Sunday 10 October 2010


Here are two songs sung by the famous French musician and singer, Maxime le Forestier, on the sad realisation of the transitory nature of all human achievement. This precious experience disappears in a flash and its passing is imperceptible.

With Brassens' song , it is probably a mistake to try to relate the battles he describes to the historical wars of the 20th century  Instead we should probably see it as his general view of the human condition.  In Les châteaux de sable Brassens tells of an unseen epic dimension in the background human life; this is the wheel of history and it is inevitably destructive.-- The theme of death and the fleeting passage of time recur quite often in Brassen's songs

Although he was happy with this poem, Brassens himself never set it to music. Here, it is Le Forestier singing the melody written for the song by Jean Bertola.

In the second song from 1998, “Mistral Gagnant”, Le Forestier, sings a duet with the beautiful Vanessa Paradis. The lyrics of this song are by the French singer- song writer, Renaud. As well as individual memories, Renaud lists the specific objects which formed part of the magic world of his 1950 -1960 childhood, which time, the assassin, stole away.


sung by Maxime Le Forestier, music by Jean Bertola

Je chante la petite guerre (1)
Des braves enfants de naguère
Qui sur la plage ont bataillé (2)
Pour sauver un château de sable
Et ses remparts infranchissables
Qu'une vague allait balayer.

J'en étais : l'arme à la bretelle,
Retranchés dans la citadelle,
De pied ferme nous attendions
Une cohorte sarrazine
Partie de la côte voisine
À l'assaut de notre bastion.

À cent pas de là sur la dune,
En attendant que la fortune
Des armes sourie aux vainqueurs,
Languissant d'être courtisées
Nos promises, nos fiancées
Préparaient doucement leur coeur. (3)

Tout à coup l'Armada sauvage (1)
Déferla sur notre rivage
Avec ses lances, ses pavois, (4)
Pour commettre force rapines,
Et même enlever nos Sabines (5)
Plus belles que les leurs, ma foi.

La mêlée fut digne d'Homère, (1)
Et la défaite bien amère
À l'ennemi pourtant nombreux,
Qu'on battit à plate couture,
Qui partit en déconfiture
En déroute, en sauve-qui-peut.

Oui, cette horde de barbares
Que notre fureur désempare
Fit retraite avec ses vaisseaux,
En n'emportant pour tous trophées,
Moins que rien, deux balles crevées,
Trois raquettes, quatre cerceaux. (6)

Après la victoire fameuse
En chantant l'air de "Sambre et Meuse"(7)
Et de "La Marseillaise", ô gué, (8)
On courut vers la récompense
Que le joli sexe dispense
Aux petits héros fatigués.

Tandis que tout bas à l'oreille
De nos Fanny, de nos Mireille
On racontait notre saga,
Qu'au doigt on leur passait la bague,
Surgit une espèce de vague (9)
Que personne ne remarqua.

Au demeurant ce n'était qu'une
Vague sans amplitude aucune, (10)
Une vaguelette égarée,
Mais en atteignant au rivage
Elle causa plus de ravages,
De dégâts, qu'un raz-de-marée.

Expéditive, la traîtresse
Investit notre forteresse,
La renversant, la détruisant.
Adieu donjon, tours et courtines,
Que quatre gouttes anodines
Avaient effacés en passant.

À quelque temps de là nous sommes (11)
Allés mener parmi les hommes
D'autres barouds plus décevants,
Allés mener d'autres campagnes,
Où les châteaux sont plus d'Espagne,(12)
Et de sable qu'auparavant.

Quand je vois lutter sur la plage
Des soldats à la fleur de l'âge,
Je ne les décourage pas,
Quoique je sache, ayant naguère
Livré moi-même cette guerre,
L'issue fatale du combat.

Je sais que malgré leur défense,
Leur histoire est perdue d'avance,
Mais je les laisse batailler,
Pour sauver un château de sable
Et ses remparts infranchissables
Qu'une vague allait balayer.

I sing of the little war waged
By the bold kids of not long past
Who on the beach put up a fight
In order to save a sandcastle
And its unbreachable ramparts
Which one wave would come sweep away.

I was with them : gun slung ready
Firmly entrenched in the citadel
Resolute, we were awaiting
A horde of Saracens (1)
Set sail from the nearby coast
For the assault on our bastion

Hundred yards from there on the dune
Waiting the time when the fortune
Of war should smile upon the victors
Languishing for courtships in store
Our own betrothèd, our spoken for, 
On the quiet, got ready their hearts.

