Tuesday, 28 April 2009

La mauvaise herbe - The famous song where he portrays himself as the social outcast

This is another of Brassens' songs that was banned on French radio.  It is not hard to imagine why.

In this song, Brassens asks people to allow some space and tolerance to individualists, like him, who cannot accept the conventional values of society. He feels indifferent to patriotism and has no respect for conventional sexual morality.  He has a natural affinity with those whose life-style gets them looked down upon as outsiders.



La mauvaise herbe – The worthless weed (1)



Quand l' jour de gloire est arrivé, (2)
Comm' tous les autr's étaient crevés,
Moi seul connus le déshonneur
De n' pas êtr' mort au champ d'honneur.


Je suis d'la mauvaise herbe,
Braves gens, braves gens,
C'est pas moi qu'on rumine
Et c'est pas moi qu'on met en gerbe...(3)



La mort faucha les autres
Braves gens, braves gens,
Et me fit grâce à moi,
C'est immoral et c'est comm' ça !
La la la la la la la la


Et je m' demand'
Pourquoi, Bon Dieu,
Ça vous dérange (5)
Que j' vive un peu...
Et je m' demand'
Pourquoi, Bon Dieu,
Ça vous dérange
Que j' vive un peu...



La fille à tout l'monde(6) a bon coeur,
Ell' me donne, au petit bonheur
Les p'tits bouts d' sa peau, bien cachés,
Que les autres n'ont pas touchés.


Je suis d'la mauvaise herbe,
Braves gens, braves gens,
C'est pas moi qu'on rumine
Et c'est pas moi qu'on met en gerbe...


Elle se vend aux autres,
Braves gens, braves gens,
Elle se donne à moi,
C'est immoral et c'est comme ça !
La la la la la la la la


Et je m' demand'
Pourquoi, Bon Dieu,
Ça vous dérange
Qu'on m'aime un peu.
Et je m' demand'
Pourquoi, Bon Dieu,
Ça vous dérange
Qu'on m'aime un peu..




Les hommes sont faits, nous dit-on,
Pour vivre en band', comm' les moutons.
Moi, j' vis seul, et c'est pas demain
Que je suivrai leur droit chemin.




Je suis d'la mauvaise herbe,
Braves gens, braves gens,
C'est pas moi qu'on rumine
Et c'est pas moi qu'on met en gerbe...


Je suis d' la mauvaise herbe,
Braves gens, braves gens,
Je pousse en liberté
Dans les jardins mal fréquentés !
La la la la la la la la


Et je m' demand'
Pourquoi, Bon Dieu,
Ça vous dérange
Que j' vive un peu...
Et je m' demand'
Pourquoi, Bon Dieu,
Ça vous dérange
Que j' vive un peu...



Georges Brassens from the album
(1954) - Les amoureux des bancs publics


When th’ day of glory came to pass
As all the rest were dead and gone
I alone knew the dishonour
Of not dying on field of battle.


I'm a mere worthless weed
Goodly folk, goodly folk,
It’s not I, gets chewed t’cud
And I'm not what gets put in sheaves.



Death mowed down the others
Goodly folk, goodly folk,

And me it left unharmed,
It’s immoral - it's how things go!
La la la la la la la la.


And I wonder
Why then, Good Lord,
It  upsets you
That I live a bit
And I wonder
Why, Good Lord,
It  upsets you
That I live a bit




The girl enjoyed by all all is kind,
She offers me, when I’m in luck,
Little bits of skin well hidden
That the other men have not touched.


I'm a mere worthless weed

Goodly folk, goodly folk,
It’s not I, gets chewed t’cud
And I'm not what gets put in sheaves.


She charges other men,
Goodly folk, goodly folk,

For what she gives to me.
It’s immoral , that’s how things go!
La la la la la la la la


And I wonder
Why then, Good Lord,
It  upsets you
I get loved a bit
And I wonder
Why, Good Lord,
It  upsets you
I get loved a bit




All men are made, they tell us,
To live in flocks, the way sheep do,
I live alone and it's not soon,
That I'll be foll’wing their strait path.





