Wednesday, 19 November 2008

La non-demande en mariage

The title of this song: “The Non proposal of Marriage” suggests a cynical view of the relationship of a man with a woman. In fact, the song is a sincere love song, in which Brassens expresses to his lifelong fiancée, Joha Heiman, his deep appreciation for her role in their very successful and very individual partnership.

Ma mie, de grâce, ne mettons
Pas sous la gorge à Cupidon
Sa propre flèche,
Tant d'amoureux l'ont essayé
Qui, de leur bonheur, ont payé
Ce sacrilège...

J'ai l'honneur de
Ne pas te demander ta main,
Ne gravons pas
Nos noms au bas
D'un parchemin.

Laissons le champ libre à l’oiseau,  Nous serons tous les deux priso-
nniers sur parole,
Au diable, les maîtresses queux
Qui attachent les coeurs aux queues
Des casseroles!

J'ai l'honneur de
Ne pas te demander ta main,
Ne gravons pas
Nos noms au bas
D'un parchemin.

Vénus se fait vieille souvent
Elle perd son latin devant
La lèchefrite
A aucun prix, moi je ne veux
Effeuiller dans le pot-au-feu
La marguerite.

J'ai l'honneur de Ne pas te demander ta main,
Ne gravons pas
Nos noms au bas
D'un parchemin.

Il peut sembler de tout repos
De mettre à l'ombre, au fond d'un pot
De confiture,
La jolie pomme défendue,
Mais elle est cuite, elle a perdu
Son goût "nature".

J'ai l'honneur de
Ne pas te demander ta main,
Ne gravons pas
Nos noms au bas
D'un parchemin.

On leur ôte bien des attraits,
En dévoilant trop les secrets
De Mélusine. (4)
L'encre des billets doux pâlit
Vite entre les feuillets des li-
vres de cuisine.

J'ai l'honneur de
Ne pas te demander ta main,
Ne gravons pas
Nos noms au bas
D'un parchemin.

De servante n'ai pas besoin,
Et du ménage et de ses soins
Je te dispense...

Qu'en éternelle fiancée,
A la dame de mes pensées
Toujours je pense...

J'ai l'honneur de
Ne pas te demander ta main,
Ne gravons pas
Nos noms au bas
D'un parchemin.

Beloved, for mercy’s sake, let us
Not load, beneath Cupid’s chin
His own arrow, (1) So many lovers have tried Who have paid with their lost joys for
This sacrilege…

I have the honour
Not to ask your hand in marriage
Let’s not inscribe
Our names at the end
Of some parchment

Let’s leave a free hand to the fellow (Cupid)
We will both of us be two pris ..
oners on parole
Devil take the cook-mistresses
Who pin their hearts to handles
Of pots and pans.

I have the honour
Not to ask your hand in marriage
Let’s not inscribe
Our names at the end
Of some parchment

Venus often makes herself old
She loses her latin (2) faced by
The frying pan.
At no price would I ever wish
To tell off daisy petals in
The pot of stew. (3)

I have the honour
Not to ask your hand in marriage
Let’s not inscribe
Our names at the end
Of some parchment.

It might seem to be nice and snug
To put, out of view, at the bottom of
A jar of jam
The tasty forbidden apple
But it is cooked, it has quite lost
Its fresh picked taste.

I have the honour
Not to ask your hand in marriage
Let’s not inscribe
Our names at the end
Of some parchment.

You remove so much of the charms
By revealing too many secrets
Of Melusine.
The ink of billets doux fades
Fast in between the pages of  
Cookery books.

I have the honour
Not to ask your hand in marriage
Let’s not inscribe
Our names at the end
Of some parchment.

Of servant I have no need
And from housekeeping and its tasks
I set you free
So as eternal fiancée
Of you, lady of my thoughts,
I think always.

I have the honour
Not to ask your hand in marriage
Let’s not inscribe
Our names at the end
Of some parchment.


1) It was for Cupid, the God of love, to aim his arrows himself. Love should be spontaneous and it is a sacrilege for people to think to arrange things for themselves.

2) perd son latin – The phrase « J’y perds mon latin » means « I am completely baffled by it ». Brassens uses this image to conjure up the mental decline caused by domestic chores and it is humorous as the Goddess of Love was a Roman Goddess.

3) Effeuiller la marguerite. Plucking the petals of the oxeye daisy is a game that lovers play, while saying “She loves me – she loves me not.”. Another image to suggest the adulteration of love by domesticity.

