Thursday, 28 February 2008

Aupres de mon arbre Nostalgia for the simple life he once enjoyed

After Georges Brassens had achieved world-wide success, he was a wealthy man, living in the greatest of comfort.  However, when he looks back, he strongly misses the happy relaxation of the early years when he was very poor and lived in conditions of incredible deprivation. At the end of this post, I give details from Brassens' biography, to explain his regrets.



Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux
J'aurais jamais dû m'éloigner d' mon arbre.

Auprès de mon arbre,

Je vivais heureux.
J'aurais jamais dû le quitter des 
yeux(1)



J'ai plaqué(2) mon chêne
Comme un saligaud
Mon copain le chêne
Mon alter ego
On était du même bois
Un peu rustique un peu brute
Dont on fait n'importe quoi
Sauf naturell'ment les flûtes(3).

J'ai maint'nant des frênes
Des arbr's de Judée(4).
Tous de bonne graine(5)
De haute futaie
Mais toi, tu manques à l'appel(6)
Ma vieille branche de campagne
Mon seul arbre de Noël
Mon mât de cocagne(7).



(Refrain)

Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux
J'aurais jamais dû m'éloigner d'mon arbre
Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux.
J'aurais jamais dû le quitter des yeux

Je suis un pauvr' type
J'aurais plus de joie
J'ai jeté ma pipe
Ma vieill' pipe en bois
Qu'avait fumé sans s' fâcher
Sans jamais m'brûlé la lippe
L' tabac d' la vache enragé(8)
Dans sa bonn' vieill' têt' de pipe


J'ai des pip's d'écume
Ornées de fleurons
De ces pip's qu'on fume
En levant le front
Mais j' retrouv'rai plus ma foi
Dans mon coeur ni sur ma lippe(9)
Le goût d' ma vieill' pip' en bois
Sacré nom d'un' pipe !(10)


(Refrain)
Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux
J'aurais jamais dû m'éloigner d'mon arbre
Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux.
J'aurais jamais dû le quitter des yeux

   

Le surnom d'infâme
Me va comme un gant
D'avecques ma femme
J'ai foutu le camp
Parc' que depuis tant d'années
C'était pas un' sinecure
De lui voir tout l' temps le nez
Au milieu de la figure(11)


Je bats la campagne
Pour dénicher la
Nouvelle compagne
Valant celle-là
Qui, bien sûr, laissait beaucoup
Trop de pierr's dans les lentilles
Mais se pendait à mon cou
Quand j' perdais mes billes.



(Refrain)

Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux
J'aurais jamais dû m'éloigner d' mon arbre
Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux.
J'aurais jamais dû le quitter des yeux

 


J'avais un' mansarde
Pour tout logement
Avec des lézardes
Sur le firmament
Je l'savais par coeur depuis
Et pour un baiser la course
J'emmenais mes bell's de nuit(12)
Faire un tour sur la grande ourse.


   
J'habit' plus d' mansarde
Il peut désormais
Tomber des hall'bardes
Je m'en bats l'oeil (13) mais,
Mais si quelqu'un monte aux cieux(14)
Moins que moi j'y paie des prunes(15)
Y a cent sept ans(16) qui dit mieux
Qu' j'ai pas vu la lune(17)!

(Refrain)
Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux
J'aurais jamais dû m'éloigner d' mon arbre
Auprès de mon arbre,
Je vivais heureux.
J'aurais jamais dû le quitter des yeux
When close beside my tree,
I lived blissfully
Never should I have gone away from my tree.

When close beside my tree,
I lived happily.
Never should I have let it from my sight.



I ditched my oak tree
Like a heartless oaf
My pal, the oak tree
My alter ego
We were of the same wood
A bit rustic, a bit rough
Used to make anything
Except flutes, naturally.

I've now got ash trees.
Trees of Judea.
All of good stock
Of high class timber
But you, your absence is felt. 
My old branch of the country
My one‘n only Christmas tree
My mast of Cocagne.


(Refrain)
When close beside my tree,
I lived blissfully
Never should I have gone away from my tree
When close beside my tree,
I lived happily.
Never should I have let it from my sight.


I’m just a poor guy
I’d have no more joy   
I threw out my pipe
My old wooden pipe
That had smoked, without trouble
Without ever burning lip
Tobacco what I could scrounge
In its good, well-aged pipe bowl.