All at once the fierce Armada
Launched its might onto our shores
Pitting its lances, its bucklers
To inflict its widespread plunder 
And even steal our Sabine girls
More beautiful than theirs, in truth.

The fight was worthy of Homer
And the defeat very bitter 
On a foe though strong in number
Whom we beat with withering force
Who left in complete disarray
Routed and running for their lives 

Yes, that horde of barbarians
Whom our fury tears to pieces
Retreated along with its boats,
Carrying off as sole trophies
Next to nothing, just two punctured balls
Three rackets and four bowling hoops.

After the famous victory
To the strains of the « Sambre et Meuse »
And of « the Marseillaise » dum dy dum,
We ran for the sweet recompense
Which the fair sex dispenses
To li(tt)le heroes out on their feet.

Whilst we were softly, in the ears
Of our Muriels, our Francises
Relating our stirring saga
On their fingers slipping the ring
There rose up some kind of wave
Which not one of us had noticed.

Besides, it was no more than a
Wave without any great amplitude 
A little wave gone the wrong way
But on reaching the sea shore
It caused greater devastation
More damage, than a tsunami. 

In no time, the treacherous wave
Overwhelmed our little fortress
Knocking it down, destroying it.
Farewell dungeon, towers, battlements
Which just four harmless seeming drops
Had obliterated in passing.

T'was some time on from this we went
To engage in, among grown men,
Other fights less satisfactory.
To engage in other campaigns
Where castles are more fanciful
And built more on sand, than before 

When I see fighting on the beaches
Soldiers in the prime of life,
I don’t try to discourage them
Although I know, myself not long since
Having engaged in such a war,
The inevitable end to the fight

I know that in spite of their defence
Their history is doomed in advance 
But I leave them to fight it out
To save a castle made of sand
And its walls no-one can breach, which
One wave was goin’ to sweep away.


1) Je chante la petite guerre This first line is a deliberate echo of the opening words of Virgil’s Aeniad : "Arma virumque cano" (Of arms and the man I sing). The Roman poet was writing of the epic wars that led to the foundation of Rome. Brassens is talking of a war little in comparison, but the mock epic tone of his first line suggests that the small war has deep significance for humanity. We will see that the ordinary events of the poem are described in terms which refer to epic events in history: La mêlée fut digne d'Homère -- cohorte sarrazine -- l'Armada – the rape of the Sabine women – military victories -Sambre et Meuse

2) ..... braves enfants......... sur la plage. The theme of the poem is the carefree pleasures of childhood and youth. Brassens represents this with the games of children on the beach, boisterous and probably not too popular with some adults. Brassens’ song « Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète », expresses his lifelong love for the beaches of the town where he passed his childhood.

3) nos fiancées .....préparaient doucement leur cœur. Events of childhood and puberty merge in this poem. The assailants would seem to be youths from the surrounding area come to make advances to their women. Although the newcomers are described as alien Saracens, the girls of Sète are excitedly preparing to accept the boys who emerge best from the encounters. Romantic love has as little place with Brassens as it had with George Bernard Shaw, whose play “Arms and the Man” also put a different cast on Virgil’s epic view. One of Shaw’s themes was the folly of basing your affections on idealistic notions of love.

4) Pavois (bucklers) were small shields gripped in the fist by the fighter.

5) Sabines. In Roman legend, the Romans attacked the region of the Sabines to forcibly capture and take away their women, when Rome had not enough women to provide brides for the native men folk.

6) deux balles crevées, trois raquettes, quatre cerceaux .... After the epic battle, it comes as a surprise that the defeated “Saracens” made off only with these childhood toys. The first amorous episodes of youth mark the end of childhood and we are too involved in the new excitement to realise that the no longer used toys that we pass on contain precious years of our life, with familiar places and vivid experiences now receding into the past.

7) Sambre et Meuse ……. La Marseillaise. These are of course great French patriotic songs to mark their victory. The army of Sambre-et-Meuse was the famous French revolutionary army, which, in 1794, turned the tide of war by defeating the Austrians and the Dutch in Flanders.

8) gué is a standard interjection found in songs and poems to express a mood of rejoicing. Larousse tells me that the word is a corruption of “gai”

9) Surgit une espèce de vague --- The responsibilities of adult life end the exhilarating freedom of youth and a most significant step is when a couple engage in what Brassens sees as the imprisonment of marriage. (See also La non-demande en mariageJe me suis fait tout petitLes amoureux des bancs publics etc)

10) Amplitude means “large scale”.

11) À quelque temps de là ---This verse expresses the disillusionment that life brings after the relative innocence of childhood and youth.

