Tuesday, 29 April 2008

La cane de Jeanne- Brassens Translation



The following is a simple Brassens song which a lot of French people know from their primary school days. It tells the true, sad story of the death of the pet female duck of his friend Jeanne Planche. Mme Planche had given Brassens a temporary home many years ago that he never got round to leaving. The solemn, slow rhythm makes the song a funeral march and the sentiments expressed for the deceased tell how deep was her sense of loss.

Brassens knew, however, that Jeanne had originally bought this duck for them all to eat but she hadn’t had the heart to do it. In cold reality, non vegetarians must, of necessity, have limits to their sensitivities.

I think we gather that Brassens, although a great animal lover himself, is having a gentle tease at the expense of this soft-hearted woman of whom he was so fond. ( Click here to see my account of thestory of Brassens and Jeanne )




  JEANNE'S PET DUCKLING





La cane
De Jeanne
Est morte au gui(i) l'an neuf,
Elle avait fait, la veille,
Merveille !
Un oeuf !

La cane
De Jeanne
Est morte d'avoir fait,
Du moins on le présume,
Un rhume,
Mauvais !


La cane
De Jeanne
Est morte sur son oeuf
Et dans son beau costume
De plumes,
Tout neuf !

La cane
De Jeanne,
Ne laissant pas de veuf,
C'est nous autres(ii) qui eumes
Les plumes,
Et l'oeuf !


Tous, toutes,
Sans doute,
Garderons longtemps le
Souvenir de la cane
De Jeanne
Morbleu !

The duckling
Of Jeanne
Died upon New Year’s day.
It had made, on the Eve
Mirac’lous!
An egg!

The duckling
Of Jeanne
It died from having caught
At least so we presume,
A cold
Serious!


The duckling
Of Jeanne
Died upon its egg
And in its fine costume
Of feathers,
Brand new!

The duckling
Of Jeanne
Leaving no widower
It was just us who got
The feathers
And th’ egg!


One and all
Don’t doubt it
We’ll retain for years the  
Mem’ry of the duckling
Of Jeanne
Good grief!


In translation the vocabulary is simple but it is the rhythm that counts:3-3-6-7-3-2 to convey the sense of a slow funeral march. Brassens achieves this also by lingering on final syllables.


TRANSLATION NOTES
(i) au gui = at the mistletoe. At the New Year, the tradition is to kiss under the mistletoe to wish good luck.
(ii) nous autres = us lot - in expressions such as this"autres" is being used for emphasis with no sense of "other".  Robert gives the example:
Nous autres Francais, nous aimons la bonne cuisine - We French love good cooking.

(iii) Morbleu ! We have to end with an oath. This is an old-fashioned oath that French children would not be familiar with. Collins Robert suggests “Gazooks” as a translation. Even if the rest of the song is put into English, I would like to keep the despairing French oath for effect. Some critics think it is a cry against human mortality. I think it is despair about how long Jeanne is going to go on about her sweet little duck.

“LA CANE DE JEANNE” IN PRIMARY SCHOOLS






A private note for my primary schoolteacher daughter, Katharine.
If I was turning this into a French presentation for Parents' evening, I would think of dividing it into three parts.
Part one: The children's presentation.
I would borrow some of the artwork fom the French video. I like the duck being only intermittently dead! If when the children bring their work to the central display, they can do a kind of slow march for the first two and last two lines, that would be clever. At some point a big egg is put on a separate stand and is left there.

Part two: the music teacher turns to the parents and tells them that the roles are going to be reversed and they are going to be the performers and the children are going to applaud them if deserving.

The chidren give out sheets with the copy of the song in English. The music teacher gives them a brief rehearsal of the first verse stressing the importance of the rhythm with excessive stress put on the "eu" endings. The parents then sing the whole song with the music teacher stopping for a repeat if the parents miss an "eu".
The music teacher should insist that the parents say the final oath - which contains the last "eu" sound with feeling.
The children finally give the applause that is merited.

Part three: the previous part is meant to be lighthearted and noisy, ready for a change of mood in this section.
The teacher sees that all the artwork has been cleared from the stage, but that the egg has been forgotten. The teacher selects a child and says:
"Anne, we have forgotten the egg of the Cane de Jeanne. Would you mind bringing it to me?"

