music known in her country. The main difficulty the two girls had was that they couldn't speak each other's language, so they only communicated by signs and wild shrieks, like those the frightened French villagers had heard when they tried to catch Memmie.

A few days before her capture, Memmie came upon a Rosary lying on the ground. Excited at the find, but also wary that her wild friend would pick it up, she reached down to take it first. But the other girl struck Memmie's hand as hard as she could with her club. Her hand was hurt badly, but she was able to strike her opponent a fierce blow on her brow, at which the girl reeled over bleeding and screaming. At this Memmie became touched with regret and rushed off to find some frogs. Finding one, she cut off its skin and placed it over the girl's forehead to stem the flow of blood from the wound, and tied the dressing in place with thread made from tree bark. After this, Memmie said, the two companions separated. The wounded girl going back towards the river, and Memmie taking the path towards Songi.

Apparently the young black girl continued to be seen in the area, around the town of Cheppe, after Memmie's capture, but was never caught, and no more was heard of her. Other reports say that Memmie actually killed the other girl accidentally in the disagreement.

There is no record of what finally became of Memmie Le Blanc, but, as with most feral children, she probably died poor and forgotten. Madame Hecquet seems to have disappeared, and what may have been vital clues to Memmie's origin, the possessions she had when captured at Songi (especially the knife with the strange inscriptions) were never found. Perhaps the truth was much more prosaic than her biography, and she was a French peasant child abandoned in the woods at an early age, and her later stories were false memories. But what of her black companion?

The mystery of this case will never, seemingly, be solved, however Memmie retains a place in my heart.
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