12) châteaux d'Espagne - Castles in Spain mean fanciful ideas.  In English we also say "castles in the air".

The views expressed by Brassens on this poem and this recording in a correspondence after Brassens' retirement

Brassens' friend Emmanuel put to him this question:

".... à propos de la chanson «Les châteaux de sable» que tu n'as je crois pas pu enregistrer toi-même. 

Je la connais par deux interprètes: Maxime Leforestier, et Valérie Ambroise, mais avec deux mélodies différentes. J'imagine qu'aucune des deux n'est de toi car aucun d'eux ne se serait amusé à refaire une de tes musiques! Laquelle des deux préfères-tu? "

The following was the answer of Brassens:«Les châteaux de sable» est un texte dont je suis assez heureux. J'ai longuement peaufiné ce poème de 78 vers, sans refrains, mais surtout, dans un rare texte où j'évoque l'enfance, la jeunesse, je pense avoir réussi à brosser une esquisse de la vie qui défile, en temps qui passe, de l'essentiel qu'une simple vague peut balayer. 

Cette chanson, sans musique, était restée dans mes cahiers au moment de ma retraite. C'est mon ami Jean Bertola qui l'a habillée d'une mélodie et l'a enregistrée le premier en 1985, avec onze autres titres inédits, sur un 30 cm intitulé «Le patrimoine de Brassens par Jean Bertola».  C'est cette version qu'a reprise Maxime Le Forestier. 

S'il y a confusion sur l'attribution de la musique et que Bertola n'en reçoit pas le crédit sur les enregistrements de Le Forestier et lors de diverses citations, c'est qu'une erreur s'est produite (l'oubli d'un astérisque!) dans la réédition du disque de Bertola en C.D.

Valérie Ambroise a enregistré trois de mes inédits: «La guerre», «L'arc-en-ciel d'un quart d'heurex et «Les châteaux de sable». Pour ces trois titres, elle a retenu des musiques de G. Bourgeois. Pour «La guerre», Valérie ignorait sans doute que j'avais moi-même composé une musique, qu'à la même époque Jacques Yvart a retenue pour son interprétation sur l'album «Bonjour la paix».

C'est un phénomène unique, je crois, et que je trouve plutôt cocasse, que près d'une dizaine de mes textes ont été habillés de deux musiques différentes et parfois même trois. («La guerre» a reçu une troisième mélodie, par Éric Zimmermann). Je ne connais pas un texte de Brel, de Ferré, de Béart ou autre qui voguent sur deux airs différents. 

Quant à ma préférence, je dois avouer que je trouve les deux musiques agréables et tout à fait appropriées et que Valérie et Maxime sont deux artistes que j'apprécie grandement, autant pour les interprétations de mes chansonnettes que pour les autres volets de leur travail. Je suis très sensible à la constance et à l'enthousiasme que tous deux ont maintenus pour diffuser mes chansons avec un très haut niveau de qualité. J'ai trouvé particulièrement attachant l'interprétation de ma chanson «Dans l'eau de la claire fontaine» en arménien par Valérie Ambroise.

Mistral gagnant – (Renaud 1998)

This song recalls the mischievous, irresponsible pleasures of childhood in France during the 1950s and 1960s –ruining your shoes by splashing in puddles to get your mum going etc. The title “Winning Mistral” was a sherbet style sweet that children bought or pinched from the shop and if it said “Winner” in the packet,you got another packet free. These were happy days filled with love, but time carries off the laughter of children.

Ah... m'asseoir sur un banc
cinq minutes avec toi
et regarder les gens
tant qu'y en a

Te parler du bon temps
qu'est mort ou qui r'viendra
en serrant dans ma main
tes p'tits doigts
Pi donner à bouffer
à des pigeons idiots
leur filer des coups d'pied
pour de faux.

Et entendre ton rire
qui lézarde les murs
qui sait surtout guérir
mes blessures.

Te raconter un peu
comment j'étais, mino
les bombecs fabuleux
qu'on piquait chez l'marchand.
« Car en sac » et « Mintho
Caramels » à un franc
et les Mistral gagnants

Ah... marcher sous la pluie
cinq minutes avec toi
et regarder la vie
tant qu'y en a

Te raconter la Terre
en te bouffant des yeux
Te parler de ta mère
un p'tit peu
Et sauter dans les flaques
pour la faire râler 
Bousiller nos godasses 
et s'marrer

Et entendre ton rire
comme on entend la mer
s'arrêter, repartir
en arrière
Te raconter surtout
les Carambars d'antan
et les coco-boërs
et les vrais Roudoudous
qui nous coupaient les lèvres
et nous niquaient les dents
et les Mistral gagnants

Ah... m'asseoir sur un banc
cinq minutes avec toi
regarder le soleil
qui s'en va
Te parler du bon temps
qu'est mort et je m'en fous
Te dire que les méchants
c'est pas nous.

