Saturday, 24 April 2010

La première fille- The first girl that you loved is the last girl that you will forget

La première fille

Once again Brassens sings about the excitement of first love and its eternal charm. When older people reminisce about their youth, so many of them, sometimes unconsciously, reveal that the first boy/ girl with whom one falls in love somehow gets into a compartment of memory that is indestructible.

The videos of this song that  I have posted in the past have constantly failed.  I hope the select language subtitles on this one will protect me this time!






J'ai tout oublié des campagnes
D'Austerlitz et de Waterloo
D'Italie, de Prusse et d'Espagne,
De Pontoise et de Landerneau

Jamais de la vie
On ne l'oubliera,
La première fill'
Qu'on a pris' dans ses bras,

La première étrangère
À qui l'on a dit "tu" (2)
Mon coeur, t'en souviens-tu ?)
Comme ell' nous était chère...
Qu'ell' soit fille honnête(3)
Ou fille de rien,(4)
Qu'elle soit pucelle (5)
Ou qu'elle soit putain, (5)
On se souvient d'elle,
On s'en souviendra,
D'la première fill'
Qu'on a pris' dans ses bras

Ils sont partis à tire-d'aile
Mes souvenirs de la Suzon,
Et ma mémoire est infidèle
À Julie, Rosette ou Lison

Jamais de la vie
On ne l'oubliera,
La première fill'
Qu'on a pris' dans ses bras,

C'était un' bonne affaire
 (Mon coeur, t'en souviens-tu ?)
J'ai changé ma vertu
Contre une primevère...
Qu' ce soit en grand' pompe
Comme les gens "bien",
Ou bien dans la ru',
Comm' les pauvre' et les chiens,
On se souvient d'elle,
On s'en souviendra,
D'la première fill'
Qu'on a pris' dans ses bras

Toi, qui m'as donné le baptême
D'amour et de septième ciel,
Moi, je te garde et, moi, je t'aime,
Dernier cadeau du Pèr' Noël !

Jamais de la vie
On ne l'oubliera,
La première fill'
Qu'on a pris' dans ses bras

On a beau fair' le brave,
Quand ell' s'est mise nue
 (Mon coeur, t'en souviens-tu ?)
On n'en menait pas large(8)...
Bien d'autres, sans doute,
Depuis, sont venues,
Oui, mais, entre toutes
Celles qu'on a connues,
Elle est la dernière
Que l'on oubliera,
La première fill'
Qu'on a pris' dans ses bras,

 Georges Brassens
(1954 - Les amoureux des bancs publics.)
I’ve forgot’ all about campaigns
Of Austerlitz and Waterloo
Of Italy, Prussia and Spain
Of Pontoise and of Landerneau.(1)

Never all life long
Will there be forgotten
The very first girl
Whom you took in your arms

The first, new acquaintance,
Whom you addressed as “tu”
My heart do you remember?
How dear she was to us
Whether she be a nice girl
Or not up to much
Whether you’re her first
Or she’s had a lot
You still remember her
You will still remember
The very first girl
Whom you took in your arms

They have flown off at great speed
My recollections of Susan
And my memory’s been unfaithful
To Julie, Rosetta or Liza.

Never all life long
Will there be forgotten
The very first girl
Whom you took in your arms

It was a very good deal
My heart do you remember?
I traded my virtue
For a primrose flower (6)
Whether it be with great show
As the « proper » folk do
Or down in the back street
Like the poor people and the dogs
You still remember her
You will still remember
The very first girl
Whom you took in your arms

You who gave me the baptism
Of love and of the seventh heaven
I keep you still, I love you still
Last gift from Father Christmas (7)

Never all life long
Will there be forgotten
The very first girl
Whom you took in your arms

So much for my brave front
When she stripped off her clothes
(My heart do you remember?)
You fell right down in my boots
Many others, no doubt
Have come along since
Yes, but, among all of
Those that you have known-
She is the very last one
Who will be forgotten
The very first girl
Whom you took in your arms