The child goes up to the egg and makes to get hold of the artwork. Suddenly she stops and puts her ear to the egg.

The teacher asks what is wrong.

"I can hear a tapping sound", the child replies. Immediately she stands in front of the egg hiding it from the audience. Unseen, she removes the top part of the egg. Then she steps aside to show the egg to the audience and points to the egg saying:"Look what was in the egg of the Cane de Jeanne!"

The broken egg now has the face of a happy chick on show. -I would borrow that picture from the French video.

If our dramatic timing is good we have moved from the theme of death to re-birth.

Click here to return to the full index of Brassens songs on this blog

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux Brassens sings Aragon's famous poem of the ambiguity of love.

(Picture left)  Elsa, the muse who inspired the poet, Louis Aragon..


The lyrics of Brassens' song are taken from a very famous poem by Louis Aragon (1897-1982). Its mood is melancholic and pessimistic. Aragon admits that it was affected by his difficulties during the harsh times at the end of the war, which prevented him living life to the full with his beloved wife, Elsa. He felt that if you created a high ideal of love, the realities of life would of necessity involve a betrayal.

Below:

Brassens' recording of "Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux"





Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux by Louis Aragon


Rien n'est jamais acquis à l'homme Ni sa force
Ni sa faiblesse ni son coeur Et quand il croit
Ouvrir ses bras son ombre est celle d'une croix
Et quand il croit serrer son bonheur il le broie
Sa vie est un étrange et douloureux divorce
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux.




Sa vie Elle ressemble à ces soldats sans armes
Qu'on avait habillés pour un autre destin
A quoi peut leur servir de se lever matin
Eux qu'on retrouve au soir désarmés incertains
Dites ces mots Ma vie Et retenez vos larmes
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux




Mon bel amour mon cher amour ma déchirure
Je te porte dans moi comme un oiseau blessé
Et ceux-là sans savoir nous regardent passer
Répétant après moi les mots que j'ai tressés
Et qui pour tes grands yeux tout aussitôt moururent
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux




Le temps d'apprendre à vivre il est déjà trop tard
Que pleurent dans la nuit nos cœurs à l'unisson
Ce qu'il faut de regrets pour payer un frisson
Ce qu'il faut de malheur pour la moindre chanson
Ce qu'il faut de sanglots pour un air de guitare
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux

Nothing is for man to have and hold. Not his strength
Not his weakness and not his heart. And when he thinks
To open out his arms, his shadow forms a cross
And when he thinks to grasp true joy, he crushes it.
His life is a divorce, strange and full of sorrow.
There’s no happiness in love.




His life it resembles those troops stripped of their arms 
Who had been geared up for a quite different fate
To what end should they stir from their bunks at morning
They, whom one meets  at evening disarmed, uncertain
Say then these words, my love and hold back your tears
There’s no happiness in love




My fairest love, my cherished love, my deepest cut
I carry you within me just like an injured bird
And those who unknowing watch us as we pass by
Repeating after me the words that
I've woven
And which through your wide eyes died straightway on my lips
There’s no happiness in love




The time to learn to live, already, is too late
For our hearts to weep in unison in the night.
How much remorse does it take to pay for one thrill
How much sorrow does it take for the slightest song
How much weeping does it take for one tune on guitar
There’s no happiness in love





Click here to return to the full index of Brassens songs on this blog


BIOGRAPHICAL NOTES
Aragon met the Russian-born Elsa Triolet (1896-1970), his future wife, in 1928. Triolet was herself an authoress and her published work stretched from the late 1930s until the year of her death. She was Aragon's companion for forty years and greatly influenced his writing


TRANSLATION NOTES
(A few not too serious personal comments)

I am conscious of having no deep knowledge of Aragon. I was a teacher of French language and literature but my acquaintanceship with Aragon was only a passing one. Without any insight, however, I find myself wanting to play the game of asking what precise human experiences are hidden under the abstractions of the poem. Perhaps an expert on Aragon will put me right afterwards.

