Sunday, 6 July 2008


Brassens said this song, which he acknowledged as written for his partner Joha, was one of his favourites. It deals with a major theme of classical poetry: that “youth is a thing that cannot last” but while accepting this, Brassens believes that the joys of youth need not end so prematurely. He celebrates instead the charms of the mature woman and the comforts of love that can be enjoyed in the Indian Summer of life. When he wrote this poem, Brassens was about 42 years old and his Puppchen had turned fifty.

Il est morne, il est taciturne,
Il préside aux choses du temps
Il porte un joli nom "Saturne"(1)
Mais c'est un dieu fort inquiétant.
Il porte un joli nom "Saturne"
Mais c'est un dieu fort inquiétant.

En allant son chemin morose,
Pour se désennuyer un peu,
Il joue à bousculer les roses, (2)
Le temps tue le temps comme il peut.(1)
Il joue à bousculer les roses,
Le temps tue le temps comme il peut.

Cette saison, c'est toi ma belle,
Qui as fait les frais de son jeu
Toi qui as payé la gabelle,(3)
Un grain de sel dans tes cheveux.
Toi qui a payé la gabelle,
Un grain de sel dans tes cheveux.

C'est pas vilain les fleurs d'automne,
Et tous les poètes l'ont dit
Je te regarde et je te donne
Mon billet (4) qu’ils n'ont pas menti.
Je te regarde et je te donne
Mon billet qu'ils n'ont pas menti.

Viens encore, viens ma favorite(5),
Descendons ensemble au jardin
Viens effeuiller la marguerite (6)
De l'été de la Saint Martin.(7)
Viens effeuiller la marguerite
De l'été de la Saint Martin.

Je sais par coeur toutes tes grâces
Et, pour me les faire oublier,
Il faudra que Saturne en fasse
Des tours d'horloge et de sablier !(8)
Et la petite pisseuse d'en face (9)
Peut bien aller se rhabiller.(10)
He is dour, he is taciturn,
He rules over matters of time
He bears a pretty name « Saturn »
But he is a most disquieting god,
He bears a pretty name « Saturn »
But he is a most disquieting god.

Pursuing his gloom laden path,
To relieve his boredom a bit,
He plays at knocking down roses.
Time kills time as he is able.
He plays at knocking down roses,
Time kills time as he is able.

At this time, tis you, my fair one
Who have borne the brunt of his sport
You who paid his penalty with
A fleck of silver in your hair.
You who paid his penalty with
A fleck of silver in your hair.

 Autumn flowers lack not beauty
And poets’ve all said the same
I look at you and stake my word
That they were not telling a lie
I look at you and stake my word
That they were not telling a lie.

Come once more, my favourite (5) lets
Go down to the garden together
Come count off our love with petals
Of chrysanths, this Indian Summer.
Come count off our love with petals
Of chrysanths this Indian summer.

I know by heart all your graces
And to force me to forget them
Saturn would need to make endless
Turns of the clock and the hourglass
And the little cheeky girl opposite
Might as well give up and clear off


(1) Saturne – He is the God of time, who in legend eats up his children, just as time eventually destroys us all.  Later we read: Le temps tue le temps comme il peut- Saturn, as the god of time, is sometimes depicted with an hourglass in one hand and a scythe in the other.

(2) Les roses – As in English poetry- “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may….”, roses symbolise the beauty of young women.

(3) La gabelle was a detested tax on salt levied by the monarchy before the Revolution. Brassens makes it the tax paid with age to Saturn and its mark is the salt white of the first grey hair. I find this image somewhat over-contrived, although the French who have the expression: “poivre et sel” to describe greying hair might accept it more readily.

(4) Je te donne mon billet (or more common -je te fiche mon billet) means: I am ready to put my money on it.

(5) Ma favorite. We are told that Brassens referred to Joha as “his favourite” as well as his “püppchen ”. As the meaning of “favourite” is a person preferred above others this does not preclude a liking for others, which could lead to a circumstance considered in the last verse of this poem(6) Effeuiller la marguerite is to play the lovers’ game of plucking the petals saying: “She loves me. She loves me not”.

(7) La marguerite de l'été de la Saint Martin is the chrysanthemum, a flower of the late months of the year. The feast of Saint Martin on the 11th of November is associated with a spell of mild weather and is what we call an Indian Summer. To the poet this symbolises youth reborn.

(8) Des tours d'horloge et de sablier : The fingers of the clock will have to go round and round and the hour glass will need to turned upside down endlessly, because he will never forget the beauty of his mistress.

