Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète


This one of Brassens’ most entertaining poems- in spite of the gloomy title.
Paul Valéry, a highly respected man of letters of the previous generation, born also in Brassens’ home town of Sète, had written a famous poem called “Le cimetière marin”. Brassens gives an alternative viewpoint to Valéry’s symbolist vision of a seaside graveyard, as he writes with wit, imagination and nostalgia about the more down-to-earth realities of his birthplace and the love, friendship and enjoyment he had found there.



Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète
Plea to be buried on the beach at Sète (1)


La Camarde, qui ne m'a jamais pardonné (2) 
D'avoir semé des fleurs dans les trous de son nez,
Me poursuit d'un zèle imbécile.
Alors cerné de près par les enterrements,
J'ai cru bon de remettre à jour mon testament,
De me payer un codicille.

 

Trempe dans l'encre bleue du Golfe du Lion,
Trempe, trempe ta plume, ô mon vieux tabellion,
Et, de ta plus belle écriture,
Note ce qu'il faudrait qu'il advînt de mon corps,
Lorsque mon âme et lui ne seront plus d'accord
Que sur un seul point : la rupture.


Quand mon âme aura pris son vol à l'horizon
Vers celles de Gavroche et de Mimi Pinson, (5)
Celles des titis, des grisettes,
Que vers le sol natal mon corps soit ramené
Dans un sleeping du "Paris-Méditerranée" (6)
Terminus en gare de Sète.


Mon caveau de famille, hélas, n'est pas tout neuf.
Vulgairement parlant il est plein comme un œuf (7)
Et, d'ici que quelqu'un n'en sorte,
Il risque de se faire tard et je ne peux
Dire à ces braves gens:"Poussez-vous donc un peu !

Place aux jeunes !"(8) en quelque sorte.


Juste au bord de la mer, à deux pas des flots bleus,
Creusez, si c'est possible, un petit trou moelleux,
Une bonne petite niche,
Auprès de mes amis d'enfance, les dauphins (9)
Le long de cette grève où le sable est si fin,
Sur la plage de la Corniche. (10)

C'est une plage ou même, à ses moments furieux,
Neptune ne se prend jamais trop au sérieux,
Où, quand un bateau fait naufrage,
Le capitaine crie : "Je suis le maître à bord !
(11)
Sauve qui peut ! Le vin et le pastis d'abord !
Chacun sa bonbonne et courage !" (12)


Et c'est là que jadis, à quinze ans révolus
À l'âge où s'amuser tout seul ne suffit plus
Je connus la prime amourette..
Auprès d'une sirène, une femme-poisson,
Je reçus de l'amour la première leçon, 
Avalai la première arête.
(13)

Déférence gardée envers Paul Valéry, (14)
Moi, l'humble troubadour, sur lui je renchéris,
Le bon maître me le pardonne,
Et qu'au moins, si ses vers valent mieux que les miens,
Mon cimetière soit plus marin que le sien,
Et n'en déplaise aux autochtones.


Cette tombe en sandwich entre le ciel et l'eau,
Ne donnera pas une ombre triste au tableau,
Mais un charme indéfinissable.
Les baigneuses s'en serviront de paravent
Pour changer de tenue, et les petits enfants
Diront : "Chouette, un château de sable !"


Est-ce trop demander...? Sur mon petit lopin
Plantez, je vous en prie, une espèce de pin
Pin parasol, de préférence,
Qui saura prémunir contre l'insolation
Les bons amis venus fair' sur ma concession

D'affectueuses révérences.

Tantôt venant d'Espagne, et tantôt d'Italie,
Tout chargés de parfums, de musiques jolies,
Le mistral et la tramontane (16)
Sur mon dernier sommeil verseront les échos
De villanelle un jour, un jour de fandango,
De tarantelle, de sardane...


Et quand, prenant ma butte en guise d'oreiller,
Une ondine viendra gentiment sommeiller
Avec moins que rien de costume,
J'en demande pardon par avance à Jésus,
Si l'ombre de ma croix s'y couche un peu dessus
Pour un petit bonheur posthume.


Pauvres rois pharaons ! Pauvre Napoléon !
Pauvres grands disparus gisant au Panthéon !
Pauvres cendres de conséquence !
Vous envierez un peu l'éternel estivant,
Qui fait du pédalo sur la vague en rêvant,
Qui passe sa mort en vacances...