The first verse makes it quite clear, as Aragon himself explained, that he and Elsa were going through a bad patch. It had shaken their confidence as they had believed the love and understanding they used to share was forever.

The second verse is a single continuous image and I am hesitant about interpreting it. Something that as a man he has been prepared for, he is no longer able to do and his life is all empty frustration.

The third verse seems to be Aragon's acknowledgement of the great hurt he has caused Elsa, who is torn and wounded. The experience has convinced him that there is no such thing as happy love.

The last verse tells me in what way he hurt Elsa. I suspect that the short moments of excitement that have brought so much aggro with his wife were spent with an attractive young temptress. Aragon had quite a number of them listed in his little red book before he met Elsa. (Untypically, for a man with strong Communist principles, he had a love affair with Nancy Cunard, who was the heiress to the great international shipping company.)

His final plea is that they should get through these moments of torment side by side, blaming all the suffering on the human condition. However he reminds her that suffering is the inspiration of so much great art.

Thee photograph is of Louis Aragon.











Below is a new version of the song made by Eva Dénia and Merxe Martinez, recorded in concert on the 6th June 2016.
Before the song, Eva tells us, at some length, that she is very nervous at this, her first performance  of Brassens beautiful rendition of Aragon's poem








JUST TALKING TO MYSELF

A similar poem in English literature on the theme of melancholic pessimism about love and life would perhaps be “Dover Beach”, which Matthew Arnold wrote in about 1851. In it the poet asks his new wife to stand with him to face the insecurities and disappointments of modern life, when love is inadequate, traditional moral values are collapsing and men fight each other in a darkness of ignorance, where they do not know whom they are fighting and why.


"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold (read by Tom O'Bedlam)


I must admit that I am also adding this poem, because I admire the style of the reader and wish to keep this handy as a reminder to myself. He conveys the rhythm and the poetry but does not get in the way himself. Not an easy thing to achieve!

Dans l'eau de la claire fontaine



This is a light-hearted song about a young girl swimming naked in a country spring. "A la claire fontaine" is one of the multitude of traditional French songs that Brassens knew so well and which gave him such great pleasure. However he limits himself to the first verse:
A la claire fontaine
M'en allant promener
J'ai trouve l'eau si belle
Que je m'y suis baigne.


All the rest of the song is Brassens' gentle fantasy.


I think the delicate illustration painted by Marie-France RIVIERE perfectly conveys the idyll.









Dans l'eau de la claire fontaine (i)
Elle se baignait toute nue
Une saute de vent soudaine
Jeta ses habits dans les nues (ii)

En détresse, elle me fit signe
Pour la vêtir, d'aller chercher
Des monceaux de feuilles de vigne
Fleurs de lis ou fleurs d'oranger

Avec des pétales de roses
Un bout de corsage lui fis
La belle n'était pas bien grosse
Une seule rose a suffi

Avec le pampre de la vigne
Un bout de cotillon lui fis
Mais la belle était si petite
Qu'une seule feuille a suffi

Elle me tendit ses bras, ses lèvres
Comme pour me remercier
Je les pris avec tant de fièvre
Qu'ell' fut toute déshabillée

Le jeu dut plaire à l'ingénue
Car, à la fontaine souvent
Ell' s'alla baigner toute nue
En priant Dieu qu'il fit du vent
Qu'il fit du vent...

In the clear pool of a forest spring
She was bathing all in the nude
A sudden change of wind direction
Threw her clothes up into the sky.

In distress, she signalled to me
To fetch. in order to clothe her,
Piles of vine leaves and of flowers
Fleurs de lis or orange blossom.

With the help of petals of roses
A bit of a top I made her.
The fair maid was not very big
One single rose proved adequate.

With the help of a branch of vine
A bit of a skirt I made her
But the fair maid was so dainty
One single leaf proved adequate.

She offered me her arms, her lips
As if to show her thanks to me.
So feverishly did I accept
That she was all undressed again.