I own meerschaum pipes
Adorned with flowerlets
Some of those pipes smoked
Lifting up the front,
But, dammit, I won’t find again
In my heart nor on my lip.
The taste of my old wood pipe
Sacré nom d'un' pipe !


(Refrain)

When close beside my tree,
I lived blissfully
Never should I have gone away from my tree
When close beside my tree,
I lived happily.
Never should I have let it from my sight.


The label "traitor"
Fits me like a glove.
Leaving my wife
I simply cleared off
'Cause for so many years
It had been no sinecure
To see all the time, her face
Full of reproach.


I frantically searched
To discover the
New lady friend
As good as the former
Who, I admit, left a lot
Too many stones in the lentils
But threw her arms round my neck
When I had the blues


(Refrain)
When close beside my tree,
I lived blissfully

Never should I have gone away from my tree
When close beside my tree,
I lived happily.
Never should I have let it from my sight.



I had an attic room
For my sole lodgings
With cracks opening
To the firmament
I got t' know it by heart since
And charging one kiss to for the trip
I would take my night beauties
On a tour over the Great Bear.


I live in no attic now
So henceforth it can
Pour down cats and dogs
That concerns me not
But if anyone scales heaven
Less than I, I'd eat my hat 
It's 107 years, beat that!
Since I last saw the moon! 

(Refrain)
When close beside my tree,
I lived blissfully

Never should I have gone away from my tree
When close beside my tree,
I lived happily.
Never should I have let it from my sight.

                                                                                                               






TRANSLATION NOTES



1) Out of sight and out of mind in French is “loin des yeux, loin du coeur”


2)Plaquer means to ditch, to walk out on, but there is a pun because it means to veneer oak etc


3) This line is meaningless in English. The expression in French is : “être du bois dont on fait des flûtes » which means to be all things to all men and not a person of principle.


4) Tradition says that Judas, someone else who betrayed his background hung himself from an ash


5) Etre de la mauvaise graine means to be of bad stock, perhaps crude like his natural background


6) tu manques à l'appel - literally this meams that you are missing at the roll call.

7) In village festivities, legs of ham, bottles, and other goodies were hung on a mât de cocagne and for the entertainment of the crowd young people used to climb up precariously to retrieve them.


8) manger de la vache enragée means to eat anything out of desperate hunger.  In the German prison camps, French prisoners lacking tobacco smoked all kinds of concoctions that got the same name.  To give myself a shorter word for "tobacco", I use the alternative word "shag" which the dictionary tells me should correctly refer to a coarse tobacco cut into fine shreds.


9) 
ma lippe - "Lippe" means the lower lip

10) Sacré nom d'une pipe (A French oath, which is a distortion of swearing "On God’s holy name !" – Here with a "smoking" pun intended)

11) The phrase “cela paraît comme le nez au milieu du visage » means that it looks obvious.

12) 
Y a cent sept ans - Il y a 107 ans means "since a very long time ago".


(13)  Je m'en bats l'oeil - This idiom expresses complete indifference to something
(14) J'emmenais mes bell's de nuit – See the biographical notes below about Brassens’ habit of sneaking girls into his room, without Jeanne catching them.

(15) j'y paie des prunes - This idiom means that he would pay anything to see that.  However the idiom "Faire quelque chose pour des prunes" is "to do something for peanuts/ for nothing" so the two idioms do not fit logically. 


(16) Mais si quelqu'un monte aux cieux moins que moi j'y paie des prunes.- To go up to the heavens means to reach sexual climax.  In other songs, Brassens suggests that during his relationship with Joha Heimann, he is totally sex-starved.


17)The moon to which he refers in the last line has a second meaning of a well-rounded female bottom, his admiration for which he expresses in other songs. See VenusCallipyge



BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES

During the war Brassens was living in Paris. In 1943, Brassens was conscripted into a German compulsory work service program and sent to a camp in Germany. After a year, Brassens returned to Paris on a two-week leave, Instead of going back to Germany, he went into hiding at the home of a couple, Jeanne and Marcel Planche. 