NOTES


(1) Brassens says that he has forgotten all the military history he learnt at school and to illustrate the point (perhaps unconsciously) he includes in the last line two places that do not seem to have any record of an important battle.
(2) The change from using the “vous” form of you to the « tu » form is made when you assume you have reached a certain stage of familiarity. It can be a sensitive moment. In English, the first tense moment of asking a girl to go out with you luckily does not also involve a question of speech etiquette.
(3) fille honnête – As well as the most usual meaning of honest, “honnête” also has the sense of decent. When speaking of a woman it means virtuous. It seemed an old fashioned adjective, but, in the end, I stuck with it. In the royal court of the 17th century, there was the concept of the “honnête homme” which was the equivalent of acting like a gentleman.
(4) De rien means “worth nothing”. This seemed too harsh in English.
(5) pucelle means virgin and putain means whore, but I wanted to soften these lines, as the harsh moral standards of the 50s, which Brassens deplored, no longer apply.
(6) Brassens uses elsewhere, the primrose, flower of early spring, as a symbol of the young love that replaces lost virginity
(7) The experience of lovemaking marked the end of childhood.


(8) On n'en menait pas large- is an idiom that means "your heart was in your boots".  Other translations given in the dictionary are: to be frightened, to be uneasy, to be in a terrible situation





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

La Marguerite- A wild daisy that falls from the priest's prayer book sets evil tongues wagging

In this simple poem, Brassens describes the hysteria and malice, which is aroused in a parish of traditional believers, when they suspect that their priest, at Easter, has accepted a tiny token of sexual affection from a person unknown, but who, they readily believe, could be a young nun from the local convent, in love with him. Brassens tells the tale, largely suppressing his personal reaction until his last line of inarticulate disbelief .



LA MARGUERITE


La petite
Marguerite
Est tombée,
Singulière,
Du bréviaire
De l'abbé

Trois pétales
De scandale
Sur l'autel,
Indiscrète
Pâquerette,
D'où vient-elle ?


Dans l'enceinte
Sacro-sainte,
Quel émoi
Quelle affaire,
Oui, ma chère,
Croyez-moi !

La frivole
Fleur qui vole,
Arrive en
Contrebande
Des plat's-bandes
Du couvent.


Notre Père
Qui, j'espère,
Êt's aux cieux,
N'ayez cure
Des murmures
Malicieux,


La légère
Fleur, peuchère !
Ne vient pas
De nonnettes,(1)
De cornettes
En sabbat.

Sachez, diantre !
Qu'un jour, entre
Deux Ave,
Sur la Pierre
D'un calvaire
Il l'a trouvée,


Et l'a mise,
Chose admise
Par le ciel,
Sans ambages,
Dans les pages
Du missel.

Que ces messes
Basses cessent,
Je vous prie.
Non, le prêtre
N'est pas traître
À Marie.

Que personne
Ne soupçonne,
Plus jamais,
La petite
Marguerite,
Ah ! ça mais !*

Georges Brassens
1961 - Les trompettes de la renommé

The so tiny
Daisy flower
Fell down
Strange to say
From The breviary
Of the priest.

Three petals
Of scandal
On the altar
An indiscreet
Easter flower
Whence comes it ?


In the confines
Sacrosanct
What a fuss !
What an outrage,
Yes my dear
Believe me.

The frivolous
Flower in flight
Arrives as
Contraband
From the flower beds
Of the convent.


Our father
Who I hope
Art in heaven
Pay no regard
To the whispers
Of mischief.


The slight
Flower, God's truth !
Does not come
From little nuns
In cornets
At a Black Sabbath.

Know – devil take me!
That, one day between
Hail Marys
On the footstone
Of a wayside cross
He found it.


And he put it
A thing allowed
By heaven
Without ado
In the pages
Of the missal.

Let these masses,
All low, cease now
I pray you.
No the priest
Is not a traitor
To Mary.

Let nobody
Ever suspect
Ever more
The so tiny
Daisy flower.
Words fail me!






TRANSLATION NOTE

(1) De nonnettes – I had never met this word and thought that Brassens had invented this diminutive. In fact, Larousse tells me that nonnette means a young nun.


COMMENTS

1) The music of this poem comes from the rhythm of two lines of four feet followed by one line of three feet. I have tried to keep to this, but have not always managed it.

2) There is a story that Brassens offered this song to Brigitte Bardot, who, it is believed, was an intimate friend. The story goes on to say that she refused because of one line. The line to which she is supposed to have objected is: Fleur, peuchère ! The word "peuchère" is an oath of southern French origin, which Collins Robert translates as "streuth!"- which makes it quite mild. Only a native speaker knows the power of an expletive and,no doubt, Brigitte Bardot found this very unladylike.