The game must’ve pleased the innocent
For she went often to the spring
And used to bathe all in the nude,
Praying God that the wind might blow
The wind might blow 







TRANSLATION NOTES

(i) Fontaine – as well as meaning fountain, it also means a water spring (The most common word to translate spring is - une source)
(ii) Les nues – means the clouds, the skies. It is more literary than “les nuages”



Click here to return to the full index of Brassens songs on this blog

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

L'orage - Brassens song with translation

A sad love song.  Brassens tells how a violent thunderstorm thrust into his arms a young wife with whom he experienced a passion that has left an indelible imprint in his heart.. .




Parlez-moi de la pluie et non pas du beau temps,
Le beau temps me dégoûte et m' fait grincer les dents,
Le bel azur me met en rage,
Car le plus grand amour qui m' fut donné sur terre
Je l' dois au mauvais temps, je l' dois à Jupiter, (1)
Il me tomba d'un ciel d'orage.

Par un soir de novembre, à cheval sur les toits,
Un vrai tonnerr' de Brest(2), avec des cris d' putois, (3)
Allumait ses feux d'artifice.
Bondissant de sa couche en costume de nuit,
Ma voisine affolée vint cogner à mon huis(4)
En réclamant mes bons offices.


« Je suis seule et j'ai peur, ouvrez-moi, par pitié,
Mon époux vient d' partir faire son dur métier,
Pauvre malheureux mercenaire(5),
Contraint d' coucher dehors quand il fait mauvais temps,
Pour la bonne raison qu'il est représentant
D'un' maison de paratonnerres. »



En bénissant le nom de Benjamin Franklin,(6)
Je l'ai mise en lieu sûr entre mes bras câlins,(7)
Et puis l'amour a fait le reste !
Toi qui sèmes des paratonnerre' à foison,
Que n'en as-tu planté sur ta propre maison ?
Erreur on ne peut plus funeste...




Quand Jupiter alla se faire entendre ailleurs,
La belle, ayant enfin conjuré sa frayeur
Et recouvré tout son courage,
Rentra dans ses foyers fair' sécher son mari
En m' donnant rendez-vous les jours d'intempérie,
Rendez-vous au prochain orage.


À partir de ce jour j' n'ai plus baissé les yeux,
J'ai consacré mon temps à contempler les cieux,
À regarder passer les nues,
À guetter les stratus, à lorgner les nimbus,
À faire les yeux doux au moindre cumulus,
Mais elle n'est pas revenue.


Son bonhomm' de mari avait tant fait d'affaires,
Tant vendu ce soir-là de petits bouts de fer,
Qu'il était dev'nu millionnaire
Et l'avait emmenée vers les cieux toujours bleus,
Des pays imbécile' où jamais il ne pleut,
Où l'on ne sait rien du tonnerre.


Dieu fass' que ma complainte aille, tambour battant, (8)
Lui parler de la pluie, lui parler du gros temps
Auxquels on a t'nu tête ensemble,
Lui conter qu'un certain coup de foudre assassin
Dans le mill' de mon coeur a laissé le dessin (9)
D'un' petit' fleur qui lui ressemble...(10)
Georges Brassens
(1960 - Le mécréant,)
Talk to me of the rain and not of fine weather,
Fine weather turns me off and sets my teeth on edge.
Splendid azure skies drive me wild,
For the greatest love which was granted me on earth
I owe to bad weather, I owe to Jupiter.
Love fell down from a stormy sky.

With a november ev’ning, straddling the rooftops
A dreadful thunderbolt, with deafening caterwauls,
Set off its firework display.
Leaping up from her bed in her night attire
The lady next door came banging on my portal
Crying for my good offices.


“I’m alone and frightened, open please, for pity’s sake
My husband has just left on the hard job he has,
How the poor man makes his money
Having to sleep outdoors when the weather is bad
For the good reason that he works as a sales rep
With a lightning conductor firm.


Blessing the renowned name of Benjamin Franklin
I put her in a safe place snuggled in my arms
And then it was love did the rest!
You who scatter conductors round in abundance
Why did you not stick one of them on your own home?
The most fatal mistake to make….


When Jupiter went to make himself heard elsewhere,
The beautiful woman, released from her fear
And with all her courage regained
Went back to her own hearth to get her husband dried.
Fixing me a date for all thundery weather
A date arranged for the next storm.