I'm a mere worthless weed

Goodly folk, goodly folk,
It’s not I, gets chewed t’cud
And I'm not what gets put in sheaves.



I'm a mere worthless weed

Goodly folk, goodly folk,
I grow entirely free
In gardens where few folk venture!
La la la la la la la la


And I wonder
Why then, Good Lord,
It  upsets you
That I live a bit
And I wonder
Why, Good Lord,
It  upsets you
That I live a bit



Translation Notes

(1) “La mauvaise herbe” means “the weed”, but I put “worthless” in front because of image conveyed in English when the epithet is applied to a person - we think of some-one weak and ineffectual. This is not appropriate for the powerful physical presence and personality of Brassens. In reality, weeds are often the biggest and sturdiest plants in our gardens and I suppose that some-one described as a weed ought to feel quite flattered.

(2) “Le jour de gloire est arrive” – a well-known line in the French National Anthem-

(3) The “Good people” are not weeds like the author of the poem. The contrasting image for these worthy folk is the corn of the fields. They have a useful purpose in the world, just as the corn feeds the cattle and yields a fruitful harvest, evidenced by the sheaves in the fields.

(4) « Faire grâce à » means « to spare ».

(5) “Ça vous derange” – The “you” he is addressing is not primarily God but all the worthy people who might disapprove of him and his conduct- in which case “Good God” would seem to be more of an exclamation.



(6) The girl who sells herself to everyone has put herself outside the bounds of respectable society. She recognises that he is a fellow outsider. In their natural fellowship, the poet and the prostitute enjoy an uninhibited and sincere relationship.


Brassens had depicted himself as an outsider in his song collection of the previous year with his song; "La mauvaise reputation".


Please clickhere to return to the full alphabetical list of my Georges Brassens selection

Monday, 16 March 2009

Mourir pour des idées- a deeply felt song where he pleads for tolerance and restraint

Mourir pour des idées

A heartfelt poem against those who propagate suicidal ideals.

Brassens tells us that after the hostile response he has had after writing two recent songs (“Les deux oncles” and “La tondue”) he has decided to change his standpoint and accept that it’s a good idea to die for an ideology, his only proviso being that death should be a lifetime in coming. The song goes on to justify this delay.



Mourir pour des idées
Mourir pour des idées, l'idée est excellente.
Moi j'ai failli mourir de ne l'avoir pas eue,(1)
Car tous ceux qui l'avaient, multitude accablante,
En hurlant à la mort me sont tombés dessus.

Ils ont su me convaincre et ma muse insolente,

Abjurant ses erreurs, se rallie à leur foi
Avec un soupçon de réserve toutefois :
Mourons pour des idées, d'accord, mais de mort lente,
D'accord, mais de mort lente.


Jugeant qu'il n'y a pas péril en la demeure(2),

Allons vers l'autre monde en flânant en chemin
Car, à forcer l'allure, il arrive qu'on meure

Pour des idées n'ayant plus cours le lendemain.
Or, s'il est une chose amère, désolante,

En rendant l'âme à Dieu c'est bien de constater
Qu'on a fait fausse route, qu'on s'est trompé d'idée,
Mourons pour des idées, d'accord, mais de mort lente,
D'accord, mais de mort lente.


Les Saint Jean Bouche d'Or qui prêchent le martyre,
Le plus souvent, d'ailleurs, s'attardent ici-bas.

Mourir pour des idées, c'est le cas de le dire,
C'est leur raison de vivre, ils ne s'en privent pas.
Dans presque tous les camps on en voit qui supplantent
Bientôt Mathusalem dans la longévité.
J'en conclus qu'ils doivent se dire, en aparté (2)
"Mourons pour des idées, d'accord, mais de mort lente,
D'accord, mais de mort lente.