This is a relatively unimportant line and Brassens could have easily rephrased it. I would have thought that what she would have found difficult to deliver, would be the last line, where he finally expresses his despair and disbelief at the behaviour of the respectable devout in the supposedly enlightened 20th century.


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


J'ai rendez-vous avec vous -disregarding all else in the first flush of love

J'ai rendez-vous avec vous

This lively song, which is often sung with audience participation, tells of a young man’s all absorbing love for his passionate girl-friend. 

During an interview that took place in the later years of his life, Brassens placed this song as the first of the numerous songs that were inspired by his love of Joha Heiman, his lifelong companion, for whom his affectionate name was “Püppchen”, his little doll. In this interview he quotes, in reference to her, the lines: “ La lumière que je préfère, C'est celle de vos yeux jaloux ». The rest of the poem suggests more explicitly that the start of their relationship was very passionate, in contrast with his complaints in later songs of his sexual deprivation.



A feature of the performance of this song is the gliding of the vowels that I have marked sometimes with a hyphen



Monseigneur l’astre solaire,
Comm’ je n’ l’admir’ pas beaucoup, (1)
M’enlèv’ son feu, oui mais, d’ son feu, moi j’m’en fous,
J’ai rendez-vous avec vous !
La lumièr’ que je préfère,
C’est cell’ de vos yeux jaloux,
Tout le restant m’indiffère,
J’ai rendez-vous avec vous !

Monsieur mon propriétaire,
Comm’ je lui dévaste tout,
M’ chass’ de son toit, oui mais, d’ son toit, moi j'm’en fous
J’ai rendez-vous avec vous !
La demeur’ que je préfère,
C’est votre robe à froufrous (2),
Tout le restant m’indiffère,
J’ai rendez-vous avec vous !

Madame ma gargotière,(3)
Comm’ je lui dois trop de sous,
M’ chass’ de sa tabl’, oui mais, d’ sa tabl’, moi j’m’en fous,
J’ai rendez-vous avec vous !
Le menu que je préfère,
C’est la chair de votre cou,(4)
Tout le restant m’indiffère,
J’ai rendez-vous avec vous !

Sa Majesté financière,
Comm’ je n’ fais rien à son goût,
Garde son or, or, de son or, moi j’m’en fous,(5)
J’ai rendez-vous avec vous !
La fortun’ que je préfère,

C’est votre cœur d’amadou,(6)
Tout le restant m’indiffère,
J’ai rendez-vous avec vous !


1954 - Les amoureux des bancs publics.
Monseigneur the sun in the sky
As I don’t admire him too much,
Removes his light, yes, but he can beggar his light
My rendez-vous is with you.
The light- that I prefer-re,
Is what your jealous eyes endue
For all the rest I do not care-re
My rendez-vous is with you.

The gent who owns my pied d’ terre-
As I mess up all of his place
Is kicking me out, yes, but –can beggar his place
My rendez-vous is with you.
The dwelling that I prefer- e
It’s your dress of froufrous
For all the rest I just do’nt care-e
My rendez-vous is with you.


Madame, my dodgy grub server
As I owe her too many sous,
Drives me from her table, yes, but beggar her table
My rendez-vous is with you.
The menu that I prefer-e,
Is your flesh meant for my kiss(4)
For all the rest I don’t care-e
My rendez-vous is with you.

His Highness my finance guru
As I do nothing he approves
Holds back his cash, but he can beggar his cash
My rendez-vous is with you!
The fortune that I prefer- e
Is your heart made of amadou
I’m left cold  by all of the rest
My rendez-vous is with you.





TRANSLATION NOTES

1) L’astre solaire is the sun and Brassens on a number of occasions expressed his exasperation with a climate where there were too many sunny days.

2) The dictionary says froufrous are showy or frilly ornamentation on a dress

3) La gargotière – Masc – le gargotier. Larousse tells us that this is a person who runs « une gargote », which is a small cheap restaurant.

4)"Cou" of course means "neck". More precisely, Larousse tells us that it means the part of the body that joins the head to the body. The French have the phrase "se jeter au cou de quelq'un" which is to greet some-one with a passionate embrace. I was unhappy with the image in English of "flesh of the neck" and I am making the sense more general..

5) Brassens seems to have written this line mainly because it amused him to have three « ors » in one line. The second “or” is the conjunction which means “now” not in a sense of time but holding a story together- eg: “There was once a very rich king, now this king had three daughters…….”