Jeanne Planche and Georges Brassens were lovers and their shared love remained of  very great importance to Brassens.  I tell their story in a short biography:  "The storyof Georges Brassens and his Jeanne"


The home of the Planches, was in fact a Parisian hovel at 9 impasse Florimont, which had no gas, no water and no electricity. Brassens went there in an emergency for a temporary stay but he elected to stay on for 22 years until 1966. In his early years he had had little to live off but his professional career began to  flourish spectacularly after 1952.  incredibly, he preferred to continue to live in the familiar squalor of this depressed area, where he enjoyed true love and friendship.


Among the pleasures was the company of the easy-going street girls.  Brassens best friend from the labour camp days was Pierre Onténiente who later joined him there as his neighbour. After the death of Brassens , Onténiente told how Brassens had a duplicate key to  
Onténiente's apartment so that he could sneak lady friends there at night, without arousing Jeanne's jealousy. His room became, as he puts it euphemistically: “le lieu de ses rendez-vous galants ».


Later in life of course, Brassens had the wealth to live in the most salubrious accommodation and in  a much superior social milieu.  The non-materialistic Brassens, however, continued to miss the relaxed simplicity of his deprived past.




Wednesday, 20 February 2008

Oncle Archibald Video and Text

Oncle Archibald



Uncle Archibald was a self-effacing, trusting man, too easily used by others. After he had dropped dead chasing a thief who stole his watch – and the rest of his time on earth- Brassens consoles himself with this fantasy about his death – swift, painless, humorous even, becoming a marriage which protects him eternally from the rogues and cheats who had exploited him throughout his life.

Ô vous, les arracheurs de dents,(1)
Tous les cafards, les charlatans,
Les prophètes,
Comptez plus sur Oncle Archibald
Pour payer les violons du bal (2)
À vos fêtes... (bis)

En courant sus à un voleur
Qui venait de lui chiper l'heure
À sa montre,
Oncle Archibald, - coquin de sort !(3)
Fit, de Sa Majesté La Mort,
La rencontre... (bis)

Telle un' femm' de petit' vertu,
Elle arpentait le trottoir du
Cimetière,
Aguichant(4) les homm's en troussant
Un peu plus haut qu'il n'est décent
Son suaire... (bis)

Oncle Archibald, d'un ton gouailleur(5),
Lui dit : "va-t'en fair' pendre ailleurs
Ton squelette...
Fi des femelles décharnées !
Vive les bell's un tantinet(6)
Rondelettes !" (bis)


Lors, montant sur ses grands chevaux,(7)
La mort brandit la longue faux
D'agronome(8)
Qu'elle serrait dans son linceul,
Et faucha d'un seul coup, d'un seul,
Le bonhomme... (bis)


Comme il n'avait pas l'air content,
Elle lui dit : "Ça fait longtemps
Que je t'aime...
Et notre hymen à tous les deux
Était prévu depuis l' jour de
Ton baptême... (bis)

Si tu te couches dans mes bras,
Alors la vie te semblera
Plus facile...
Tu y seras hors de portée
Des chiens, des loups, des homm's et des
Imbéciles... (bis)


Nul n'y contestera tes droits,
Tu pourras crier : viv' le roi ! (9)
Sans intrigue...
Si l'envie te prend de changer,
Tu pourras crier sans danger
Viv' la Ligue(10) ! (bis)

Ton temps de dupe est révolu,(11)
Personne ne se payera plus
Sur ta bête(12).
Les "Plaît-il, maître?" auront plus cours(13),
Plus jamais tu n'auras à cour-
-ber la tête..." (bis)


Et mon oncle emboîta le pas
De la bell', qui ne semblait pas,
Si féroce...
Et les voilà, bras d'ssus, bras d'ssous,
Les voilà partis je n' sais où
Fair' leurs noces... (bis)

Ô vous, les arracheurs de dents
Tous les cafards, les charlatans,
Les prophètes,
Comptez plus sur Oncle Archibald
Pour payer les violons du bal
À vos fêtes... (bis)

Oh you, you bare-faced liars
All the sneaks, all  the charlatans
The psychics,
Don’t count now on Archibald’s money
To grab  for yourselves’n fritter away
At y’r parties. (Repeat)

While running after a thief
Who’d just stolen his time of day
On his watch
Uncle Archibald- Goodness gracious!
Met with Her Majesty Death
Face to face.

Like a woman of loose morals
She was walking  the Cemetery
Pavements
Attracting the men by tucking
A little higher than is decent
The shroud she wore.