Des idées réclamant le fameux sacrifice,
Les sectes de tout poil en offrent des séquelles,(3)
Et la question se pose aux victimes novices (4)
Mourir pour des idées, c'est bien beau mais lesquelles ?
Et comme toutes sont entre elles ressemblantes,
Quand il les voit venir, avec leur gros drapeau,
Le sage, en hésitant, tourne autour du tombeau. (5)
Mourons pour des idées, d'accord, mais de mort lente,
D'accord, mais de mort lente.


Encor s'il suffisait de quelques hécatombes (6)
Pour qu'enfin tout changeât, qu'enfin tout s'arrangeât !
Depuis tant de grands soirs que tant de têtes tombent, (7)
Au paradis sur terre on y serait déjà
Mais l'âge d'or sans cesse est remis aux calendes,
Les dieux ont toujours soif, (8)n'en ont jamais assez,
Et c'est la mort, la mort toujours recommencée...
Mourons pour des idées, d'accord, mais de mort lente,
D'accord, mais de mort lente.


Ô vous, les boutefeux, ô vous les bons apôtres,
Mourez donc les premiers, nous vous cédons le pas.
Mais de grâce, morbleu ! laissez vivre les autres,
 La vie est à peu près leur seul luxe ici-bas ;
Car, enfin, la Camarde est assez vigilante,

Elle n'a pas besoin qu'on lui tienne la faux.

Plus de danse macabre autour des échafauds !

Mourons pour des idées, d'accord, mais de mort lente,
D'accord, mais de mort lente.

1972 – Fernande.

To die for your ideas. The idea is excellent
But I came close to dying for not having one,
For all those who had it, an overwhelming mass,
While howling for my blood came at me with full force.
They managed to convince me, and my insolent muse
Recanting her mistakes, rallies to their belief
With one tiny proviso all the same
Let us die for ideas, fine! but let death come slow
Fine! But, let death come slow.


Judging that there’s is no great risk in hanging on
Let us go to the other world taking our time
Because, forcing the pace, chance is that you might die
For ideas, no longer current on the morrow.
Now if there is a thing, bitter, and heart-breaking
On rendering one’s soul to God, it’s to find out
That you went wrong and latched onto the wrong idea.
Let us die for ideas, fine! but let death come slow
Fine! But, let death come slow.


The Saint John Chrysotoms (3) who preach for martyrdoms
Most often, besides, dawdle down here on earth.
To die for  ideas, we are quite right to say so
Is their reason for living, they won’t do without.
In almost all the groups, you see some  supplanting
Soon Methuselah’s record for longevity.
I conclude that they must whisper to each other:
Let us die for ideas, fine! but let death come slow
Fine!! But, let death come slow.


Ideas demanding the supreme sacrifice
Sects of every ilk offer followers of these

And the question is asked of the novice victims:
To die for ideas, is very nice - but which?
And as they are all alike, one with the other
When he sees them coming, with their great big standard
The wise man, hesitating, gives the tomb more time.
Let us die for ideas, fine! but let death come slow
Fine! But, let death come slow


Again, if it took only a few mass slaughters
For all at last to change, all at last be put right

Since so many grand nights when so many heads fell
In our heaven on earth we’d be already there
But the golden age is postponed constantly
The gods are still athirst, have never had enough

And it is death, death, over and over again

Let us die for ideas, fine! but let death come slow
Fine! But, let death come slow


Oh you firebrands, oh you the good apostles,
Be the first to die then, we stand aside for you.

But for mercy’s sake, heavens! allow the rest to live.
Life is nearly their sole luxury down here
For in truth, the grim reaper keeps close enough watch enough
She does not need people to hold for her the scythe
No more dance macabre around the grim scaffolds
Let us die for ideas, fine! but let death come slow
Fine! But, let death come slow




(1)     When Brassens says he almost died for not having ideas, he is referring to the violent reception he was given after writing his song "Les Deux Oncles", in which he asked for equal sympathy for one of his uncles who died fighting for the Allied cause and a second who died fighting for the Fascist cause. The ideas that he expressed towards the war caused great anger in the majority of the population.