4) In Breton folk-lore, Mélusine was a fairy upon whom a wicked spell had been cast which turned her into a siren on one day each week. A local nobleman, Raimond de Lusignan, came across her with other fairies in the woods and was captivated by her beauty and gentle manners. She agreed to marry him on condition that he did not seek to find out her life story or try to see her on Saturdays. They had a happy and most prosperous relationship until one Saturday…. As this is a folk tale, which are invariably very miserable you can guess the rest. Brassens is saying that both parties in a relationship are entitled to their own private space, where they retain things secret from the other.
5) The French also talk of “le fruit défendu”. In English we always say forbidden fruit, but with some hesitation, I have kept the word “apple” in this line
6) la dame de mes pensées….Toujours je pense. There is a play on words here that I find impossible to translate. In the tradition of chivalry, a knight before entering the lists would choose one lady, of whom he would be the champion and to whom he would dedicate his endeavours. She became “la dame de ses pensées”. It was a relationship of the mind, a platonic love, because the lady chosen by the knight would, more often, be married to someone else. In “Je me suis fait tout petit” Brassens suggests that their relationship was of the same kind. However the mention of the forbidden apple suggests that not only was sex an element of their relationship, but that it always retained the tangy flavour of seduction.
A modern group has made a very sensitive and expressive recording of this song on their album « Catalina Claro et ses amis chantent Brassens ».

Listen and admire this rendition sung by: 
Catalina, Michel Maestro et Eduardo Peralta(Unfortunately I have no video.)



Georges Brassens and Joha Heiman shared each other's life, doing a lot of things together, but they lived apart in their separate homes. They had regular telephone conversations and called around to see each other frequently. She went on tour with him and stood in the wings during his performances, keeping an eye on everything. Their’s was a personal and a professional relationship but certainly not a domestic one. They each had their own space, which could be described perhaps as their Saturday of Mélusine.

Georges Brassens is reported as saying of his "Puppchen" that she was not his wife, she was his goddess. On her death in 1999, she was buried in the grave of Georges Brassens.

Further Information about Joha Heiman
There are a number of songs that Brassens wrote about Joha on this site. One of these is "Je me suis fait petit" and my posting of this song got me in discussion with other bloggers.As a result there is now much more detail about Joha and about her relationship with Brassens there, which I and other bloggers have written after the song. If you wish to look at it, the following title is the link: Je me suis fait petit

The day after I posted this song, I read in the Times of the rise in the number middle-class, middle-aged couples, who choose to "live apart together".

Click here to return to the full index of Brassens songs on this site

Saturday, 8 November 2008

LES TROMPETTES DE LA RENOMMÉE His strong refusal to win publicity by sacrificing personal privacy

This is Brassens at his most shocking and offensive and he is deliberately so.

Apparently he had been advised (in 1960) to liven up his image in keeping with an age that was beginning to swing.  One suggestion was that he should revive public attention by leaking spicy details of his private life. 

Brassens thinks that this would be nasty not only for him but for those who have shared his life. In each verse he mercilessly piles on the detail of the squalid, destructive role others would have him play.

He refuses to change and says he will just stand still on stage and play his guitar as always. He calls this scratching his stomach to show his disregard for presentation. If the public do not want this, he will pack it all in and rest peacefully on his laurels, which in his case is not a laurel wreath but the solitary laurel sprig he believes he has earned.

Brassens chooses “La Renomée” the winged goddess  of classical legend for his theme, because her fearsome character represents his own distaste and even horror at the experience of fame (Renomée), which he has encountered. 

Brassens is following the description of this goddess that he had read in his studies of Virgil, the eminent poet of Ancient Rome.  In Virgil's account, Fama (her latin name), was conceived by her mother, the Earth, to revenge herself against the gods. Fama is a gigantic, grotesque monster, possessing countless tongues, ears and also mouths from which she sounds forth her trumpets.

Je vivais à l'écart de la place publique,
Serein, contemplatif, ténébreux, bucolique... (1)
Refusant d'acquitter la rançon de la gloir',
Sur mon brin de laurier je dormais comme un loir. (2)

Les gens de bon conseil ont su me fair' comprendre
Qu'à l'homme de la ru' j'avais des compt's à rendre
Et que, sous peine de choir dans un oubli complet,
J' devais mettre au grand jour tous mes petits secrets.

De la Renommée,(4)
Vous êtes
Bien mal embouchées !

Manquant à la pudeur la plus élémentaire,
Dois-je, pour les besoins d' la caus' publicitaire,
Divulguer avec qui, et dans quell' position
Je plonge dans le stupre et la fornication?
Si je publi' des noms, combien de Pénélopes(5)
Passeront illico pour de fieffé's salopes,
Combien de bons amis me r'gard'ront de travers,
Combien je recevrai de coups de revolver!

De la Renommée,
Vous êtes
Bien mal embouchées !