Vous envierez un peu l'éternel estivant,
Qui fait du pédalo sur la vague en rêvant,
Qui passe sa mort en vacances...

Georges Brassens
1966 - Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de
Sète

The Grim Reaper, who has never forgiven me
For sowing flowers in the sockets of his nose (3)
 Pursues me with the craziest zeal.
And so, hemmed in close by funerals (4)
I thought right to bring back up to date my last will
To pay out for a codicil



Dip well in the blue ink of the Gulf of Lion,
Dip well, dip well your quill, oh my old legal scribe
And then in your finest handwriting,
Note what there would have to become of my body
When my soul and it are no longer in accord
Save on one sole point: the split-up.



When my soul has taken its flight to the sunset Towards those of Gavroche and of Mimi Pinson Those of urchins and common tarts
Let my body be brought to the soil of my birth
In a sleeper on "Paris-Méditerranée"
Terminus at Sète station.



My own family tomb, alas, is not brand new.
It's, in vulgar parlance, packed like a sardine tin
And failing that someone might get out
I risk getting there late and will not be able
To say to these good folk: “Move up then just a bit!
Give way to young ones!” or some such thing


Right up on the sea shore, two yards from waves of blue,
Dig out, if it’s possible, a little comfy hole
 A nice and smallish niche
Next to the friends of my childhood, the dolphins,
Along that stretch of beach, where the sand is so fine
On the Plage de la Corniche.


It’s a beach where even, in his moments of rage Neptune doesn’t come on too heavily
Where at the shipwreck of his boat
The captain bellows forth: “I’m the master of this ship!
Each for himself! The wine and the pastis go first Each take his demi-john and chins up …”



It was there in the past, at fifteen years of age
At an age when lonely pleasure was not enough
 I had my first little taste of love
From a little siren, a sea dwelling mermaid
I got my first lesson about the rules of love Humbly learnt where you are made to stop.



With all deference due towards Paul Valéry,
I, humble troubadour, can go one up on him
May the good master please excuse me
And if his verse is placed higher than mine, at least
Let my cemetery be nearer the sea than his
And who cares about the Autochtones.(15)


This tomb sandwiched between the sky and water 
Will not cast a gloomy shadow on the picture
But add an indefinable charm.
Female bathers will come to use it as a screen
In order to get changed, and the little children Will say: “Oh, Brilliant. Look a sand castle!”



Is it too much to ask… ? Upon my little plot
Please plant for me, a tree, a species such as pine
Umbrella pine, preferably
That’s able to protect from the risk of sunburn Those good friends who have come upon my resting place
To lower their heads in fond regard.



Sometimes coming from Spain, sometimes from Italy
All laden with perfumes, with prettiest music
The mistral and the tramontana
Upon my final sleep will pour forth the echos
Of villanelle one day, one day of fandango,
Of tarantella, of sardana….



And when, taking my mound as a kind of pillow
A fair nymph from the sea, should kindly come to sleep
With close to nothing on as swimwear,
I am asking pardon well in advance from Jesus
If the shade of my cross lies for a while on top
For a spot of posthumous bliss.


Poor Pharaoh kings ! Poor Napoleon !
Poor departed greats, lying at the Pantheon
Poor ashes of consequence!
You’ll half envy th’eternal holiday-maker
Who dreams as he rides his pedalo on the waves
Who spends his death on vacation….


You’ll half envy th’eternal holiday-maker
Who dreams as he rides his pedalo on the waves
Who spends his death on vacation….




 TRANSLATION NOTES

1) Brassens did not intend his petition to be buried on the beach too seriously. He once said he was only having fun with the idea. The tone of the poem verifies it.

2) Five lines of each verse use the 12 syllable “alexandrine” of French Classical poetry

3) semé des fleurs –The dictionary says that “semer des fleurs sur la tombe de quelqu’un” means to turn someone’s memory into a cult. Brassens is rightly acknowledging that he goes on quite a lot about death in his songs. It has to be admitted that he did have a morbid streak.  “The Grim Reaper”, our personification of death, is depicted with a dead skull with empty sockets for the nose and eyes. In French the personification of death is called La Camarde for this same reason. Camard is an adjective which means pug-nosed, having a flat nose, as if crushed –like the nose of an old-time boxer.

