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.




6 comments:

Geoff said...

congratulations on a valuable website!

Richard Brown said...

I first became a fan of Brassen when I was a student in Montpellier in the 50's. I always thought he was singing about the comfort he had from his old 'pipe en bois' and that he later regretted giving it up, using 'j'ai quite mon arbre' as a metaphor for giving up his pipe, and and also a metaphor for giving up simple pleasures that he had known in the past. If I am mistaken, perhaps I was misled by my regret at giving up the comfort of my own old 'pipe en bois.'

Philippe Valdois said...

Merci !
I just found your blog by chance after searching for an english translation of this song to share with an American musician friend.
Brassens and I were members of the same animal protection group in France but I had no chance to meet him.
Thank you for your great work. I hope you are enjoying your retirement.
Cordial salutations from a French man born in Paris, who studied in Southern France and have lived for decades now in Japan!

Guillaume said...

I just found your blog. Going to read it regularly. Fascinating biographical notes.

tyrotyz said...


I'm french and almsot bilingual.
And that's the best work/websiteI find in order to understand Brassens's songs. He'd have appreciated the humor of that I think.
Thanks a lot.

Anonymous said...

I'm also french. Congrats for a very nice translation. Some comments:

- "la vache enragée" means "the hard times"
- "le nez au milieu de la figure" should be translated litterally imho. The author admits not finding anything bad about his wife except having a nose. The expression is not related to "being full of reproach".
- "107 ans" is used when waiting for a lengthy process of person: "je vais pas t'attendre 107 ans !" (apparently a reference to the lengthy build-up of Notre-Dame de Paris)

Keep on the good work !
Best.