Saturday, 26 April 2008

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux Brassens Translation

Elsa, the poet's muse.

The lyrics of this 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

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux

Rien n'est jamais acquis à l'homme Ni sa force
Nothing is man’s to have and hold. Not his strength
Ni sa faiblesse ni son coeur Et quand il croit
Not his weakness and not his heart. And when he thinks
Ouvrir ses bras son ombre est celle d'une croix
To open out his arms, his shadow forms a cross
Et quand il croit serrer son bonheur il le broie
And when he thinks to grasp some joy, he crushes it.
Sa vie est un étrange et douloureux divorce
His life is a divorce, full of hurt and questioning.
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux
There’s no happiness in love

Sa vie Elle ressemble à ces soldats sans armes
His life is like that of troops not issued with arms
Qu'on avait habillés pour un autre destin
Whose uniform proclaims a different destiny
A quoi peut leur servir de se lever matin
To what avail they rise from their bunks each morning
Eux qu'on retrouve au soir désarmés incertains
They whom the evening finds disarmed and uncertain
Dites ces mots Ma vie Et retenez vos larmes
Say then these words, my love and please fight back your tears

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux
There’s no happiness in love

Mon bel amour mon cher amour ma déchirure
My fair loved one, my dear loved one, so torn by life
Je te porte dans moi comme un oiseau blessé
I bear you within me just like an injured bird.
Et ceux-là sans savoir nous regardent passer
And those who unknowing watch us as we pass by
Répétant après moi les mots que j'ai tressés
Repeating after me the words that I have woven
Et qui pour tes grands yeux tout aussitôt moururent
And which for your fair eyes died like a flash away

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux
There’s no happiness in love

Le temps d'apprendre à vivre il est déjà trop tard
The time to learn to live, already, is long gone
Que pleurent dans la nuit nos cœurs à l'unisson
Let our hearts in the night weep both in unison
Ce qu'il faut de regrets pour payer un frisson
What it takes in regrets to repay one small thrill
Ce qu'il faut de malheur pour la moindre chanson
What it takes in sorrow to pen the slightest song
Ce qu'il faut de sanglots pour un air de guitare
What it takes in sad tears for one tune on guitar

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux
There’s no happiness in love

Here is an attractive girl called Joul singing the same song.

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

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

(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 - but nothing is permanent in life! What he is going through is inexplicable, love has revealed an underside of immense suffering. Wishing only happiness with Elsa he has destroyed it. Perhaps they are at a very painful stage of break-up - divorce. Aragon is using this word in an abstract sense, talking about negative and positive aspects in every human experience, but his choice of word might suggest also a personal split.

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 image about soldiers is dignified, and my interpretation seems unworthy. However, I have a suspicion that Elsa is using the major weapon of women in a partnership and has withdrawn his conjugal rights and he wants her to know how he feels.

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.


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.

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!


Anonymous said...

Wow beautiful! I'm in french level one, just starting to learn this lovely language. But I'm always searching for french music, and that's when I came across your page. Thank you so much for the translation and explanation. Lovely poem!

True Blue Liberal said...

I was pleasantly surprised when watching Eight Women (Huit Femmes de François Ozon, 2002) on DVD this evening to see it end with Danielle Darrieux singing this beautiful song to the full cast.

It's not giving away the ending of this mystery film to say that it's the perfect end to the movie.

Anonymous said...

You can hear Nina Simone cover it on her final CD, A Single Woman, Barbara sang it too on Barbara Chante Brel et Brassens. Thanks for this Blog site as Brassens is difficult for anglophones. May you be spared by the demons of copyright complaints and protected by angels of Fair Use.

Anonymous said...

I love your translations! Thank you I can now share some of brassens with my american friends! I tried to translate some songd myself a while ago but my vocabulary wasn't rich enough for that so thank you again!

One suggestion for the translation on this one though:

Le temps d'apprendre à vivre il est déjà trop tard
The time to learn to live, already, is long gone

The meaning in french is more something like:
The time to learn to live, and already it's too late

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure when this poem was written, but I think it might have something to do with Aragon's experiences during the War and his return to 'normalcy.' How can you return to normalcy after such a tragedy as WWII, and Aragon fought in WWI, and remember how promising the interwar period seemed. Jazz, flappers, freedom, rebuilding, Germany finally conquered, etc could have been forgiven for thinking finally some happy plateau had been reached, only have to have it destroyed in an instance.
I think Aragon is juxtaposing that with how relationships can be so great and literally the next day it's over. Yet you find yourself eventually hoping and believing again, and if you do actually find a soul mate, the best outcome is you grow old and they die and then you're alone.
So truely even the greastest love is not happy.

Anonymous said...

And on a side note, the difference between the young lady and Brassens is a great example of the distinction between 'Parisian' French and French du Midi!
I think Midi sounds much better.

Poine said...

Great work. congratulations !

Nevertheless, I have a doubt about the translation :
Et qui pour tes grands yeux tout aussitôt moururent
And who in your fair eyes died like a flash away

are you sure it's the people who died ? I have the feeling it's the words.

Anonymous said...

Nothing ever belongs to man, neither his strength, nor his weakness, or his heart and when he thinks his arms opened, his shape is that of a cross... And when he believes his happiness beheld, he crushes it. His life is a strange and painful divorce...
There is no happy love...

His life, it resembles those soldiers without weapons, that were dressed for another destiny,
Why do they even get up in the morning...
Those that the evening finds unarmed and uncertain...
Tell me those words, my life, and hold back your tears,

There is no happy love...

My beautiful love, my dear love, my wound,
I carry you in me like a wounder bird,
And that unkwowingly watches us as we go by,
Repeating after me the words that I braided...
And that for your fair eyes soon expired...

There is no happy love...

The time to learn to live. it's already too late,
How they cry in the night, our united hearts...

How many regrets to pay off a shiver
How much unhappiness for the slightest of songs
How many sobs it needs that tune on a guitar...

There is no happy love...

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Gerard Dupin said...

Alternate Translation

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

Nothing is man’s forever, neither his strength
Nor his weakness, nor his heart, and when he thinks
He’s stretching out his arms his shadow forms a cross
When he wants to protect his happiness, he crushes it
His life is a strange and painful divorce
There are no happy endings

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

His life resembles that of weaponless soldiers
Trained for another war
What’s the point of reveille
For those idling their evening, disarmed and uncertain
Say these words my treasure and hold back your tears
There are no happy endings

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, ces mots que j'ai tressés
Et qui pour tes grands yeux, tout aussitôt moururent
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux

My sweet love. my dear love, my wound
I carry you in me like a wounded bird
And those who, unknowing, see us pass by
Repeat after me those words I crafted
That immediately vanished into your wide eyes
There are no happy endings

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

By the time we've learned how to live, it’s already too late
Let our hearts together sob throughout the night
How many regrets does it take to atone for a thrill
How much pain does it take to write a song
How many sobs does it take to write a melody
There are no happy endings

Gerard Dupin said...

By the time you've learned how to live, it's already too late.

About Me

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Notes on the classics of French literature. During my years of teaching, I wrote thousands of pages for my students. Preferring not to discard all these years of work, I am posting them on the Internet as a resource for teachers and students and I am using my blogsite as the portal in order to give access to the individual books. During my university course, I was an Assistant for one year in Arras and my nostalgia for Georges Brassens stems from these happy days- now long gone- when his songs were first being recorded and he was all the rage among the student surveillants. When I opened this Blogsite many years ago, I used David Barfield, my maternal family name, as my Internet alias. My actual name is David Yendley and if any of my past students come across this site, I send them my best wishes. They were great company to be with.