(2)     la demeure –the general meaning is “dwelling”, but it has a secondary meaning of a legal delay or stay.  Il n'y a pas péril en la demeure is an idiom  meaning  « One is not taking any risk by waiting »

(3)     Saint John Chrysotom the 14th century bishop was known as the “Golden Mouth” on account of the power of his oratory.

(4)     En aparté : When something is said as an aside on the stage, so that, in theory, the audience can hear but the characters in the play cannot.

(5)     Les séquelles usually means consequences, things that follow. Brassens is using its archaic meaning of “followers”. 

(6)     Brassens’ little joke. Martyrdom is something you can’t build up experience in. All martyrs are novices. 

(7)     tourne autour du tombeau. There are two ideas in this line. Collins Robert tells us that “Un individu tourne autour de la maison depuis une heure” means some-one has been hanging around outside the house for an hour. The phrase could also link with the expression: “tourner autour du pot” = take your time about what you are going to do. 

(8)     Hécatombes- A hecatomb was originally a sacrifice to the ancient Greek and Roman gods of 100 oxen or cattle. Brassens uses it in its modern meaning of a mass slaughter. 

(9)     Brassens is talking about the frenzied slaughter of the French Revolution. The alliteration of the “t” in this line is the drumbeat as heads fall. 

(10)  « Les dieux ont soif » is Anatole France’s brilliant novel about the period of the Terror. I have a summary of the book on my literature website. 
To read the summary -it's long!- - click here



A Footnote

Arthur Koestler made this comment about ideologies:

..... the crimes of violence committed for selfish, personal motives are historically insignificant compared to those committed ad majorem gloriam Dei, out of a self-sacrificing devotion to the flag, a leader, a religious faith or political conviction.

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

La Tondue - His disgust at the reprisals after the Liberation of France




After the liberation of France from the Germans, there was a period when groups of people in France took the law into their own hands and settled scores against those who were accused of collaboration. In some cases people were arbitrarily condemned and then lined up against the wall and shot.
 Among the victims of these reprisals were women who had fraternised with the Germans. Some of these, we are told, were prostitutes who had worked in military brothels -as if this would excuse this public cruelty!- many were just ordinary girls who had fallen for the charms of young men of another nationality. The punishment for these women is described by Brassens.

In this song Brassens expresses his shock at the cruelty of which groups of people are capable in the grip of a strong. self-righteous, idea.





La tondue -The girl with the shaven head

La belle qui couchait avec le roi de Prusse,(1)
Avec le roi de Prusse,
À qui l'on a tondu le crâne rasibus,

Le crâne rasibus,


Son penchant prononcé pour les "ich liebe dich ", (2)
Pour les "ich liebe dich ",
Lui valut de porter quelques cheveux postiches, 
Quelques cheveux postiches.


Les braves sans-culottes, et les bonnets phrygiens, (3)
Et les bonnets phrygiens,
Ont livré sa crinière à un tondeur de chiens,
À un tondeur de chiens.



J'aurais dû prendre un peu parti pour sa toison,
Parti pour sa toison,
J'aurais dû dire un mot pour sauver son chignon,
Pour sauver son chignon,


Mais je n'ai pas bougé du fond de ma torpeur,
Du fond de ma torpeur.
Les coupeurs de cheveux en quatre (4) m'ont fait peur,
En quatre m'ont fait peur.


Quand, pire qu'une brosse, elle eut été tondue,
Elle eut été tondue,
J'ai dit : " C'est malheureux, ces accroch'-cœur(5) perdus,
Ces accroch'-coeur perdus. "
Et, ramassant l'un d'eux qui traînait dans l'ornière,
Qui traînait dans l'ornière,
Je l'ai, comme une fleur, mis à ma boutonnière,
Mis à ma boutonnière.



En me voyant partir arborant mon toupet,
Arborant mon toupet (6)
Tous ces coupeurs de natt's m'ont pris pour un suspect,
M'ont pris pour un suspect.