6) The other word for amadou is torchwood. It is a vegetable substance which in the olden days was used to light a fire or a lamp. Sparks were dropped onto the torchwood on which you then blew on to start a flame. The lady to whom the song was dedicated was apparently quickly stirred to passion.




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

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Pensees des morts Lamartine's thoughts on the death of loved ones

This is Georges Brassens at his most serious, putting into a song six verses written by one of France’s very greatest poets, Alphonse de Lamartine, who was born in 1790 in Mâcon and died in 1869 in Paris.
Lamartine was one of the leading figures of the 19th century Romantic Movement, which brought a consciousness of nature into literature and the arts.

In my interpretation of these verses, I see an awareness not of the presence of dead people we have loved, but a strong awareness of them through the pangs of absence. This view may seem bleak, like the view of nature in the first and last stanza, but it is, perhaps, a more realistic depiction.  The great sense of emptiness and the feeling of impatience for a reunion are a positive restatement of the survival of an experience of love shared across death.

We can understand Brassens’ mood when he recorded this song in 1969. His mother had died in 1962 and his father three years later. He suffered a very great blow on the 24th October 1967, when his Jeanne died and it seemed to him that his world had fallen apart.






Voilà les feuilles sans sève
Qui tombent sur le gazon,
Voilà le vent qui s'élève
Et gémit dans le vallon,
Voilà l'errante hirondelle
Qui rase du bout de l'aile
L'eau dormante des marais,
Voilà l'enfant des chaumières
Qui glane sur les bruyères
Le bois tombé des forêts.




C'est la saison où tout tombe
Aux coups redoublés des vents ;
Un vent qui vient de la tombe
Moissonne aussi les vivants:
Ils tombent alors par mille,
Comme la plume inutile
Que l'aigle abandonne aux airs,
Lorsque des plumes nouvelles
Viennent réchauffer ses ailes
À l'approche des hivers.




C'est alors que ma paupière
Vous vit pâlir et mourir,
Tendres fruits qu'à la lumière
Dieu n'a pas laissé mûrir!
Quoique jeune sur la terre
Je suis déjà solitaire
Parmi ceux de ma saison,
Et quand je dis en moi-même :
"Où sont ceux que ton coeur aime ?"
Je regarde le gazon.




C'est un ami de l'enfance
Qu'aux jours sombres du malheur
Nous prêta la Providence
Pour appuyer notre coeur ;
Il n'est plus : notre âme est veuve(2)
Il nous suit dans notre épreuve
Et nous dit avec pitié :
"Ami si ton âme est pleine,
De ta joie ou de ta peine
Qui portera la moitié ?"



C'est une jeune fiancée
Qui, le front ceint du bandeau(3),
N'emporta qu'une pensée
De sa jeunesse au tombeau ;
Triste, hélas ! dans le ciel même,
Pour revoir celui qu'elle aime
Elle revient sur ses pas,
Et lui dit : "Ma tombe est verte !
Sur cette terre déserte
Qu'attends-tu ? Je n'y suis pas !"




C'est l'ombre pâle d'un père
Qui mourut en nous nommant ;
C'est une soeur, c'est un frère
Qui nous devance un moment,
Tous ceux enfin dont la vie
Un jour où l'autre ravie,
Emporte une part de nous,
Semblent dire sous la pierre :
"Vous qui voyez la lumière,
De nous vous souvenez vous ?"



Voilà les feuilles sans sève
Qui tombent sur le gazon,
Voilà le vent qui s'élève
Et gémit dans le vallon,
Voilà l'errante hirondelle
Qui rase du bout de l'aile
L'eau dormante des marais,
Voilà l'enfant des chaumières
Qui glane sur les bruyères
Le bois tombé des forêts.
Poem (1826) by Alphonse De Lamartine

(In Brassens album of 1969 - La religieuse)

See yonder the sapless leaves
Which fall on the grass beneath;
See too how the wind is rising
And whines soft in the valley;
See yonder the stray swallow
Which skims with its wingtip
The still water of the marshes;
See there the cottagers’ child
Who gathers up off the heath
Fallen wood from the forests.



It’s the season when all things fall
To winds gusting twice as strong;
There’s a wind comes from the tomb
That harvests the living too.
They fall then in their thousands
Just like the useless feather
Which the eagle sheds into the air
When its new-grown feathers
Come bring warmth to its wings
At the approach of winters.