Uncle Archibald, derisively
Said to her “Go and hang it up elsewhere
Y’er skeleton
To hell with skinny females!
Long live the beauties a bit
On’t chubby side!


Then, getting on her high horses
Death brandished the long-bladed scythe
Used by farmers.
Which she held tightly in her shroud
And cut down with a single stoke, 
The good fellow…..


As he was looking none so pleased
She said to him : « It’s been a  time
That I’ve loved you
And the nuptials for us both
Were planned right back on the day that
You were baptised.

If you can lie down in my arms
Then life will begin to seem to you
Much easier
Safe in there you’ll be out of reach
Of dogs, of wolves, of men and of
Imbeciles


No-one will contest your rights there
You can shout out: “Long live the King” :
Quite openly…….
If you feel like making a change
You can shout out without danger
Long live the League !(4)

Your time as a dupe is over
People won’t treat themselves anymore
From your account.
“May I,  master?” will end its usage
Never again will you have to
Bow your head.


And my uncle followed on the heels
Of the beauty, who did not seem
So fierce
And there the two linked, arm in arm
There they were, gone, I know not where(6)
To their wedding.

Oh you, you bare-faced liars
All the sneaks, all  the charlatans
The psychics,
Don’t count now on Archibald’s money
To grab  for yourselves’n fritter away
At y’r parties. (Repeat)




TRANSLATION NOTES

1.      Mentir comme un arracheur de dents means to be a barefaced liar
.
2.      payer les violons du bal means to pay for something for which you get nothing.

3.      coquin de sort – this is an oath that expresses shock or anger

4.      Aguichant –Aguicher means (a) to seduce or to try to seduce (b) To excite, arouse , tickle
.
5.      D’un ton gouailleur means mockingly/derisively/ sardonically

6.      Un tantinet is a familiar word to say a little or slightly

7.      montant sur ses grands chevaux- because death is often drawn as a skeleton on a horse.

8.      Agronome means gardener/ farmer/ agriculturalist

9.      The King and the League represent conflicting political loyalties. It is a reference to lines of La Fontaine: Le sage dit, selon les gens: Vive le Roi ! Vive la Ligue !

This refers to the civil conflict in France in the 1580s, when the Duke de Guise led a league of extremist Catholics to replace Henri III by the Cardinal de Bourbon.

10.   révolu   means completely over/ past/ disappeared

11.   If people were broke and could not pay their bill, the person owed money would say “Laissez-moi votre cheval. Je me paierai sur votre bête.

12.   N’auront plus cours – One meaning of “le cours” is “currency” and so “avoir cours” means “to be legal tender”  and figuratively it means: “To be in use”


13.   As he is a sceptic, Brassens may not be too certain about his belief in  the idea of heaven.







Saturday, 16 February 2008

Le Gorille - Video and Text





"Le Gorille," was Georges Brassens’ first single. It was released at the end of 1952. It caused controversy and was banned from French radio until 1955. Some attribute this to its strong anti-death penalty stance, but it was probably also the detail of Brassens’ scandalous tale, which some found  pornographic.




LYRICS OF LE GORILLE


C'est à travers de larges grilles
Que les femelles du canton
Contemplaient un puissant gorille,
Sans souci du qu'en-dira-t-on
Avec impudeur, ces commères(1)
Lorgnaient même un endroit précis
Que, rigoureusement ma mère
M'a défendu d'nommer ici


Gare au gorille !


Tout à coup, la prison bien close
Où vivait le bel animal
S'ouvre on n'sait pourquoi (je suppose
Qu'on avait dû la fermer mal)
Le singe, en sortant de sa cage
Dit « c'est aujourd'hui que j'le perds »
Il parlait de son pucelage
Vous avez deviné, j'espère


Gare au gorille !

L'patron de la ménagerie
Criait, éperdu : « Nom de nom(2) !
C'est assommant(2) car le gorille
N'a jamais connu de guenon(3) ».
Dès que la féminine engeance
Sut que le singe était puceau
Au lieu de profiter de la chance
Elle fit feu des deux fuseaux(4)


Gare au gorille !

Celles-là même qui, naguère
Le couvaient d'un oeil décidé
Fuirent, prouvant qu'ell's n'avaient guère
De la suite dans les idées
D'autant plus vaine était leur crainte
Que le gorille est un luron(5)
Supérieur à l'homme dans l'étreinte
Bien des femmes vous le diront


Gare au gorille !