Comme de la patrie je ne mérite guère,
Je ne mérite guère
J'ai pas la Croix d'Honneur, j'ai pas la Croix de Guerre,
J'ai pas la Croix de Guerre,
Et je n'en souffre pas avec trop de rigueur,
Avec trop de rigueur.


J'ai ma rosette (7) à moi : c'est un accroche-coeur,
C'est un accroche-coeur.


Georges Brassens

1964 – from the album: Les copains d'abord.
The pretty girl who'd slept with the king of Prussia
With the king of Prussia
Whose skull the people shaved as bald as a coot
Skull bald as a coot


Her marked preference for repeats of "ich liebe dich "
Repeat "ich liebe dich ",
Meant her wearing different mops of hair, not her own
Mops of hair not her own.


The brave sans-culottes and the bonnets phrygiens
And the bonnets phrygiens
Handed her flowing locks to a man who sheared dogs
To a man who sheared dogs.



I ought ‘have sided a bit for her gorgeous mane
Have sided for her mane ,.
I ought ‘have said a word to save her tight curls
To save her tight curls.


But I just did not budge from out of my torpor
From out  of my torpor
The extremist hair cutters put the wind up me
They put the wind up me..


When worse than down to a crew-cut, she’d been  shaven
She had been shaven
I said “It's a shame, those kiss curls to go to waste
Kiss curls to go to waste “
And picking one up, left behind in the tyre ruts
One left in the tyre ruts,
I placed it like a flower, in my buttonhole
Placed in my buttonhole



On seeing me leave, displaying my trophy
Displaying my trophy,
All those cutters of  plaits, eyed me with suspicion
Eyed me with suspicion.


As of my country I’m hardly deserving
I’m hardly deserving
I've no Medal of Honour, I've no Medal of War
I've no Medal of War
And I’m not troubled about that overmuch
Not troubled overmuch


I have a rosette of my own :  it's a girl’s kiss curl

It's a girl’s kiss curl.





TRANSLATION NOTES


(1) Le roi de Prusse. Brassens just means a German soldier, not necessarily a man of rank.   A number of explanations have been given for this device. My own feeling is that it conveys the romantic view of the French girl in love of her German lover.

(2) "ich liebe dich ". This phrase, of course, says « Je’t’aime in German.

(3) Les braves sans-culottes, et les bonnets phrygiens.
In this line Brassens identifies the masses of ordinary people who joined in the violent reprisals against alleged collaborators with the “sans-culottes” of the Revolution of 1789. They were then given this name because they didn't wear upper class breeches or “culottes”. The Phrygian bonnet was a symbol adopted by the 18th Century Revolution because it was worn at the time of the Roman Empire by former slaves who had been freed. Brassens aroused the anger of left wing activists by his depiction of them in this song.

(4) Les coupeurs de cheveux en quatre. « En quatre » is used in a number of expressions to mean to the highest degree (for example “se mettre en quatre pour quelq’un” = to do your utmost for some-one. If Brassens was indeed threatened in 1945, he would not have been the first choice for bullies to pick on. For a time, Brassens was employed as a bodyguard for Jean-Paul Sartre.

(5) Soft kiss curls. I put in the adjective to give me a 3 syllable translation.

(6) Toupet has 2 meanings (a) tuft of hair (b) impudence. His gesture with the locket of hair was recognised by these administrators of rough justice as an act of defiance.


(7) A Rosette is an insignia of honour in the military and in the Légion d’honneur.




The job completed, the girl is led through the streets with her Franco-German baby.




























FOOTNOTE

Arthur Koestler has said:
..... the evils of mankind are caused, not by the primary aggressiveness of individuals, but by their self-transcending identification with groups whose common denominator is low intelligence and high emotionality.


Tuesday, 20 January 2009

La chasse aux papillons

La chasse aux papillons

Brassens is usually pessimistic about the permanence of human love but in this merry, bawdy song he suggests that extreme sexual passion is able to weld a couple together, fate willing, in a happy, lasting union.




