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…. 


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.


Alienor said...

"Filant sa quenouille, il vit Cendrillon,
Threading his distaff,(1) he saw Cind’rella"

I would translate this as "Threading her distaff, he saw Cinderella", which seems to make much more sense. He just came upon her as she was spinning.

David Yendley said...

Thanks Alienor. I have put that right. it is good when readers correct my mistakes. David Y

Matteo Cullen said...

Brilliant. Thank you so much. Have heard this song many times and would like to learn it, and this really helps. Merci beaucoup.

Lisa said...

Fantastic! Thank you.

Unknown said...

I've been a fan of Brassens for nigh on 40 years ...as I grow older, I get new insights into his work. Thank you so much for this great translation. Much appreciated. Brasssens has written so many great songs, but La Chasse aux Papillons must rank among his best ever.

Peter Johnson said...

Wow! What a find. I have loved Georges Brassens music since 1957 when I was 17 years old living in Antibes. I am now 79 and still get much pleasure from listening and now, I don't have to struggle so much with the translations.