From that day on, I never more let my eyes drop
I devoted my time to observing the skies,
To watching the clouds going by,
Gazing at the stratus, peering at the nimbus
Casting fond eyes on the least bit of cumulus
But she hasn’t come back again.


Her good husband had secured so much business
Sold so many little iron parts on that night
That he’d become a millionaire
And had taken her away to skies always blue
Idiotic countries where never does it rain
Where nothing is known of thunder.


May God grant that my lament goes forth loud and clear
To speak to her of rain, to speak of foul weather
That we faced up to together
To tell her that a certain deadly thunderbolt
Hit its target in my heart leaving the trace
Of a small flower that is like her…






TRANSLATION NOTES
1.      Jupiter- The ancient God, Jupiter is often depicted holding thunderbolts in his hands.

2.      tonnerr' de Brest – this is in fact a nautical expletive e.g.-“Shiver my timbers”.  It is not an expletive here of course, but conveys an alarming clap of thunder.

3.      Putois – un putois is a pole cat. « Crier comme un putois” means to emit deafening shrieks.

4.      mon huis – « huis » is an old word for door and survives in the expression à huis clos = in camera / behind closed doors.  The word huissier is still used meaning official doorman.

5.      Mercenaire means mercenary.  Un ouvrier mercenaire is a contract worker.  I think the main idea here is of earning a living.
.
6.      Benjamin Franklin- physicist (1706 – 1790) invented the lightning conductor.

7.      Câlin means affectionate also cuddly.   Faire un câlin à qu’n means  to give somebody a cuddle.
 
8.      Tambour battant – means briskly- (Collins-Robert). In France a drum was used to draw public attention just as the town crier’s bell was in Britain. 

9.      Laissé le dessin. Thunderbolts, we are told, can leave behind a plant-like imprint on the skin.


10.   The final line of the song is reminiscent of the final verse of "Une Jolie Fleur" where he says that the girl’s betrayal had left him with a heart incapable of love for any other woman.  As a result, some commentators add l’Orage to the list of songs about his teenage mistress Jo.  However the biography of the lady in this song seems completely different.




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Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Les Copains d'Abord

Les Copains d'Abord is dedicated to the close friends who joined Brassens on boating trips off the South coast of France in a boat called “Les copains d'abord”. The song was written for a film, Les copains (1964), directed by Yves Robert. One of the striking features of Brassens’ life was the enduring friendships that he forged, evident also in his other songs.

The original video of les Copains that I posted, since deleted on U-Tube, continued with "Ballade des dames du temps jadis".  this I have now put on a separate post.  If you are looking for Brassens' song based on Villon's poem please click the new link: Ballade des dames du temps jadis2



LES COPAINS D'ABORD

LES COPAINS D'ABORD
Non ce n'était pas le Radeau
De la Méduse(1) ce bateau,
Qu'on se le dise au fond des ports
Dise au fond des ports,
Il naviguait en pèr' peinard(2)
Sur la grand-mare des canards(3)
Et s'app'lait Les Copains d'Abord
Les Copains d'Abord. (4)


Ses fluctuat nec mergitur (5)
C'était pas d'la littérature,(6)
N'en déplaise aux jeteurs de sort,(7)
Aux jeteurs de sort,
Son capitaine et ses mat'lots
N'étaient pas des enfants d'salauds,
Mais des amis franco de port, (8)
Des copains d'abord.



C'étaient pas des amis de luxe,
Des petits Castor et Pollux(9),
Des gens de Sodome et Gomorrhe(10),
Sodome et Gomorrhe,
C'étaient pas des amis choisis
Par Montaigne et La Boétie(11),
Sur le ventre ils se tapaient fort, (12)
Les copains d'abord.


C'étaient pas des anges non plus,
L'Évangile, ils l'avaient pas lu,
Mais ils s'aimaient tout's voil's dehors,(13)
Toutes voil's dehors,
Jean, Pierre, Paul(14) et compagnie,
C'était leur seule litanie
Leur credo, leur confiteor,
Aux copains d'abord.


