Thursday 7 February 2008

Il suffit de passer le pont - A personal favourite of Brassens, this song tells of a boy and girl making love for the first time

This song meant a lot to Brassens.  It was the one song that he included in every performance he gave.    It conveys the novelty and the excitement but also the anxiety and the pain of their furtive experiment.  The memories of these first loves were very precious to Brassens and he writes about them in numerous other songs.

Il suffit de passer le pont(1)
C'est tout de suite l'aventure(2)
Laisse-moi tenir ton jupon
J't'emmèn' visiter la nature (2)
L'herbe est douce à Pâques fleuries (3)
Jetons mes sabots, tes galoches (4)
Et, légers comme des cabris
Courons après les sons de cloches
Ding din don ! les matines sonnent (5)
En l'honneur de notre bonheur
Ding din dong !(6) faut l'dire à personne
J'ai graissé la patte au sonneur

Laisse-moi tenir ton jupon
Courons, guilleret, guillerette (7)
Il suffit de passer le pont
Et c'est le royaum' des fleurettes(8)
Entre tout's les bell's que voici
Je devin' cell' que tu préfères
C'est pas l'coqu'licot (8), Dieu merci
Ni l'coucou (8), mais la primevère (8)
J'en vois un' blottie sous les feuilles
Elle est en velours comm' tes joues (9)
Fais le guet pendant qu'je la cueille (10)
" Je n'ai jamais aimé que vous "(11)

Il suffit de trois petits bonds
C'est tout de suit' la tarantelle (10)
Laisse-moi tenir ton jupon
J'saurai ménager tes dentelles (11)
J'ai graissé la patte au berger
Pour lui fair' jouer une aubade (12)
Lors, ma mie, sans croire au danger
Faisons mille et une gambades
Ton pied frappe et frappe la mousse
Si l'chardon s'y pique dedans
Ne pleure pas, ma mie qui souffre (13)
Je te l'enlève avec les dents

On n'a plus rien à se cacher
On peut s'aimer comm' bon nous semble
Et tant mieux si c'est un péché (14)
Nous irons en enfer ensemble
Il suffit de passer le pont
Laisse-moi tenir ton jupon

Georges Brassens 1953
All it takes is to cross the bridge
It’s straightaway a love affair
Just let me take hold of your skirt
I’m taking you to view nature
The grass is soft at Easter in bloom
Off with my clogs, your galoshes
And light of foot as baby goats
Let’s run after the sounds of bells
Ding, ding dong ! the morning bells ring
To honour the joy that we feel
Ding, ding dong ! Must not tell a soul
I have greased the bell ringer’s palm.

Just let me take hold of your skirt
Let’s run, lad, lass without a care.
All it takes is t'cross the bridge
And it’s the kingdom of spring flowers
Among all the pretty ones here
I guess the one that you prefer
It’s not the red poppy, thank God
Nor cowslip, but the spring primrose
I see one snug beneath the leaves
It is velvety like your cheeks
Keep a close watch whilst I pluck it
I’ve never loved any’one but you.

All it takes is three little jumps
It’s straight off the wild Tarantell'
Just let me take hold of your skirt
I’ll treat your lace with tender care
I have greased the shepherd boy’s palm
To get him to play a serenade
So, my love, with no thought of risk
Let’s romp a thousand and one times
Your foot keeps pummelling the moss
If a thistle barb gets lodged with
Don’t weep with the pain my love,
I’ll pull it out f'you with my teeth.

We’ve naught more to hide from  each other
We can share love just as we think fit
All the better, if it’s a sin
We’ll go down to Hell together
All it takes is t'cross the bridge
Just let me take hold of your skirt


1)      Il suffit de passer le pont. There could have been a bridge over a river or stream for the two young lovers to cross, but the phrase has the same figurative meaning as in English of negotiating an important juncture in life eg “We will cross that bridge when we come to it”. With the theme of the poem in mind there is a further suggestion concerning a part of the anatomy that forms a bridge. Similarly “jupon” means underskirt but could have an anatomical interpretation.

2)      l'aventure means the adventure but « une aventure amoureuse » means a love affair.  Une aventure d’un soir is what we call in English slang a one-night stand.

3)      Visiter la nature –On one plane the boy is inviting his girlfriend to admire the sights of nature on their country walk but the subtext is that he is to show her the roles that nature requires a male and a female to play.