4) cerné de près par les enterrements- "Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète" was written in 1966. In the previous year, Brassens lost his father on the 28th March and Marcel Planche, Jeanne’s husband, died on the 7th May.

5) Gavroche - Mimi Pinson. Gavroche is a cheeky, rebellious young street urchin in the novel, “Les Misérables” by Victor Hugo. Mimi Pinson is a character in a work called “Mimi Pinson, profil de grisette" by the famous French poet, Alfred de Musset. A grisette is a young, sexually easy-going, working class girl. Both of these fictitious characters liked to express themselves in song. With such company Brassens’ soul would be in heaven.

6) Paris-Méditerranée A train for holiday destinations.

7) il est plein comme un œuf – Brassens says the tomb was full as an egg. I had not met this expression in English but on looking it up, I find that it is in use. As I am not certain of the context in which “full as an egg” is used in English, I have substituted the most common image in English for being packed together.

8) Place aux jeunes. Perhaps this incongruous remark in the society of the dead can be interpreted as a disdainful Brassens’ reference to the call made to the older performers with the advent of the teenage pop groups of the 1960s. See “Les Trompettes de la Renommée”.

9) les dauphins – This was the name given to the swimming club at Sète when Brassens was a boy. We can assume that the girl he is to recall in the next verse is also a keen swimmer.

10) La plage de la Corniche is a very popular beach at Sète

11) The picture of life on a happy, boozy ship, with the odd nautical crisis, is reminiscent of Brassens’ memories of boating with his mates in “Les copains d’abord”.

12) la première arête. There is a pun on “arête » which means fishbone and “Arrête!”, meaning stop. The fishbone is mentioned because the girl is mermaid and thus half fish. The image seems a bit contrived and is certainly impossible to translate. This is my tentative suggestion, but I regret that an explanation needs to replace the teasing puzzle that Brassens had left us with..

13) Chacun sa bonbonne et courage -I have translated this as a play on words. The "bon" in "bonbonne" also goes before "courage". Although the captain may make pretence of being in complete control, when the boat is sinking all he can say in the end is "bon courage" - hope for the best.

14) Paul Valéry (1871-1945) was a famous poet, critic and essayist. “Cimetière Marin” was the title of one of his most famous poems. He was born in Sètes and buried there in the Cimetière St Charles. In the following year, 1946, the dignitaries changed its name to the “Cimetière Marin” in homage to him.

15) “autochtones » These are the important men of the town, who had decreed that Valéry’s graveyard was the “cimetière marin” –whose authority Brassens is undermining! Brassens, the outsider, certainly did not identify with them.

16) Le mistral et la tramontane -These are two winds that blow over the South of France. One seems to come from the West, the other from the East.

17) villanelle and tarantella - sardane and fandango This is the music of song and dance, blown in from opposite directions from Italy and Spain.


The town of Sète

Sète is the largest French fishing port on the Mediterranean , with tunny fishing boats and trawlers harboured there. Behind Sète is a large coastal lagoon called the étang de Thau where shellfish are cultivated.

Where Brassens was buried.

Brassens was not buried on the beach at Sète, but he would not have expected it as he was only joking. He was not buried with the worthy middle class and Paul Valéry in the cimetière Saint Charles, the so-called cimetière marin, but in the cimetière Le Py, from where can be seen the inland sea of l’étang de Thau. This second cemetery of Sète is known as the cimetière des pauvres , but it should not be assumed from this that the highly successful Brassens had a pauper’s funeral. It is reported that there is a pine tree near his grave, but that it had difficulty in establishing itself because of being trampled by the number of people who come to visit his grave.

If any holiday maker in a skimpy bikini comes to his grave, the only sensation she is likely to have is a mysterious sharp stabbing feeling. When she died in 1999, Brassens' long-time companion, Joha Heiman, his « Püppchen », was buried at his side in the cemetery at Sète. His song, “Je me suis fait tout petit”, describes how she used her umbrella to ward off any seductress, seeking to offer Brassens the sexual consolation, which she was not prepared to offer him.

The contrast of Paul Valéry’s picture of a graveyard near the sea

These are the first two verses of Paul Valéry’s symbolist poem
Ce toit tranquille, où marchent des colombes,
This quiet roof, on which doves walk about
Entre les pins palpite, entre les tombes;
Between the pines vibrates, between the tombs
Midi le juste y compose de feux
Midday the exact composes upon it some lights.
La mer, la mer, toujours recommencee
The sea, the sea, always restarting anew
O récompense après une pensée
Oh recompense after thinking
Qu'un long regard sur le calme des dieux!
Than a long look upon the calm of the gods.