Que si moi je suis barge
ce n'est que de tes yeux
car ils ont l'avantage
d'être deux
Et entendre ton rire
s'envoler aussi haut
que s'envolent les cris
des oiseaux

Te raconter enfin
qu'il faut aimer la vie
et l'aimer même si
le temps est assassin
et emporte avec lui
les rires des enfants
et les Mistral gagnants
et les Mistral gagnants

Ah to sit down on a bench
For five minutes with you
And watch all the people
If there are any.

Talk to you of the good time
Which is dead or which'll come back
Squeezing within my hand
Your little fingers
Then give something to eat
To idiotic pigeons
Aim a few kicks at them
In pretend.

To hear your laughter
Which splits cracks in the walls
Which can cure above all
Wounds that I've had.

To tell you for a while
How I once was: “Mino
The Fabulous Bombecs” ,
Which we used to pinch from the shop.
“Car en Sac” and “Minto
Caramels” for one franc
And the “Mistrals” that win a prize.

Ah… to walk in the rain
For five minutes with you
And watch life go past
If there is any.

To tell you tales of the earth
Feasting my eyes on you
Speak to you of your mum
A little while
And jumping in puddles
To make her grumble-
Ruining our shoes
And having fun.

And to hear your laughter
As one hears the sea
Stopping then starting off
On the way back.
To tell of above all
The “Carambars” of times past
And the “Coco- boërs »
And the real “Roudoudous”
Which used to cut our lips
And chipped our teeth's enamel
And the “Mistrals” that win a prize.

Ah to sit on a bench
For five minutes with you
Watching the sun
Going down
Talk to you of a good time
Which is dead and I don’t care
To say to you the wicked
That isn’t us.

That if I am crazy
It’s only for your eyes
For they have the advantage
Of coming in twos
And hearing your laughter
Flying up as high
As fly up the cries
Of the birds

To tell you in the end
That you need to love life
And love it even if
Time is a great killer
And takes off with him
The laughter of children
And the “Mistrals” that win a prize.
And the “Mistrals” that win a prize.

The Carambars mentioned in this song

To see Le Forestier in his youth, look at this duet with Georges Brassens.
 Click the following link:


A poem in English that deals with the same theme is “I remember, I remember,” written by Thomas Hood, who was born in 1799. In Hood’s case, the contrast between the magic of childhood and the disillusionment of the later years was all the more grim, because he suffered from a painful illness from his early thirties. He died shortly before his 46th birthday. Within this sad framework, however, his picture of the joys of his childhood are very vivid’
I remember, I remember,
The house where I was born,
The little window where the sun
Came peeping in at morn;
He never came a wink too soon,
Nor brought too long a day,
But now, I often wish the night
Had borne my breath away!

I remember, I remember,
The roses, red and white,
The vi'lets, and the lily-cups,
Those flowers made of light!
The lilacs where the robin built,
And where my brother set
The laburnum on his birthday,--
The tree is living yet!

I remember, I remember,
Where I was used to swing,
And thought the air must rush as fresh
To swallows on the wing;
My spirit flew in feathers then,
That is so heavy now,
And summer pools could hardly cool
The fever on my brow!

I remember, I remember,
The fir trees dark and high;
I used to think their slender tops
Were close against the sky:
It was a childish ignorance,
But now 'tis little joy
To know I'm farther off from heav'n
Than when I was a boy


Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It should be
"Te raconter un peu
comment j'étais minot,
les bombecs fabuleux
qu'on piquait chez l' marchand.
"Car-en-sac" et "Minto",
Caramels à un franc
et les "Mistral" gagnants...
"To tell you for a while
how I was a kid
the fabulous sweets/candies....

"minot" is quolloquial for child
"bombec" is more or less slang for "bonbon", sweet/candy
"Roudoudous" are sweets in a shell. When I was a child (so was Renaud) the shells were actual seashells that could cut our lips.
"Car-en-sac", "Minto" and "Mistral" were sweets brands while "caramels" were (and still are!) just that, caramels.
The "Mistral" that read "gagnant" (winning/winner) inside the wrapping allowed to get another free sweet.

Emily said...

movie ringtone Use a song to change default ringtone easily on android phone.