Brassens omits this next verse in 

A toute exhibition, ma nature est rétive,
Souffrant d'un' modesti' quasiment maladive,
Je ne fais voir mes organes procréateurs
A personne, excepté mes femm's et mes docteurs.
Dois-je, pour défrayer la chroniqu' (6) des scandales,
Battre l' tambour (7) avec mes parti's génitales,
Dois-je les arborer plus ostensiblement,
Comme un enfant de chœur porte un saint sacrement ?

De la Renommée,
Vous êtes
Bien mal embouchées !

Une femme du monde, et qui souvent me laisse
Fair' mes quat' voluptés (8) dans ses quartiers d' noblesse,
M'a sournois'ment passé, sur son divan de soi',
Des parasit's du plus bas étage qui soit...
Sous prétexte de bruit, sous couleur de réclame,
Ai-j' le droit de ternir l'honneur de cette dame
En criant sur les toits, et sur l'air des lampions (9) :
" Madame la marquis' m'a foutu des morpions ! " ? (10)

De la Renommée,
Vous êtes
Bien mal embouchées !

Le ciel en soit loué, je vis en bonne entente
Avec le Pèr' Duval, (11) la calotte chantante,
Lui, le catéchumène,(12) et moi, l'énergumèn',
Il me laisse dire « merd', je lui laiss' dire amen,
En accord avec lui, dois-je écrir' dans la presse
Qu'un soir je l'ai surpris aux genoux d' ma maîtresse,
Chantant la mélopé' d'une voix qui susurre, (13)
Tandis qu'ell' lui cherchait des poux dans la tonsure ? (14)

De la Renommée,
Vous êtes
Bien mal embouchées !

Avec qui, ventrebleu ! faut-il que je couche
Pour fair' parler un peu la déesse aux cent bouches ?
Faut-il qu'un' femme célèbre, une étoile, une star, (15)
Vienn' prendre entre mes bras la plac' de ma guitar' ?
Pour exciter le peuple et les folliculaires,
Qui'est-c' qui veut me prêter sa croupe populaire,
Qui'est-c' qui veut m' laisser faire, in naturalibus,
Un p'tit peu d'alpinism' sur son mont de Vénus ?

De la Renommée,
Vous êtes
Bien mal embouchées !

Sonneraient-ell's plus fort, ces divines trompettes,
Si, comm' tout un chacun, j'étais un peu tapette, (16)
Si je me déhanchais comme une demoiselle
Et prenais tout à coup des allur's de gazelle?
Mais je ne sache pas qu'ça profite à ces drôles
De jouer le jeu d' l'amour en inversant les rôles,
Qu'ça confère à ma gloire un' onc' de plus-valu', (17)
Le crim' pédérastique,(18) aujourd'hui, ne pai' plus.

De la Renommée,
Vous êtes
Bien mal embouchées !

Après c'tour d'horizon des mille et un' recettes
Qui vous val'nt à coup sûr les honneurs des gazettes,
J'aime mieux m'en tenir à ma premièr' façon
Et me gratter le ventre en chantant des chansons.
Si le public en veut, je les sors dare-dare,
S'il n'en veut pas je les remets dans ma guitare,
Refusant d'acquitter la rançon de la gloir',
Sur mon brin de laurier je m'endors comme un loir.

De la Renommée,
Vous êtes
Bien mal embouchées !

I used to live well away from the public eye
Serene, contemplative, sombre and bucolic
Refusing to hand over the ransom for fame
On my meagre laurels, I slept like a dormouse.

People of good counsel managed to make me see
That to the man in the street, I’d some debts to pay
And, for fear of falling in complete oblivion,

I must freely reveal all my little secrets

Trumpets of
The Goddess “Fame”,
You are
So badly out of tune!

Flouting the most elementary modesty
Must I, for the needs of agents of publicity,
Divulge with whom and in what exact position
I plunge in debauchery and fornication?
If I publish names, how many Penelopes
Will be known straightaway as the most arrant whores
How many valued friends will look at me askance
How many revolver shots will I be hit by!

Trumpets of
The Goddess “Fame”,
You are
So badly out of tune!

the video I have posted above

At all public display my heart feels uneasy,
Suff’ring from modesty that’s almost unhealthy.
I do not reveal my reproductive organs
To anyone, except my women and my doctors.

Must I, to be headline news in gossip columns,
Drum up attention with my genital parts.
Must I raise them on high more ostensibly
As a choir boy carries the holy sacrament.

Trumpets of
The Goddess “Fame”,
You are
So badly out of tune!

A society woman of, who often gives me
Free rein to hot delights in her noble quarters
Slyly passed on to me, on her divan of silk,
Some parasites of the basest kind possible.
Under the pretext of sensation, under the heading of publicity
Have I the right to tarnish the honour of this lady?
By shouting from the rooftops and chanting the catchphrase
“The Marchioness has infected me with crabs”.