Au moindre coup de Trafalgar(15),
C'est l'amitié qui prenait l'quart,
C'est ell' qui leur montrait le nord,
Leur montrait le nord,
Et quand ils étaient en détresse,
Qu'leurs bras lancaient des s.o.s.,
On aurait dit des sémaphores,(16)
Les copains d'abord.


Au rendez-vous des bons copains,
Y'avait pas souvent de lapins(17),
Quand l'un d'entre eux manquait à bord,
C'est qu'il était mort,
Oui, mais jamais, au grand jamais,
Son trou dans l'eau n'se refermait(18),
Cent ans après, coquin de sort! (19)
Il manquait encor.


Des bateaux j'en ai pris beaucoup,
Mais le seul qui ait tenu le coup,
Qui n'ait jamais viré de bord,(20)
-mais viré de bord,
Naviguait en père peinard
Sur la grand-mare des canards
Et s'app'lait Les Copains d'Abord
Les Copains d'Abord.


No, it was’nt the least like the raft
From the wrecked Medusa, this boat
As they might claim down in the ports
Might claim down in the ports
It sailed like a placid old man
On th’ duckpond of the open sea
And was called: “Les Copains d'Abord”
The pals first on board.


Its “Fluctuat nec mergitur”
Is no mere literary phrase
No matter what doom-mongers say
What doom-mongers say,
Its ship captain and its sailors
Were in no way sons of bitches
But they were friends welcomed by all,
The pals first on board.


They were not friends, kind of de luxe,
Little Castors and Polluxes
Men from Sodom and Gomorr’
Sodom and Gomorr’
They were not such friends as chosen
By Montaigne and La Boétie
They enjoyed much knockabout fun
The pals first on board.



They were not angels either
The Holy Word they had not read
But love was all around, sails set
Love with sails all set
John, Peter, Paul and company
It was their only litany
Their creed, their confession
To pals first on board.


At th’ faintest Trafalgar shot heard
It was friendship that took the helm
Friendship gave to them their bearings
Gave them their bearings
And whenever in such distress
That their arms launched their S.O.S
You would have thought them semaphores
The pals first on board.


When the good pals met together
Not often had some-one dropped out.
When one of them was not on board
‘Twas that he was dead
Yes, but never, never ever
Did death close its seas over him
Hundred years after, what the deuce!
He was just as missed still.


Boats, I’ve been on a lot of them
But the only one quite up to scratch
Which never lost its direction
Lost its direction
Sailed like a placid old man
On the duck pond of open sea
And was called: “Les Copains d'Abord”
The pals first on board.







TRANSLATION NOTES
1)      Some malicious observers in the harbours they passed must have suggested that the unprepossessing boat of Brassens with its motley company resembled the survivors of the wreck of the Medusa on their raft as painted by Géricault.


2)      Un père Peinard.  There are several different and sometimes conflicting notions of Père Peinard.  One that would fit here would be of an older man, relaxed about the world, who takes life as it comes.

3)      La grand-mare des canards. There are different interpetations given to this. “La mare aux canards” means duck pond, but in popular slang it is an understatement for the sea.  As I have lived in the Montpellier region, my picture is of L’étang de Thau, a big coastal salt lake.


4)      When spoken or sung this phrase sounds like “copains de bord” which means shipmates and would convey the theme of the song.  The literal meaning of “les copains d’abord” i.e. “pals come first” would also apply and there would seem to be this dual meaning to the name that Brassens chose for his boat and to the song’s title.  In the song: ”A l’ombre des maris Brassens shows that he relates the phrase “Les femmes d’abord” to the cry on a sinking ship: “Women go first!”


5)      Fluctuat nec mergitur means "She is tossed by the waves, but is not sunk". This phrase is the motto under of the city coat of arms of Paris, whose emblem is a ship floating on a rough sea

6)      C'était pas d'la littérature -  Robert tells us that « Tout cela, c’est de la littérature » means  « That is of trifling importance ».

7)      Un jeteur de sort = a wizard says Collins Robert, but the important idea here is of some-one who can predict the future - most usually forecasting doom.

8)      franco de port, is an expression which means that the cost of transport is prepaid by the sender.  Brassens is making a play on words with “port” going with boat  and perhaps “franco” referring to the adjective “franc”- straightforward and open.  Perhaps impossible to translate!