Tout le monde se précipite
Hors d'atteinte du singe en rut
Sauf une vieille décrépite
Et un jeune juge en bois brut(6)
Voyant que toutes se dérobent
Le quadrumane accéléra
Son dandinement vers les robes
De la vieille et du magistrat.


Gare au gorille !


« Bah ! soupirait la centenaire
Qu'on puisse encore me désirer
Ce serait extraordinaire
Et, pour tout dire, inespéré »
Le juge pensait, impassible
« Qu'on me prenne pour une guenon
C'est complètement impossible »
La suite lui prouva que non.


Gare au gorille !


Supposez qu'un de vous puisse être
Comme le singe, obligé de
Violer un juge ou une ancêtre
Lequel choisirait-il des deux ?
Qu'une alternative pareille
Un de ces quatres jours, m'échoie
C'est, j'en suis convaincu, la vieille
Qui sera l'objet de mon choix.


Gare au gorille !

Mais, par malheur, si le gorille
Aux jeux de l'amour vaut son prix
On sait qu'en revanche il ne brille
Ni par le goût, ni par l'esprit
Lors, au lieu d'opter pour la vieille
Comme aurait fait n'importe qui
Il saisit le juge à l'oreille
Et l'entraîna dans un maquis.


Gare au gorille !

La suite serait délectable
Malheureusement, je ne peux
Pas la dire, et c'est regrettable
Ça nous aurait fait rire un peu
Car le juge, au moment suprême
Criait : « Maman », pleurait beaucoup
Comme l'homme auquel le jour même
Il avait fait trancher le cou


Gare au gorille !

  1953 La Mauvaise Réputation
It was through strong iron railings
That the females of the district
Weighed up a strapping gorilla
Unworried what people will say
With no shame, these nosey women
Even goggled one precise spot
Which my mother has quite strictly 
Forbidden me to mention here

Beware of the gorilla !


All at once, the tight-shut prison
In which the fine animal lived
Opens, we don’t know why (I think
They must not have closed the door right)
The ape, coming out of his cage
Said “Today’s the day I lose it”
Talking of his virginity
You have already guessed, I hope

Beware of the gorilla !

The boss of the menagerie
Shouted frantically « Good Heavens ! 
That’s awkward because the gorilla 
Has never known female monkey".
As soon as the feminine mob
Knew that the ape was a virgin
Instead of cashing in on their luck
They ran at full speed on their pins

Beware of the gorilla

The very same ones who, just now
Were wilfully fancying him
Fled, proving that they had hardly
Any consistency of thought.
All the more vain was their fear
As gorillas are quite funky
Superior to man in embraces.
Many women will vouch for that.

Beware of the gorilla


Everyone rushes off from
The attack of the ape on heat
Except one senile lady
And a young judge standing firm.
Seeing all the girls escaping
The beast on four paws went faster
Waddling straight to the two dresses 
Of the old woman and the judge.

Beware of the gorilla


« Ah » sighed the hundred year old  
That I might still be desirable
Would be weird and wonderful 
And, frankly quite unexpected. »
The judge expressionless thought
« For me to be deemed a she-ape
That’s completely impossible »
The next events proved him wrong.

Beware the gorilla !


Suppose one of you men might be,
As the ape was obliged to
Rape a judge or very old lady 
Which would he choose of the two
Should a similar alternative
One of these days fall to me
It is the old gran, I’m convinced
Who’ll be the object of my choice.

Beware of the gorilla.

But, sadly, if the gorilla
In games of love earns his rating
We know though that he does not shine
In his taste or his intellect
So, instead of choosing the old gran
As anybody else would have done
He grabbed the judge by the ear
And dragged him into the brushwood.

Beware the gorilla

What follows would be delightful
Unfortunately, I cannot
Tell it and that’s regrettable
That would’ve made us laugh a little
For the judge, at the supreme moment
Yelled out “Mamma!” and cried a lot
Like the man whom, that very day
He had had decapitated.

Beware the gorilla!