Trumpets of
The Goddess “Fame”,
You are
So badly out of tune!

Heaven indeed be praised, I live on the best of terms,
With le père Duval, the singing skullcap,
He the strict conformist, I the non-conformist
He lets me say “Oh Shit!”, I let him say “Amen”,
In agreement with him, must I write in the press
That one night I surprised him at my girl friend’s knees,
Singing a flat, unvaried chant in slushing tones,
While she was searching for fleas on his tonsured head.

Trumpets of
The Goddess “Fame”,
You are
So badly out of tune!

So with whom, good heavens! must I go to bed
To make the goddess with hundred mouths talk of me?
Must a female celebrity, a famous star

Come and take my guitar’s place to lie in my arms?
To get the people and the gutter press excited
Who really wants to lend me her popular butt?

Who is willing to allow me to do, stripped naked,
A little bit of a climb  on her mount of Venus?

Trumpets of
The Goddess “Fame”,
You are
So badly out of tune!

Would they sound out more strong, these trumpets of the Gods ,
If, like each and everyone, I was a bit gay,
If I swayed with my hips more like a young woman
And I suddenly took on a gazelle-like gait
But I would not know whether these jokers profit 

By playing the game of love while inverting the roles,
Whether this would add one single ounce to my fame.
The crime of same sex love, today, no longer pays.

Trumpets of
The Goddess “Fame”,
You are
So badly out of tune!

After this review of the thousand and one tricks
Which are sure to earn the honours of the papers
I prefer to keep to my first way of doing things
And scratch my stomach, as ever, while singing songs
If the public wishes, I get them out quick time.
If not, I put them all back into my guitar,
Refusing to pay over the ransom of fame
On my meagre laurels, I sleep like a dormouse

Trumpets of
The Goddess “Fame”,
You are
So badly out of tune!


1) Bucolic= Pastoral .   (The adjective ‘bucolic’ is derived from the Greek word for herdsmen). Brassens felt at home in a country setting, as we see in other songs of his- e.g. “Auprès demon arbre”. By using this adjective “bucolic”, he reminds us that his attitude has a long, honourable literary tradition dating back to the poets of Greece and Rome

2) Je dormais comme un loir. There are two expressions based on “sleeping” in this line.
Dormir comme un loir= to sleep like a dormouse. “S’endormir sur ses lauriers” to rest on one’s laurels.

3) Trompettes… mal embouchées.
Brassens is making a play on words. “Emboucher la trompette” is to put the trumpet to your lips to play – in this case wrongly. The idiom “Mal embouché » means speaking coarsely like the English to bad mouth.

4) la Renommée,= the Goddess of Fame.  Wikipedia tells us PHEME or OSSA was the goddess or spirit (daimon) of rumour, report and gossip. She was also, by extension, the dual spirit of fame and good repute in a positive sense, and infamy and scandal in the bad.

In Greek mythology, Pheme (Greek: Φήμη, Roman equivalent: Fama) was the personification of fame and renown, her favour being fame, her wrath being scandalous rumors.

5) Pénélope was the wife of Ulysses, faithful to him in his long absence. Brassens has a song with this name as its title.  Brassens is not afraid to admit that he had consoled a few lonely Penelopes.

6) défrayer la chronique = to be in the news- to be in the limelight

7) Battre l' tambour. The translation of town crier is tambour de ville because a little drum was used to draw attention, where the English used a bell

8) Mes quat' voluptés : This is a play on words from the phrase « Laisser faire à quelqu’un ses quatre voluptés » = to leave some-one a free hand to do what they like. Alone, the plural noun “voluptés” means sensual pleasures. Ses quartiers refers to the quarters on her noble coat of arms, but has a double meaning.

9) l'air des lampions : This is a chant made by a group of people, which should really be three syllables repeated on the same note. For example, where impatient English people will sing repeatedly the one line: “Why are we waiting?” the French will chant Com-men-cez.., Com-men-cez…. The chant here is shaped by the alliteration of four m sounds.

10) morpions - are pubic lice

11) le Père Duval - Brassens has just said that he should not be expected to reveal secrets of his friends and colleagues. In this verse, he does just that. Le Père Duval (1918- 1984) was a Jesuit priest, who was a gifted songwriter and solo guitarist. He appeared on the same stages as Georges Brassens and was sometimes known as “Brassens in a cassock”. He was very popular in the 1950s and 1960s and gave more than 3,000 concerts in 44 countries. Under the strain of his professional career he became an alcoholic and had great difficulty in overcoming this addiction. Brassens mischievously tells us he also had another weakness of the flesh.