(9) Et la petite pisseuse d'en face. The word that Brassens chooses to describe the young girl gives the English speaking listener or reader a sharp shock. As we have the same word for “pisser” i.e. “to piss”, we can understand that he is contemptuously dismissing her as a girl who wets her knickers, which would seem to us no higher than schoolchild abuse. However French bloggers, whose comments are posted below, tell us that the word is not so objectionable in French. Looking in the French- English Robert dictionary, a meaning given is “a (female) brat”, but the word is starred to warn of its impolite usage.
Three degrees of interpretation are suggested for Brassens’ choice of this word:
i) The most practical and down to earth is that Joha was aware that his eye had been wandering to an attractive young neighbour, arousing Joha’s passionate jealousy which was an outstanding feature of her character. Brassens therefore had to express his strong distaste towards the girl.
ii) The explanation put forward by those who have an absolute conviction in Brassens’ devotion to the one love of his life, is that Brassens had no interest in the girl but was using her to contrast the richer benefits that his mature partner brought to him.
iii) The most idealistic interpretation is that there was no other female involved, but that the pisseuse is a personification of the inadequacies of raw youth.

The proponents of the last explanation would claim that the lofty tone of the poem is maintained to the end, while the proponents of the first delight in the dramatic contrast of the trivial language of the last two lines with the lofty tone of the rest.

10) Elle peut bien aller se rhabiller – She might as well clear off/ buzz off/ beggar off. The colloquial expression of contempt continues the idea that she (or “it”-i.e. youth) has no relevance to their lives.


When I first posted this song, I was working on a performance where Brassens omitted the final verse and I jumped to the conclusion that it was deliberate censorship on his part of lines which recorded a personal row between him and his sweetheart and which contained personal invective. I realised how wrong I was when I read a tribute that he made to Joha near the end of his life. In it he spoke of half a dozen of the songs that he had been inspired by his love for his Püppchen. Inevitably, Saturne was in the list, but the words he quoted were from the last verse of the song, which obviously meant a lot to him. He wrote:
.......... et «Saturne»
Je sais par coeur toutes tes grâces
Et pour me les faire oublier
Il faudra que Saturne en fasse
Des tours d'horloge, de sablier.

A comment from a french blogger:
I received this comment from a French blogger on the 25th March 2009, and was very grateful to be reminded how beautiful the French find this song. Unfortunately I accidentally deleted the message while making my most recent post. This is ungracious on my part and so I am copying it here:
K said...
Je viens tout juste de tomber sur votre blog en cherchant Saturne... c'est une si belle chanson! :) ...même malgré les deux dernières lignes! :

Je suis toujours agréablement surpris de trouver de l'anglais autour de mes chansonniers français préférés.

Bravo pour votre blog; j'y reviendrai assurément!

Merci K. Un message encourageant me fait du bien.

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


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the site. I'm singing this song in a translation I've attempted...not an easy feat...( I would suggest that the last two lines which seem to shock you so much can be seen as Springtime; the opposite season to autumn, which after winter "clothes herself" For me Brassens is saying that he prefers the autumn to spring with the analogie mature woman over young girl.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I love your translations and I thank you so much again (i already posted about time passing in your translation of "il n'y a pas d'amour heureux")

So I would like to give my interpretation of the last two sentences which I really find beautiful and which I do not think break the style of brassens. I do believe that some of the subtelty might have been lost in translation.

Basically the term "pisseuse" is not as bluntly derogatory as one might think. It has a specific connotation of youth in it. It litteraly translates to "pissing-girl" which means "baby, infant, too young of a girl, immature etc" and not anything like "Bit**" or other women common derogatory term. It is used in a way as to say she is a baby-non-mature-girl.

Now that said it is still a strong word and can be perceived (even by some native french speakers) as too derogaroty. But I really don't think the context of the song can allow such an interpretation.

In fact in my opinion, the last two sentences do reveal the whole intent of the song, why this song was written.
There is no need to add any other story between the young girl and Brassens (she might even be imaginary). Assuming the young lady is real, the scene is most likely that the older woman was watching by the window seeing the beautiful young woman and started feeling insecure and sad because of her own age. She might also have seen Georges look at the girl too and presume he'd like that young women better because of her youth. But by this song georges reassures her and even shares her pain by taking her side. This is only revealed at the end.
The term "pisseuse" is strong yes, but it matches the violence raging inside the older woman heart. By using such a strong term, Brassens just says "i understand" and "I am with you against this violent time thing". He might also be upset at himslef for having "disrespected" his beloved by watching the young girl.

Well that's my interpretation and at least for me this punch lines are more than essential, they are the jewel of the song. Even if that's a rough jewel. But hey, at Brassens debuts, half of the audience would quit the room before the end of his concerts ... offended. So in translation it is probably even less easy to catch everything...



Anonymous said...

Can anybody tell me what "le temps tue le temps comme il peut" means? Time kills time...? I was having a hard time understanding the lyrics, but this blog is really helpful!

Anonymous said...

pour répondre à la question :que veut dire "le temps tue le temps comme il peut" . En Français les expressions "tuer le temps" ou bien "passer le temps" veulent dire "s'occuper", faire quelque chose pour ne pas voir le temps passer et s'écouler.
Pour Brassens, Saturne , qui est un Dieu (celui du Temps) peut s'ennuyer . Il a donc besoin de tuer le temps lui aussi.Et donc pour se distraire , il s'amuse à nous faire vieillir ("bousculer les roses") .

Désolé, je ne parle pas assez bien anglais pour intervenir dans votre langue avec exactitude .

Merci pour votre site et bonne continuation.