TRANSLATION NOTES
1)     Commères = gossipy/ curious women.
2)     « Nom de nom!- C'est assommant – Although the zookeeper is frantic, his words are comically understated.  “Nom de nom” is a very mild expletive and the adjective “assommant” my Collins Robert dictionary translates as “deadly boring” - the verb assommer is more dramatic because it means to knock some-one or something out/ to batter unconscious- the source of the word seems to be "sommeil"
3)     Guenon means female ape.  As seen in note 2, Brassens is again having fun with inappropriate words.   He says the gorilla"n'a jamais connu de guenon.  This use of connaitre is a nice way of saying "to have sex with".  The zookeeper is extremely polite about the mating of his animals!
4)     Elle fit feu des deux fuseaux -Un fuseau is a spindle - therefore her legs.  The French expression that he is making play on is « faire feu des quatre fers » used for horses setting off so fast their hooves spark.
5)     Un luron is a womaniser – some-one who is “a great one for the girls” says Collins Robert.  Larousse says a happy, carefree person bold in love.
6)     En bois brut – « Brute » has a secondary meaning in both French and English of « raw »/ »unchanged ».  The judge has the hardness and impassivity of a dogmatic person of principle


The guillotine

Wikipedia tells me that the guillotine remained the official method of execution in France until the death penalty was abolished in 1981. The final guillotinings in France before abolition were those of child-murderers Christian Ranucci on 28 July 1976 and Jérôme Carrein on 23 June 1977 and torture-murderer Hamida Djandoubi on 10 September 1977.


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES
Here we see Brassens the anarchist attacking with his humour those officials, who like judges and priests dress up in fancy robes to make themselves authorities over the lives of their fellow humans.

The song tells of to a clash of opinion with his mum. Whereas his dad was proud of the success of his son, his mother, although a music lover who enjoyed his early songs, was shocked by “Le gorille” and his other scandalous songs. A devout Catholic, she never once went to see her son perform on stage, because she said she had no wish to listen to him uttering insanities.

A comment below recommends this English translation made by Jake Thackray.  I agree.  I think it is very inspired.






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Tuesday, 12 February 2008

Le parapluie - Video Lyrics Translation

Brassens is at his most gentle and romantic. Some people think that this describes his first meeting with his long-term companion, Joha Heiman. She also was tiny in build, hence the affectionate name which Brassens had for her: Puppchen. This German word means "little doll". (See biogaphical notes below)

On the other hand the girl in the rain could be an example of one of the passing girls in a man's life who remain indelibly in the memory.  Brassens sings of them in his song:"Les Passantes"




Il pleuvait fort sur la grand-route
Ell' cheminait sans parapluie
J'en avais un, volé, sans doute
Le matin même à un ami
Courant alors à sa rescousse(1)
Je lui propose un peu d'abri
En séchant l'eau de sa frimousse(2)
D'un air très doux, ell' m'a dit " oui "



Un p'tit coin d'parapluie
Contre un coin d'paradis
Elle avait quelque chos' d'un ange
Un p'tit coin d'paradis
Contre un coin d'parapluie
Je n'perdais pas au chang', pardi

Chemin faisant, que ce fut tendre
D'ouïr à deux le chant joli
Que l'eau du ciel faisait entendre
Sur le toit de mon parapluie
J'aurais voulu, comme au déluge
Voir sans arrêt tomber la pluie
Pour la garder, sous mon refuge
Quarante jours, quarante nuits


Un p'tit coin d'parapluie
Contre un coin d'paradis
Elle avait quelque chos' d'un ange
Un p'tit coin d'paradis
Contre un coin d'parapluie
Je n'perdais pas au chang', pardi


Mais bêtement, même en orage
Les routes vont vers des pays
Bientôt le sien fit un barrage(3)
A l'horizon de ma folie
Il a fallu qu'elle me quitte
Après m'avoir dit grand merci
Et je l'ai vue toute petite
Partir gaiement vers mon oubli.



Un p'tit coin d'parapluie
Contre un coin d'paradis
Elle avait quelque chos' d'un ange
Un p'tit coin d'paradis
Contre un coin d'parapluie
Je n'perdais pas au chang', pardi




Written in 1952
Rain poured down hard on the highway
She struggled on, without brolly
I had got one, acquired secretly
From a close friend that same morning.
So, running to assist the lady
I offered this spot of cover.
Drying the wet from her tender face
She told me very softly « Oui »

A small bit of brolly
For a bit of heaven
She’d something angelic ‘bout her
A small bit of heaven
For a bit of my brolly
I came off well, gracious me.