12) Catéchumène – As this means some-one who is receiving religious instruction it does not apply to a Jesuit priest , but Brassens likes the play on the word with “énergumène” which means a rowdy person.

13) La mélopée means monotonous chant, Susurrer means to whisper. The onomatopoeia of the two French words perfectly conveys the action.

14) This line is intended to give a description of the relative positions of the man and woman rather than give an exact explanation of their activity.

15) une étoile, une star, - as the two words have the same meaning, one noun only is required in the translation.

16) Tapette- Collins Robert tells us that this equates in English to « poof » or « queer ». I am reluctant to use this as the translation would, in contemporary political correctness, make him guilty of a hate crime. As an admirer of Brassens’ character, I am absolutely certain that he did not hate homosexuals. As he says in this same line, homosexuality is all around. A large number of the leading figures in entertainment and the arts were homosexual. At some concerts, the great French songwriter and singer, Charles Trenet was on the same bill as Brassens. What was different in those days was that homosexuality was a criminal offence. Brassens cynically tells those who might have him act as if he had such inclinations to arouse the clamour of the press, that homosexuality does not pay. It is true that Brassens had on some subjects strong feelings that could be represented by the unsympathetic as hatred, but these were directed at people with power who oppressed their fellows. Those vulnerable people he refers to in this verse do not come into that category

17) plus-value is a word used in commerce = increase in value, appreciation.

18) Le crime pédérastique. In the 1950s the word pédéraste was used to describe a homosexual. The homosexual act was not decriminalised in France until the 4th August 1982.


Click here to return to the full index of Brassens songs on this blog

Sunday, 6 July 2008


Brassens said this song, which he acknowledged as written for his partner Joha, was one of his favourites. It deals with a major theme of classical poetry: that “youth is a thing that cannot last” but while accepting this, Brassens believes that the joys of youth need not end so prematurely. He celebrates instead the charms of the mature woman and the comforts of love that can be enjoyed in the Indian Summer of life. When he wrote this poem, Brassens was about 42 years old and his Puppchen had turned fifty.

Il est morne, il est taciturne,
Il préside aux choses du temps
Il porte un joli nom "Saturne"(1)
Mais c'est un dieu fort inquiétant.
Il porte un joli nom "Saturne"
Mais c'est un dieu fort inquiétant.

En allant son chemin morose,
Pour se désennuyer un peu,
Il joue à bousculer les roses, (2)
Le temps tue le temps comme il peut.(1)
Il joue à bousculer les roses,
Le temps tue le temps comme il peut.

Cette saison, c'est toi ma belle,
Qui as fait les frais de son jeu
Toi qui as payé la gabelle,(3)
Un grain de sel dans tes cheveux.
Toi qui a payé la gabelle,
Un grain de sel dans tes cheveux.

C'est pas vilain les fleurs d'automne,
Et tous les poètes l'ont dit
Je te regarde et je te donne
Mon billet (4) qu’ils n'ont pas menti.
Je te regarde et je te donne
Mon billet qu'ils n'ont pas menti.

Viens encore, viens ma favorite(5),
Descendons ensemble au jardin
Viens effeuiller la marguerite (6)
De l'été de la Saint Martin.(7)
Viens effeuiller la marguerite
De l'été de la Saint Martin.

Je sais par coeur toutes tes grâces
Et, pour me les faire oublier,
Il faudra que Saturne en fasse
Des tours d'horloge et de sablier !(8)
Et la petite pisseuse d'en face (9)
Peut bien aller se rhabiller.(10)
He is dour, he is taciturn,
He rules over matters of time
He bears a pretty name « Saturn »
But he is a most disquieting god,
He bears a pretty name « Saturn »
But he is a most disquieting god.

Pursuing his gloom laden path,
To relieve his boredom a bit,
He plays at knocking down roses.
Time kills time as he is able.
He plays at knocking down roses,
Time kills time as he is able.

At this time, tis you, my fair one
Who have borne the brunt of his sport
You who paid his penalty with
A fleck of silver in your hair.
You who paid his penalty with
A fleck of silver in your hair.

 Autumn flowers lack not beauty
And poets’ve all said the same
I look at you and stake my word
That they were not telling a lie
I look at you and stake my word
That they were not telling a lie.

Come once more, my favourite (5) lets
Go down to the garden together
Come count off our love with petals
Of chrysanths, this Indian Summer.
Come count off our love with petals
Of chrysanths this Indian summer.

I know by heart all your graces
And to force me to forget them
Saturn would need to make endless
Turns of the clock and the hourglass
And the little cheeky girl opposite
Might as well give up and clear off


(1) Saturne – He is the God of time, who in legend eats up his children, just as time eventually destroys us all.  Later we read: Le temps tue le temps comme il peut- Saturn, as the god of time, is sometimes depicted with an hourglass in one hand and a scythe in the other.