Un bon petit diable à la fleur de l'âge,
La jambe légère et l'oeil polisson,
Et la bouche plein' de joyeux ramages,
Allait à la chasse aux papillons.
Comme il atteignait l'orée du village,
Filant sa quenouille,(1) il vit Cendrillon,(2)
Il lui dit : « Bonjour, que Dieu te ménage,
J' t'emmène à la chasse aux papillons.»





Cendrillon, ravie de quitter sa cage(3)
Met sa robe neuve et ses botillons ;
Et bras d'ssus bras d'ssous vers les frais bocages
Ils vont à la chasse aux papillons.
Ils ne savaient pas que sous les ombrages,
Se cachait l'amour et son aiguillon,(4)
Et qu'il transperçait les coeurs de leur âge,
Les coeurs des chasseurs de papillons.






Quand il se fit tendre, ell' lui dit : « J' présage
Qu' c'est pas dans les plis de mon cotillon,
Ni dans l'échancrure de mon corsage,
Qu'on va-t-à la chasse aux papillons. »
Sur sa bouche en feu qui criait : « Sois sage ! »
Il posa sa bouche en guis' de bâillon,
Et c' fut l' plus charmant des remue-ménage
Qu'on ait vus d' mémoire de papillon.(5)




Un volcan dans l'âme, i' r'vinr'nt au village,
En se promettant d'aller des millions,
Des milliards de fois, et mêm' davantage,
Ensemble à la chasse aux papillons.
Mais tant qu'ils s'aim'ront, tant que les nuages
Porteurs de chagrins les épargneront,
Il' f'ra bon voler dans les frais bocages,
I' f'ront pas la chasse aux papillons..



 Georges Brassens
(1953 - La mauvaise réputation)

A right little devil in the prime of his life
Nimble of limb and mischief in his eye
And mouth replete with the merriest of banter
Was off on the chase of the butterflies.
As he was approaching the edge of the village
Threading her distaff, he saw Cind’rella
He said to her « Good day, may the Good Lord keep thee.
I’m taking thee to chase the butterflies"


Cind’rella, delighted to escape her cage
Puts on her new dress and her new bootees
And arms linked together, to the cool, leafy groves,
They go off on the chase of butterflies.
They did know that under the thick foliage
Cupid was hiding with his goading spear
And that he was wont to target hearts when young like theirs
The hearts of the hunters of butterflies.


When he grew romantic, she said to him: « I sense
It’s not in the folds of my petticoat,
Neither down the front of the bodice of my dress,
That you go on the hunt for butterflies »
Upon her mouth on fire which cried out « Behave now !»
He placed his mouth to gag her further words
And it turned into the most charming of frolics
Seen in the memory of butterfly.




Volcanos in their hearts they made their way back home
Pledging to each other to go, millions,
Nay, billions of times and even more than that,
Off together in chase of butterflies
While they love each other, as long as the dark clouds
Bearers of life’s woes show mercy on them
It will be nice to fly to cool and leafy groves.
They won’t be chasing any butterflies…. 

TRANSLATION NOTES

1)      sa quenouille  - Her distaff, which is a tool used in spinning. It is designed to hold the unspun fibres, keeping them untangled (Wikipedia).

2)      Cendrillon is Cinderella.  Stories of a girl that goes from rags to riches date back to antiquity.  The great French writer, Charles Perrault (1628- 1703), who transcribed traditional tales wrote the story:  Cendrillon ou la Petite Pantoufle de verre . (Below) Cinderella runs from the ball at midnight.  An illustration from the French story drawn  by Elena Ringo


3)      Sa cage –No doubt a reference to her virtual imprisonment by the ugly sisters.

4)      Un aiguillon is a goad, which is a metal point on a long pole used to prick cattle to encourage them to move in the direction required. Cupid’s usual weapon would be an arrow or a dart. “ Cupid’s darts” translates into French: les flèches de Cupidon. On this occasion Cupid seems to be using an extreme weapon to exert extra stimulus to the lovers.


5)      “In the memory of man/ In living memory” translates “De mémoire d’homme” hence this little joke, the butterflies being the only spectators.