Walking along, how sweet to hear
Just we two,the pretty song which
The waters from the sky produced
Upon the roof of my brolly.
I would have wished, like the Great Flood
To see the rain falling non stop
Just to keep her, ‘neath my refuge
For forty days and forty nights

A small bit of brolly
For a bit of heaven
She’d something angelic ‘bout her
A small bit of heaven
For a bit of my brolly
I came off well, gracious me.


But foolishly, e’en when storms rage
Roads lead to different districts
Hers soon loomed like a barrage
On the horizon of m’ folly
She left me, as it had to be,
After thanking me most warmly
And I saw her, chic and petite,(4)
Go gaily to forgetting me.



A small bit of brolly
For a bit of heaven
She’d something angelic ‘bout her
A small bit of heaven
For a bit of my brolly
I came off well, gracious me. 







Translation notes

1)      Rescousse means help/support/relief

2)      Frimousse is a familiar word used for the face of a child or young person
.
3)      Barrage can be (a) dam/ flood barrier. (b) barrier/ barricade/ roadblock.


4)      chic and petite- Brassens said toute petite but “quite petite” sounded flat for a girl who has become a lasting memory.  I could have said: “So very petite” but I did not have enough syllables in the line.  I have therefore made my own contribution to her glamour  - not permissible for a translator – and I have pictured her as elegant.!


Biographical notes

The final verse of the song does not see the event it describes as the start of a love affair, saying that the young lady was going home to give no further thought to him.

It is often assumed that the poem describes a chance meeting between Brassens and Joha Heiman, mainly from the description of the petite young lady under his umbrella. Brassens’ affectionate name for his lifelong partner was his “Püppchen”- his “Little Doll”.

In a conversation with Georges Brassens, extracts of which I have copied below, Brassens spoke of his songs which had been inspired by his love of his Püppchen. I was surprised that in the four songs he quoted on the spot, “Le Parapluie” did not appear – however he said there were many others.

Having read his biography, I want to believe that the poem describes a chance meeting between Brassens and the Estonian, lady when he was a shy 25 years old and had never dared speak to her. I am copying Brassens own account, to leave you to form your own opinion. (I have put my translation of this text afterwards)

Speaking towards the end of his life, Brassens tells us:

Je l'ai souvent répété, Püppchen ce n'était pas ma femme, c'était ma déesse.

Joha Heiman était originaire d'Estonie. Elle avait connu une enfance peu attrayante. Sa mère est morte alors qu'elle n'avait que deux ans et son père s'est alors remarié avec la soeur de sa première femme. Mais ce couple n'était que conflits et tensions. Aussi, Joha profita de la première occasion pour s'en libérer. Et c'est en prenant un poste de jeune fille au pair dans une famille bourgeoise qu'elle vint s'installer à Paris où vivait déjà une soeur de son père. C'était en 1930, elle avait 19 ans. Mais, espérant fuir un climat de confrontation, elle connut à nouveau adversité et tensions dans cette famille où elle devait enseigner l'allemand aux enfants. Aussi, pour s'en sortir, elle choisit d'apprendre le métier de couturière, une valeur sûre pour les jeunes filles à l'époque.

Puis, beaucoup à cause de ces circonstances, elle s'engagea sans grand enthousiasme dans un mariage terne dont la seule dimension réjouissante fut la venue d'un enfant. Si elle s'émerveillait de cette valorisation marquante de sa vie, du bonheur d'être mère, l'événement ne revalorisera pas son mariage. Bien au contraire. Un mari jaloux et possessif n'acceptait pas l'attention et l'amour qu'elle portait à leur fils. C'est bien à cette époque que je croisais cette belle passante.
BRASSENS TELLS HOW HE FIRST MET JOHA IN 1939 –HE WAS ABOUT 18
Un peu avant la guerre, j'avais remarqué une douce jeune fille (j'ai mis longtemps à réaliser
qu'elle avait dix ans de plus que moi) que je croisais occasionnellement lors de flâneries dans mon quartier. Aux sourires complices que nous échangions, j'ai deviné qu'elle avait compris que j'avais noté son trajet quotidien et ses horaires et que ce n'était plus par hasard que je ralentissais le pas en la croisant.

