Tuesday 6 April 2010

Vénus callipyge - Brassens joins the Ancient Greeks in praise of a well-rounded bottom

Vénus callipyge

This song was inspired by the famous ancient sculpture, the Venus Kallipygos, picture left , which is now in the Royal Museum in Naples. It is a marble statuette, just under 6 inches in height. It was found in Rome but became the property of the king of Naples. The worship of this Venus had been widespread in Ancient Greece and then had spread to Italy. The word Kallipygos is formed by an adjective, Κάλλος, which means beautiful and a noun πυγὴ, which means bum.

No doubt for reason of modesty, this ancient work of art it is always catalogued  using the Greek title (Callipyge). Brassens, however, does not suffer from any such reticence. He makes absolutely clear the part of the anatomy that he is glorifying. He mentions this aesthetic preference in some of his other songs

Que jamais l'art abstrait, qui sévit maintenant,
N'enlève à vos attraits ce volume étonnant.

Au temps où les faux-culs (1) sont la majorité,
Gloire à celui qui dit toute la vérité !.

Votre dos perd son nom(2) avec si bonne grâce,
Qu'on ne peut s'empêcher de lui donner raison.

Que ne suis-je, (3) Madame, un poète de race,
Pour dire à sa louange un immortel blason. (4)

En le voyant passer, j'en eus la chair de poule,(5)

Enfin, je vins au monde et, depuis, je lui voue
Un culte (6) véritable et, quand je perds aux boules,

En embrassant Fanny(7), je ne pense qu'à vous.

 Pour obtenir, Madame, un galbe de cet ordre,
Vous devez torturer les gens de votre entour,

Donner aux couturiers bien du fil à retordre(8),
Et vous devez crever votre dame d'atour.

C'est (9) le Duc de Bordeaux qui s'en va, tête basse,

Car il ressemble au mien comme deux gouttes d'eau,
S'il ressemblait au vôtre on dirait, quand il passe :

"C'est un joli garçon que le Duc de Bordeaux !"(10)

Ne faites aucun cas des jaloux qui professent
Que vous avez placé votre orgueil un peu bas

Que vous présumez trop, en somme de vos fesses
Et surtout, par faveur, ne vous asseyez pas !

Laissez-les raconter qu'en sortant de calèche (11)

La brise a fait voler votre robe et qu'on vit,
Écrite dans un cœur transpercé d'une flèche,

Cette expression triviale : "À Julot pour la vie"

 Laissez-les dire encor’ is hard qu'à la Cour d'Angleterre,
Faisant la révérence aux souverains anglois,

Vous êtes, patatras ! Tombée assise à terre :
La loi d' la pesanteur est dure, mais c'est la loi.

Nul ne peut aujourd'hui trépasser sans voir Naples, (12)
À l'assaut des chefs-d’œuvre ils veulent tous courir!

Mes ambitions à moi sont bien plus raisonnables :
Voir votre académie, madame, et puis mourir.

 Que jamais l'art abstrait, qui sévit maintenant,
N'enlève à vos attraits ce volume étonnant.

 Au temps où les faux-culs (1) sont la majorité,
Gloire à celui qui dit toute la vérité !

Georges Brassens
(1964 - Les copains d'abord, )

May never abstract art, all the rage right now
Rob your female charms of that stunning dimension.
At a time when fake bums form the majority
Glory to the one that tells us the complete truth

Your back loses its name with such consummate grace,
That one cannot help but come out in its favour.
Aren’t I the one, Madame, as poet born and bred
To say in its praise a short ode immortal?

Just seeing you go by, it gave me goose pimples
At last, I was come alive and since then I’ve offered
It true veneration so when I lose at bowls
And when “kissing Fanny”, (7) I think only of you.

For you to get, Madame, a contour of that order
You must put great strain on the people around you,
You must give dressmakers loads of work sewing
And you must work to death your lady in waiting.

It’s the Duke of Bordeaux who runs off, head bowed
For his likeness to mine is as peas in a pod
If he resembled yours they’d say when he passes
“He’s a right handsome fellow the Duke of Bordeaux.”

Pay no respect to those jealous who profess
That you placed your pride a little low at the back
That you presume too much in effect of your bum
Above all though, kindly please do not take a seat.

Leave them to tell the tale that stepping from your coach
The breeze blew your dress up so high that people saw
Written inside a heart pierced by an arrow
These words simple and clear: “To my love, Jules, for life.”

Let them tell also that while at Court in England
Making a deep curtsy to the British sovereigns
You fell with a wallop, with your seat on the ground
Hard is the law of gravity but laws are laws.

No-one can die these days without seeing Naples
We all want to join the charge for great works of art!
The ambitions I have make very much more sense
To see your nude statue my lady and then die.

May never abstract art, all the rage right now,
Rob your female charms of that stunning dimension.
At a time when fake bums form the majority
Glory to the one that tells us the complete truth.

1) Brassens makes a play on words: faux-cul means false arse. The nearest word I found in the dictionary was faux col – false collar which in English translates “loose collar”. .

2) Votre dos perd son nom – Halfway down the back is no longer the back but the bottom. Out of delicacy some people may refer to it as the lower back.

3) Que ne suis-je ? (3) Que followed by ne in a question or an exclamation is usually translated by “why”. E.g.: “Que n’est-tu allé la voir?.. In the end I chose a more literal translation.

4) A blazon is a short verse which gives a list – for example of the features of the person you love

5) j'en eus la chair de poule – I got goose pimples.

6) Un culte. Brassens is amused to be talking about a cult dedicated to a cul. Such puns have to be abandoned in translation.

8) Donner du fil a retordre means to give s.o. a lot of hard work.  In French this gives a pun about sewing.

7) En embrassant Fanny- It is explaned that there is a tradition, when playing bowls, that any player who fails to score a single point in a game has to ceremoniously kiss the bum of Fanny on a picture or a sculpture. Brassens associates this mischievously with the Christian faith, where the priest may sometimes present a religious icon to kiss, by talking about his own new “cult”. In fact that part of the sculpture in Naples has become slightly discoloured by furtive kisses, achieved in spite of the close supervision.

9) C'est….. This phrase doesn’t fit in grammatically, but it is like a performer warning the audience that he is in the groove so hold on to their hats – like a comic saying : »Did you hear about……. Something scandalous is coming up.

10) Mentioning the Duke of Bordeaux is a technique of making an insult or compliment by very indirect comparison

The idea comes from a traditional French song.    This is the verse to which Brassens is referring:

Le Duc de Bordeaux ressemble à son frère,
Son frère à son père et son père à mon cul.
De là je conclus qu’le Duc de Bordeaux
Ressemble à mon cul comme deux gouttes d’eau.

11) Calèche – A fashionable carriage drawn by a pair of horses.

12) The tourism slogan, of course is: “See Naples and die”

Please click here to return to the alphabetical list of my Brassens selection


Arthur said...

Either you did not understant "Que ne suis-je, Madame, un poète de race / Pour dire à sa louange un immortel blason", or it is me who does not understand "Am I not he, a poet born and bred". The French text means that Brassens is NOT such a poet and that he is not able to write such a bson (btw, why didn't you keep the word blason in the first place?)
The "que ne suis-je" form often expresses a complain and NOT a question.

Unknown said...

Strange that you did not find faux-cul in the dictionary. It does mean false or fake arse literally, but antedates Brassens as an expression meaning hypocrit, two-faced. So not a play on words, but rather, the use of a known expression in a context that makes it doubly comical.