(2) Les roses – As in English poetry- “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may….”, roses symbolise the beauty of young women.

(3) La gabelle was a detested tax on salt levied by the monarchy before the Revolution. Brassens makes it the tax paid with age to Saturn and its mark is the salt white of the first grey hair. I find this image somewhat over-contrived, although the French who have the expression: “poivre et sel” to describe greying hair might accept it more readily.

(4) Je te donne mon billet (or more common -je te fiche mon billet) means: I am ready to put my money on it.

(5) Ma favorite. We are told that Brassens referred to Joha as “his favourite” as well as his “püppchen ”. As the meaning of “favourite” is a person preferred above others this does not preclude a liking for others, which could lead to a circumstance considered in the last verse of this poem(6) Effeuiller la marguerite is to play the lovers’ game of plucking the petals saying: “She loves me. She loves me not”.

(7) La marguerite de l'été de la Saint Martin is the chrysanthemum, a flower of the late months of the year. The feast of Saint Martin on the 11th of November is associated with a spell of mild weather and is what we call an Indian Summer. To the poet this symbolises youth reborn.

(8) Des tours d'horloge et de sablier : The fingers of the clock will have to go round and round and the hour glass will need to turned upside down endlessly, because he will never forget the beauty of his mistress.

(9) Et la petite pisseuse d'en face. The word that Brassens chooses to describe the young girl gives the English speaking listener or reader a sharp shock. As we have the same word for “pisser” i.e. “to piss”, we can understand that he is contemptuously dismissing her as a girl who wets her knickers, which would seem to us no higher than schoolchild abuse. However French bloggers, whose comments are posted below, tell us that the word is not so objectionable in French. Looking in the French- English Robert dictionary, a meaning given is “a (female) brat”, but the word is starred to warn of its impolite usage.
Three degrees of interpretation are suggested for Brassens’ choice of this word:
i) The most practical and down to earth is that Joha was aware that his eye had been wandering to an attractive young neighbour, arousing Joha’s passionate jealousy which was an outstanding feature of her character. Brassens therefore had to express his strong distaste towards the girl.
ii) The explanation put forward by those who have an absolute conviction in Brassens’ devotion to the one love of his life, is that Brassens had no interest in the girl but was using her to contrast the richer benefits that his mature partner brought to him.
iii) The most idealistic interpretation is that there was no other female involved, but that the pisseuse is a personification of the inadequacies of raw youth.

The proponents of the last explanation would claim that the lofty tone of the poem is maintained to the end, while the proponents of the first delight in the dramatic contrast of the trivial language of the last two lines with the lofty tone of the rest.

10) Elle peut bien aller se rhabiller – She might as well clear off/ buzz off/ beggar off. The colloquial expression of contempt continues the idea that she (or “it”-i.e. youth) has no relevance to their lives.


When I first posted this song, I was working on a performance where Brassens omitted the final verse and I jumped to the conclusion that it was deliberate censorship on his part of lines which recorded a personal row between him and his sweetheart and which contained personal invective. I realised how wrong I was when I read a tribute that he made to Joha near the end of his life. In it he spoke of half a dozen of the songs that he had been inspired by his love for his Püppchen. Inevitably, Saturne was in the list, but the words he quoted were from the last verse of the song, which obviously meant a lot to him. He wrote:
.......... et «Saturne»
Je sais par coeur toutes tes grâces
Et pour me les faire oublier
Il faudra que Saturne en fasse
Des tours d'horloge, de sablier.

A comment from a french blogger:
I received this comment from a French blogger on the 25th March 2009, and was very grateful to be reminded how beautiful the French find this song. Unfortunately I accidentally deleted the message while making my most recent post. This is ungracious on my part and so I am copying it here:
K said...
Je viens tout juste de tomber sur votre blog en cherchant Saturne... c'est une si belle chanson! :) ...même malgré les deux dernières lignes! :

Je suis toujours agréablement surpris de trouver de l'anglais autour de mes chansonniers français préférés.

Bravo pour votre blog; j'y reviendrai assurément!

Merci K. Un message encourageant me fait du bien.

Click here to return to the full index of Brassens songs on this site

Tuesday, 29 April 2008

La cane de Jeanne- Brassens Translation

The following is a simple Brassens song which a lot of French people know from their primary school days. It tells the true, sad story of the death of the pet female duck of his friend Jeanne Planche. Mme Planche had given Brassens a temporary home many years ago that he never got round to leaving. The solemn, slow rhythm makes the song a funeral march and the sentiments expressed for the deceased tell how deep was her sense of loss.