9)      Castor and Pollux in classical mythology, were twin brothers, or rather half-brothers.  Castor was the son of Leda and Tyndareus, Pollux the son of Leda and Zeus. Castor excelled as a horseman and Pollux as a boxer. They were great warriors and were noted for their devotion to each other.

10)   Sodome et Gomorrhe. Perhaps the previous reference to a famous friendship in ancient literature, where such friendships were sometimes sexually ambivalent makes it necessary for Brassens to make clear that homosexuality was not the basis of their friendship.

11)   Étienne de La Boétie (1530–1563), Wikipedia tells us he was a French judge, writer, and "a founder of modern political philosophy in France." He "has been best remembered as the great and close friend of the eminent essayist Michel de Montaigne (1533 – 1592),  , in one of history's most notable friendships. Montaigne described their friendship as a true marriage of souls and he was shattered by La Boétie’s early death.

12)   Sur le ventre ils se tapaient fort-  A French dictionary explains « se taper » as follows : taper (se) taper -  faire (se), consommer ;  se farcir, faire (avec difficulté) ; faire (une corvée), supporter ; faire (corvée) ; consommer (sexuel) ; subir qqchose, vivre qqchose ; boire.  It warns that the usage can be vulgar and gives as an example :
Hier soir au Novotel il s'est tapé une fille – Last night at the Novotel he shagged a girl

“Taper” means to beat/ to hit and Reverso dictionary concentrates on this saying: that “se taper dessus” means to knock each other about, and “se taper sur le ventre” while meaning “to thump someone in the stomach” also has an idiomatic use of “being very close”.  In the comments below, we see different ideas from French speakers.  It seems to be an expression which changes with the context and each person has a different idea of the context!

13)   tout's voil's dehors,.  This is another veiled confirmation that this group of men were not involved in homosexuality.  There is an expression ”marcher à voile et à vapeur” which means to be bi-sexual.   According to Brassens, the pals “marchent toutes voiles dehors”.



14)   Jean, Pierre, Paul. These names sound like references to the bible but refer to his close friends. Pierre, for example Pierre Onténiente was his almost lifelong friend -see “Auprès de mon arbre”

15)   Un coup de Trafalgar means a treacherously unforeseen disaster, (reflecting the French view of Nelson’s destruction of the French fleet in 1805)

16)   sémaphores – The comic image of the panicking friends as semaphores is perhaps particularly vivid to the French. France built the first comprehensive semaphore system during the 1790s for military and government communications. The network included 555 stations and stretched over 4,800 kilometres. Its stations used apparatus such as towers with pivoting blades, shutters, or paddles, or hand-held flags.  Apparently this refers to an actual event.  On one outing the boat got into difficulty and it finished up with all the company on deck, waving frantically for help. Brassens is teasing them about this indignity, which he, of course, shared.

17)   “Poser un lapin” means to fail to keep an appointment

18)   Faire un trou dans l’eau” 'Jamais son trou dans l'eau ne se refermait' means that the dead was never forgotten. It refers to a burial at sea. (Thanks to an anonymous French blogger who corrected me.)

19)   coquin de sort! – Collins-Robert tells me that this exclamation translates into English by “the devil / the deuce” – not oaths in common use.

20)   Virer de bord means to tack/ to change tack, which is necessary in the art of sailing.  As tacking involves changing direction to pick up the wind, Brassens is probably extending the term to mean going off course.  This he and his pals would never do, being constant and steadfast.





The continuing international appeal of Brassens' songs



Les Bandits, a young American jazz group, on the New York cabaret circuit, include the songs of Brassens in their repertoire. I admire the vivacity of their performance.








Ballade des dames du temps jadis

I have now made a translation of Villon's  complete poem and have put it on a separate post. To read it please click the following link: Ballade des dames du temps jadis2
In the original video that I posted of "Les Copains" Brassens went on to sing the first verse only of the song

On this new post, you will find a recording of the full song by Brassens with good visuals.

Also I have made a translation into English with my translation notes.

Also I have posted the historical background notes that I found I needed for my translation