Quel pur travail de fins éclairs consume
What fine work of fine flashes of light consumes
Maint diamant d'imperceptible écume,
Many a diamond of imperceptible foam
Et quelle paix semble se concevoir!
And what peace seems to be conceived
Quand sur l'abîme un soleil se repose,
When on theabyss a sun comes to rest
Ouvrages purs d'une éternelle cause,
Pure works of an eternal cause
Le temps scintille et le songe est savoir
Time flickers and dreaming is to know



Please clickhere to return to the full alphabetical list of my Georges Brassens selection




14 comments:

Anonymous said...

great to have your translations. 2 summers back riding through the back of beyond i heard a familiar guitar and opened a door into a closed bar where a teenage lad was strumming brassens. at my request he poured me a glass and played the supplique from his songbook. he had dumped nirvana for brassens. last summer salime my pal from lyon was singing brassens non stop as we cycled up the puy mary in the cantal. chacun son brassens if that makes sense. thanks for your efforts. simon1711@btinternet.com in manchester

Anonymous said...

First line - "La camarde" - translated by "old father time" ???

"La camarde" - as far as I know, is the death, the death that is always crawling through the livings to find a victim.

You do a very good job - but why this "old father time" here ???

David-Barfield said...

Thanks for correcting me. I have changed my translation now. I had in mind “The Grim Reaper”, our personification of death, who is depicted with a dead skull with empty sockets for the nose and eyes. Old Father Time is benign in comparison. In French the personification of death is called La Camarde for this same reason. Camard is an adjective which means pug-nosed, having a flat nose, as if crushed –like the nose of an old-time boxer. I guess thay you are French, because you already knew that. Thanks DB

Grenouille13 said...

Excellent job, thank you very much for taking time out to do this !

Bernie Stocks said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thanks very much for your excellent work. I've been a fan of Brassens for a very long time, but one or two of the more obscure references in his songs were beyond me, and it is clear from your notes that some of the songs are allegories which I wasn't aware of. Your notes and explanations have greatly added to my enjoyment of the great man's oeuvre.

JeanPierre said...

I just came across your Brassens translations and I am grateful for your effort at making him known in English.
Here is a little contribution from a French speaker and amateur poet.
3) semé des fleurs: The idea here is not that Brassens is morbid about death, but rather that he has always been defusing the (apparent) horror of the skull by decorating it with flowers (actually treating it as a flower-pot in Spring !)
So La Camarde (the one with a flat nose) is really annoyed at him and hounds him with a bunch of deaths among those close to him. It’s time to make preparations...

12) la première arête: I don’t think any French speaker would think of a pun with “arrête” (stop). That’s because the syntactic context is wrong. On the other hand, when you swallow a fish bone, you have a very painful experience, and that’s unfortunately what happens with love affairs… (BTW, I came to your site in search of the words for “Il n’y a pas d’amour heureux”… fits, doesn’t it?)

Keep up the good work!

JP

Dan T said...

Thanks so much for a lovely translation - a perfect gateway into appreciating his work more (and encouraging a refresher of my GCSE French!)

Anonymous said...

Very good job !

If i can contribute, the first word it's "Camargue" means "La Camargue", it's the name of a spécifique area close to Sète around the sea, very humide zone where peoples grow rice and have also a specific horses.

Thx

Stef W. Africa said...

(12) Bonbonne refers to Bonbonne of wine. As no one is serious u need to save wine and wine gives courage

Stef W. Africa said...

(1) I confirm the name is Camarde as translated Death reaper. Brassens used the word a lot in his songs may be as it sounds like Camargue a touristic area close by his honetown he shall have cheer a lot.
Thanks all forb your interest to this great singer (bad one by the way) but unique poet and anarchist.

Stef W. Africa said...

(12) Bonbonne refers to Bonbonne of wine. As no one is serious u need to save wine and wine gives courage

Diane Sklar said...

We are going to Sète next week and my brother gave me this song to listen to as homework. Thanks so much for the thorough translation which would have taken me most of the vacation week to decode!!

TuFU said...

Thank you very much