Brassens knew, however, that Jeanne had originally bought this duck for them all to eat but she hadn’t had the heart to do it. In cold reality, non vegetarians must, of necessity, have limits to their sensitivities.

I think we gather that Brassens, although a great animal lover himself, is having a gentle tease at the expense of this soft-hearted woman of whom he was so fond. ( Click here to see my account of thestory of Brassens and Jeanne )


La cane
De Jeanne
Est morte au gui(i) l'an neuf,
Elle avait fait, la veille,
Merveille !
Un oeuf !

La cane
De Jeanne
Est morte d'avoir fait,
Du moins on le présume,
Un rhume,
Mauvais !

La cane
De Jeanne
Est morte sur son oeuf
Et dans son beau costume
De plumes,
Tout neuf !

La cane
De Jeanne,
Ne laissant pas de veuf,
C'est nous autres(ii) qui eumes
Les plumes,
Et l'oeuf !

Tous, toutes,
Sans doute,
Garderons longtemps le
Souvenir de la cane
De Jeanne
Morbleu !

The duckling
Of Jeanne
Died upon New Year’s day.
It had made, on the Eve
An egg!

The duckling
Of Jeanne
It died from having caught
At least so we presume,
A cold

The duckling
Of Jeanne
Died upon its egg
And in its fine costume
Of feathers,
Brand new!

The duckling
Of Jeanne
Leaving no widower
It was just us who got
The feathers
And th’ egg!

One and all
Don’t doubt it
We’ll retain for years the  
Mem’ry of the duckling
Of Jeanne
Good grief!

In translation the vocabulary is simple but it is the rhythm that counts:3-3-6-7-3-2 to convey the sense of a slow funeral march. Brassens achieves this also by lingering on final syllables.

(i) au gui = at the mistletoe. At the New Year, the tradition is to kiss under the mistletoe to wish good luck.
(ii) nous autres = us lot - in expressions such as this"autres" is being used for emphasis with no sense of "other".  Robert gives the example:
Nous autres Francais, nous aimons la bonne cuisine - We French love good cooking.

(iii) Morbleu ! We have to end with an oath. This is an old-fashioned oath that French children would not be familiar with. Collins Robert suggests “Gazooks” as a translation. Even if the rest of the song is put into English, I would like to keep the despairing French oath for effect. Some critics think it is a cry against human mortality. I think it is despair about how long Jeanne is going to go on about her sweet little duck.


A private note for my primary schoolteacher daughter, Katharine.
If I was turning this into a French presentation for Parents' evening, I would think of dividing it into three parts.
Part one: The children's presentation.
I would borrow some of the artwork fom the French video. I like the duck being only intermittently dead! If when the children bring their work to the central display, they can do a kind of slow march for the first two and last two lines, that would be clever. At some point a big egg is put on a separate stand and is left there.

Part two: the music teacher turns to the parents and tells them that the roles are going to be reversed and they are going to be the performers and the children are going to applaud them if deserving.

The chidren give out sheets with the copy of the song in English. The music teacher gives them a brief rehearsal of the first verse stressing the importance of the rhythm with excessive stress put on the "eu" endings. The parents then sing the whole song with the music teacher stopping for a repeat if the parents miss an "eu".
The music teacher should insist that the parents say the final oath - which contains the last "eu" sound with feeling.
The children finally give the applause that is merited.

Part three: the previous part is meant to be lighthearted and noisy, ready for a change of mood in this section.
The teacher sees that all the artwork has been cleared from the stage, but that the egg has been forgotten. The teacher selects a child and says:
"Anne, we have forgotten the egg of the Cane de Jeanne. Would you mind bringing it to me?"

The child goes up to the egg and makes to get hold of the artwork. Suddenly she stops and puts her ear to the egg.

The teacher asks what is wrong.

"I can hear a tapping sound", the child replies. Immediately she stands in front of the egg hiding it from the audience. Unseen, she removes the top part of the egg. Then she steps aside to show the egg to the audience and points to the egg saying:"Look what was in the egg of the Cane de Jeanne!"

The broken egg now has the face of a happy chick on show. -I would borrow that picture from the French video.

If our dramatic timing is good we have moved from the theme of death to re-birth.

Click here to return to the full index of Brassens songs on this blog

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux Brassens sings Aragon's famous poem of the ambiguity of love.

(Picture left)  Elsa, the muse who inspired the poet, Louis Aragon..

The lyrics of Brassens' song are taken from a very famous poem by Louis Aragon (1897-1982). Its mood is melancholic and pessimistic. Aragon admits that it was affected by his difficulties during the harsh times at the end of the war, which prevented him living life to the full with his beloved wife, Elsa. He felt that if you created a high ideal of love, the realities of life would of necessity involve a betrayal.