THE OUTBREAK OF WAR
Puis ce fut le gouffre de la guerre. Les privations étaient multiples. La mienne fut de ne plus pouvoir marcher librement dans la rue. Pendant quatre ans. ……..
JOHA PENDANT LA GUERRE 1939 -1945
Puis, le grand dérangement. Le mari fut dès le début de la guerre fait prisonnier et y restera pendant quatre ans. À son retour, il n'y avait plus aucun attachement et les procédures de divorce furent entamées.
APRÈS LA LIBERATION DE LA FRANCE 1945
Puis, la vie ayant repris son cours, c'est, cette fois-ci, par le jeu du hasard que nos routes se croisèrent à nouveau. Le charme opérait toujours. Et ce n'est que beaucoup plus tard que j'ai su qu'elle m'avait parfaitement reconnu. Il a fallu que nous nous retrouvions face à face dans le métro pour que j'ose enfin lui parler. Spontanément, je me retrouvais à la raccompagner chez elle et je crois bien que c'est par complicité mutuelle que le trajet du point A au point B ne fut pas du tout la ligne droite. Comme je l'avais quelques fois aperçue avec un jeune enfant, je me doutais qu'elle devait être mariée. Mais son attitude me permettait d'espérer des circonstances particulières. Aussi, je parvins à surmonter ma timidité de jouvenceau soupirant et lui proposai un rendez-vous. Nous ne nous sommes plus jamais quittés.
(BRASSENS’ BIOGRAPHICAL COMMENTS TRANSLATED INTO ENGLISH)
¬ JOHA HEIMAN’S LIFE-STORY UNTIL 1939
Joha Heiman came originally from Estonia. She had experienced an unappealing childhood. Her mother had died when she was only two years old and her father then got married again to the sister of his first wife. But this couple was nothing but quarrels and tension. Therefore Joha took advantage of the first opportunity to break free and it was by taking a post of au pair with a middle-class family that she came to settle in Paris, where her father’s sister was already living. That was in 1930 and she was 19 years old. However, hoping to run away from an atmosphere of confrontation, she came across once it again with the hostility and confrontation in this family where she was to teach German to the children. Therefore, to get away from it, she chose to learn the trade of a seamstress, a reliable career for girls at that time.

Then, very much much because of these circumstances, she entered into, without any great enthusiasm; a dismal marriage in which the only cheerful dimension was the arrival of a child. If she delighted in this marked improvement in the quality of her life and in the happiness of being a mother, the event did not improve the quality of her marriage. Much to the contrary. A jealous and possessive husband could not accept the attention and love which she devoted to her son. It was indeed at this period that I met this beautiful passer-by.

BRASSENS TELLS HOW HE FIRST MET JOHA IN 1939 –HE WAS ABOUT 18
It was shortly before the outbreak of war. I had noticed a sweet girl (it took me a long time to realise that she was 10 years older than I was) whom I passed now and again when I was strolling around my district of Paris. From the complicit smiles which we exchanged, I guessed that she had understood that I had noted the route of her daily walk and her daily routines and that it was no longer by chance that I slowed down my step as I walked past her.

THE OUTBREAK OF WAR
Then came the huge gap of the war years. The deprivations were many fold. Mine was to no longer be able to walk freely on the street. For four years it lasted..........

JOHA DURING THE WAR 1939-1945
Then came the big upheaval for Joha and her family. Her husband is thrown into prison right from the beginning of the war and will stay there for four years. On his return home, there was no longer any attachment between the married couple and divorce proceedings were started.
AFTER THE LIBERATION OF FRANCE 1945
Brassens resumes his story:
Then, life having resumed its course, it was on this occasion by pure chance, that our two paths crossed once again. The magic still worked its charm. And it was only much later that I found out that she had recognised me perfectly. And it took a face-to-face encounter on the metro for me to dare finally to speak to her. Spontaneously I got around to taking her back home and I very much believe that is it was through mutual collusion that the path we took from point A to point B was not at all a straight line. As I had several times noticed her with a young child I suspected that she must be married but her attitude allowed me to hope for some special circumstances. Therefore, I managed to overcome my shyness of a young suitor and suggest a rendez-vous. We have never left each other since.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
The very individual, loving relationship, which Georges Brassens and Joha Heiman forged together was to last more than thirty years, ended by the death of Brassens.

I have given further details of Joha Heiman's part in his life in biographical comments with the following songs:
Je me suis fait tout petit.
La non-demande en mariage.


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