THE NOTABLE FRENCH seer Nostradamus (1503-1566), whose Prophecies have been in constant circulation since they were first printed, is credited with many astonishing predictions of future events. Just how astonishing these predictions were is best illustrated by a few examples from the writings themselves. Here are a few of the more notable prophecies, presented with their English translations and brief explanations of their significance.

Sur le pont d’Avignon
On y danse, on y danse.
Sur le pont d’Avignon
On y danse tout en rond.

With glass for eyes he looks ahead;
His fingers grasp a staff of fire;
He feasts himself on buttered bread
And sings in a glee club or choir.

Here is a transparent and remarkably prescient prediction of the development of practical electric traction under Werner von Siemens, father of the modern streetcar, who in fact wore reading glasses and was well known to enjoy a bit of bread with dinner. The “staff of fire” is, of course, the trolley pole (now replaced by a pantograph in many cities) by which streetcars collected their electric power from overhead wires. No record has survived of Siemens’ singing with any choral group, but there is no reason to suppose that he did not.

Ah! Vous dirai-je Maman
Ce qui cause mon tourment?
Papa veut que je raisonne
Comme une grande personne.
Moi je dis que les bonbons
Valent mieux que la raison.

Pease porridge hot,
Pease porridge cold,
Pease porridge in the pot
Nine days old.

The great Irish potato famine of the 1840s, during which the Irish were reduced to eating pease porridge, or rather would have been reduced to eating pease porridge had any pease been available, is here confidently and clearly predicted.

Au clair de la lune,
Mon ami Pierrot,
Prête-moi ta plume
Pour écrire un mot.
Ma chandelle est morte,
Je n’ai plus de feu.
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l’amour de Dieu!

The Duke of Eighty-Four will live
And die and live again
Till he has nothing left to give:
Sing hey! nonny nonny and a hot cha cha.

In this prophecy Nostradamus appears to be merely foaming at the mouth.

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines. Sonnez les matines.
Din, din, don. Din, din, don.

The Zebu of the North takes wing
And rolls the English Channel back;
The Archaeopteryx will sing
And run the Mallard off the track.

There is no need to explain the significance of this quatrain, which predicts the election of Boris Johnson as mayor of London. Indeed, the significance is so extraordinarily obvious that it is surprising, in hindsight, that this interpretation was not discovered until May 3, 2008.