Brassens' recording of "Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux"

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux by Louis Aragon

Rien n'est jamais acquis à l'homme 
Ni sa force
Ni sa faiblesse ni son coeur 
Et quand il croit
Ouvrir ses bras son ombre est celle d'une croix
Et quand il croit serrer son bonheur il le broie
Sa vie est un étrange et douloureux divorce
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux.

Sa vie Elle ressemble à ces soldats sans armes
Qu'on avait habillés pour un autre destin
A quoi peut leur servir de se lever matin
Eux qu'on retrouve au soir désarmés incertains
Dites ces mots Ma vie 
Et retenez vos larmes
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux

Mon bel amour mon cher amour ma déchirure
Je te porte dans moi comme un oiseau blessé
Et ceux-là sans savoir nous regardent passer
Répétant après moi les mots que j'ai tressés
Et qui pour tes grands yeux tout aussitôt moururent
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux

Le temps d'apprendre à vivre il est déjà trop tard
Que pleurent dans la nuit nos cœurs à l'unisson
Ce qu'il faut de regrets pour payer un frisson
Ce qu'il faut de malheur pour la moindre chanson
Ce qu'il faut de sanglots pour un air de guitare
Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux

Nothing is for man to have and hold. Not his strength
Not his weakness and not his heart. And when he thinks
To open out his arms, his shadow forms a cross
And when he thinks to grasp true joy, he crushes it.
His life is a divorce, strange and full of sorrow.
There’s no happiness in love.

His life it resembles those troops stripped of their arms 
Who had been geared up for a quite different fate
To what end should they stir from their bunks at morning
They, whom one meets  at evening disarmed, uncertain
Say then these words, my love 
And hold back your tears
There’s no happiness in love

My fairest love, my cherished love, my deepest cut
I carry you within me just like an injured bird
And those who unknowing watch us as we pass by
Repeating after me the words that
I've woven
And which through your wide eyes died straightway on my lips
There’s no happiness in love

The time to learn to live, already, is too late
For our hearts to weep in unison in the night.
How much remorse does it take to pay for one thrill
How much sorrow does it take for the slightest song
How much weeping does it take for one tune on guitar
There’s no happiness in love

Click here to return to the full index of Brassens songs on this blog

Aragon met the Russian-born Elsa Triolet (1896-1970), his future wife, in 1928. Triolet was herself an authoress and her published work stretched from the late 1930s until the year of her death. She was Aragon's companion for forty years and greatly influenced his writing

(A few not too serious personal comments)

I am conscious of having no deep knowledge of Aragon. I was a teacher of French language and literature but my acquaintanceship with Aragon was only a passing one. Without any insight, however, I find myself wanting to play the game of asking what precise human experiences are hidden under the abstractions of the poem. Perhaps an expert on Aragon will put me right afterwards.

The first verse makes it quite clear, as Aragon himself explained, that he and Elsa were going through a bad patch. It had shaken their confidence as they had believed the love and understanding they used to share was forever.

The second verse is a single continuous image and I am hesitant about interpreting it. Something that as a man he has been prepared for, he is no longer able to do and his life is all empty frustration.

The third verse seems to be Aragon's acknowledgement of the great hurt he has caused Elsa, who is torn and wounded. The experience has convinced him that there is no such thing as happy love.

The last verse tells me in what way he hurt Elsa. I suspect that the short moments of excitement that have brought so much aggro with his wife were spent with an attractive young temptress. Aragon had quite a number of them listed in his little red book before he met Elsa. (Untypically, for a man with strong Communist principles, he had a love affair with Nancy Cunard, who was the heiress to the great international shipping company.)

His final plea is that they should get through these moments of torment side by side, blaming all the suffering on the human condition. However he reminds her that suffering is the inspiration of so much great art.

Thee photograph is of Louis Aragon.

Below is a new version of the song made by Eva Dénia and Merxe Martinez, recorded in concert on the 6th June 2016.
Before the song, Eva tells us, at some length, that she is very nervous at this, her first performance  of Brassens beautiful rendition of Aragon's poem


A similar poem in English literature on the theme of melancholic pessimism about love and life would perhaps be “Dover Beach”, which Matthew Arnold wrote in about 1851. In it the poet asks his new wife to stand with him to face the insecurities and disappointments of modern life, when love is inadequate, traditional moral values are collapsing and men fight each other in a darkness of ignorance, where they do not know whom they are fighting and why.

"Dover Beach" by Matthew Arnold (read by Tom O'Bedlam)

I must admit that I am also adding this poem, because I admire the style of the reader and wish to keep this handy as a reminder to myself. He conveys the rhythm and the poetry but does not get in the way himself. Not an easy thing to achieve!