It was at this time that my eyes
Watched as you grew pale and died
Tender fruits, which in the daylight
God did not leave to ripen!
Though I am young on this earth
I am already alone
Among my generation
And when I say to myself:
« Where are those whom your heart loves »
It’s to the grass that I look. 




He was a friend from my childhood
Whom providence lent to us(1)
For dark days  of misfortune
To give a lift to our hearts;
He’s no more : our souls are bereft
He follows us in our trial
And says to us with pity:
“My friend, if your soul is so filled
With your joy and with your pain
Who will be there to bear one half ?”




She was young, newly betrothed
Who, a bandage round her brow
Bore off just a thought of
Her youthfulness to the grave;
Sad alas! In heaven itself,
Again to see him she loves,
She traces back her steps
And tells him: «Green is my tomb!
What on this bleak land
Do you wait for?  I am not here! »








It’s the pale shade of a father
Who died, our names on his lips;
It’s a sister, it’s a brother
Who precedes us one brief while.
All those, at the last, whose life,
Snatched one day or another,
Takes a part of us away.
They seem to say ‘neath the stone
« You who can see the light of day
Do you remember us still ? »



See yonder the sapless leaves
Which fall on the grass beneath;
See too how the wind is rising
And whines soft in the valley;
See yonder the stray swallow
Which skims with its wingtip
The still water of the marshes;
See there the cottagers’ child
Who gathers up off the heath
Fallen wood from the forests.




TRANSLATION NOTES
1)    I have taken the liberty of transposing these two lines for the clarity of my translation!
2)    notre âme est veuve -  Collins/Robert  tells us that as well as translating “widowed” “veuf” has a literary sense of “bereft”
3)    Bandeau - Collins/Robert gives four meanings- “Headband”, Hair coil, “Head bandage”, “Blindfold”.  Perhaps a different choice in translation of one of these would suggest a different aspect to the story. ( See below)


A PERSONAL COMMENT

When I studied some poems of Lamartine for my « A » level, fifty years ago, my French teacher taught me something that I have never questioned or revised since. He said that, if you ask English people to quote a poem they know, they will recite the first verse of Wordsworth’s “Daffodils”- “I wandered lonely as a cloud…. . If you ask French people, he said, they will recite the first verse of Lamartine’s poem: “Le Lac” (1820). As I learned these verses at the age of 16, it is absolutely impossible for me to forget them. Here is the first verse:


Ainsi, toujours poussés vers de nouveaux rivages,
Dans la nuit éternelle emportés sans retour,
Ne pourrons-nous jamais sur l’océan des âges
Jeter l’ancre un seul jour?


Always driven as we are to ever new shores

Into night eternal borne off with no return
Can we never ever on the ocean of time

Cast anchor for one single day?

The lake in the poem was at Aix-les-Bains. In 1816, Lamartine had gone there for convalescence and had fallen deeply in love with a fellow patient, Julie Charles. She was a married lady and was suffering from tuberculosis. They planned to meet up at Lake Bourget again, a year later, but by that time, she was seriously ill and was unable to leave Paris, where she died a few months later.

Lamartine married Mary-Ann Birch, an English-woman, in June 1820. He wrote the poem, “Pensées des morts” in 1826 and it is perhaps unlikely that the young fiancée, mourned in it is Julie Charles. The bandeau that he recalls was probably a favourite headband in which he pictures some other young girlfriend, but I gave some idle thought whether I should put down “bandage”, which is an alternative translation to suggest a meeting of two convalescents .


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


A reminder to myself of a touching English poem on the emptiness when a deeply loved person is gone.


The great 17th century poet, John Donne, who dearly loved his wife said that if he lost her he could not bear to look at another woman. CS Lewis disagrees. It is in the small things formerly shared together that the pain lies. His lost love for his wife. Joy Gresham, was the subject of the film “Shadowlands”

Joys that Sting by C S Lewis

“Oh doe not die,” says Donne, “for I shall hate
All women so”. How false the sentence rings.
Women? But in a life made desolate
It is the joys once shared that have the stings.

To take the old walks alone, or not at all,
To order one pint where I ordered two,
To think of, and then not to make, the small
Time-honoured joke (senseless to all but-you);

To laugh (oh, one'll laugh), to talk upon
Themes that we talked upon when you were there,
To make some poor pretence of going on,
Be kind to one's old friends, and seem to care,

While no one (O God) through the years will say
The simplest, common word just your way.

Taken from Poems by C S Lewis 1964