4)      Pâques fleuries The easter flowers are a metaphor in this poem and other Brassens’ poems for the arrival of maturity. See note 7.

5)      Mes sabots- the wearing of clogs puts this tale in the 1940s. In my working class primary school in England at the same period some of my fellow pupils wore clogs. The clogs of the girl were more ladylike. She wore “galoches” called by the same name in English “ galoshes” – which are waterproof boots worn over shoes.

6)      Ding din don ! les matines sonnent. Reference to the children’s song « Frère Jacques ». The poem is about the entry into the adult world. Perhaps this is a glance back to the world of childhood.

7)      Guilleret, means perky, cheerful and lively – the Collins dictionary says that « être guilleret » means to be full of beans.

8)      c'est le royaum' des fleurettes- coqu'licot - coucou  - primevère. Once again the young flowers symbolise the arrival of maturity. Each of the flowers quoted is symbolic. La primevère, tells us in its French name that it is the early flower. It is the flower of first love. Larousse tells me that a “coucou” is another primrose that supposedly has medicinal qualities. The line about le coquelicot would not make sense if it was not explained that "les coquelicots" means menstruation.

9)      Elle est en velours comm' tes joues- another intimate anatomical image.

10)   Pendant qu'je la cueille  –Cueillir la fleur has also a second meaning, which is the theme of this poem.

11)   Je n'ai jamais aimé que vous – It is the first time for the boy as well as for the girl.

12)   La tarantelle –A very lively and energetic dance from Southern Italy.

13)   Dentelles – Lace, which Larousse defines as something very transparent and light – another suggestive image in the loss of virginity
14)   Pour lui fair' jouer une aubade. An aubade was a serenade traditionally sung under some-one’s window in the morning. This links with the boy’s request to the girl to keep careful watch so that they are not caught in the act of love. He had paid the shepherd to sing his tune if some-one was coming near.

15)   Ne pleure pas, ma mie qui souffre –A moment of pain and a link to what was said in the image of note 11.

16)   C'est un péché – Sex outside marriage is a mortal sin for which the Roman Catholic church tells its faithful that they will suffer the punishment of eternal damnation in the fires of Hell. Brassens was not of the faithful and had no such worries but his partner may not have been encouraged by the remark.

Some personal thoughts

I have always found this a very happy song with a good tune. It appeared at a time when I was a student, serving one year as an assistant in a French school. I used to enjoy singing it using as many words as I bothered to learn. To me it was the story of two French teenagers going into the country to make love amid the Spring flowers and to get there they had first to cross a bridge.

This is indeed the theme but as I deal with it as a translator, I see it as a more serious poem. It is the story of a boy persuading his girlfriend to yield to him, making love for the first time. Their experience is described graphically in the imagery. I find as translator that the song loses its poetry if each image is analysed too explicitly into the physical. I feel that my translation should leave the imagery on the level of suggestion alone. I shall therefore point out the sexual connotations but avoid going into detail.

The memories of his first loves were very precious to Brassens and recur in many songs. Another is "La premiere fille" . In this song , Brassens says the last girl a man forgets is the first girl he made love to. This may be true but most husbands have to be careful not to agree too openly, when they didn't happen to marry their first love.


Anonymous said...

Great blog! (Please correct the link in the last paragraph, that points to "La chasse aux papillons" and not "La première fille")

Anonymous said...

Honi soit qui mal y pense

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Anonymous said...

Hello ! Nice work indeed !
Let me give you another key for this song : there are many allusions to "pastorales" and "bergeries" or "pastourelles" (this is a huge tradition in French literature since the MA that inspired a lot of songs : "il pleut il pleut bergère" etc) here. As in bucolic Latin literature (where it comes from), it combines grace and youthful naivety with something more realistic and raw.

The universe described, the actions, feelings, the tone, the language (vocabulary, syntax) — everything refers to it.

Actually, "sabots, galoches" and "jupons" evoke this ideal and conventional universe more than reality for an educated Frenchman of the 20th century, although we can still wear it in some places around the 1940s. Same thing for the "berger" and his "aubade", "tarentelle" etc. Many linguistic or stylistic elements strongly evoke medieval or "archaic-like" literature ("guilleret, guillerette" , "je n'ai jamais aimé que vous" and its odd passage to the vouvoiement which makes one think of a quote, "lors, ma mie...", "Ton pied frappe et frappe la mousse" that sounds like a Ronsard's ode etc).