Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Index of Brassens’ songs

If you are looking for one particular song, you are recommended to use one of the following indexes.  The name of each is the link:

The index below lists my Brassens selection in the order in which I have translated and posted the songs and it represents the random sequence of my choice over the last seven years. 

If you are looking for one particular song, you will find my alternative indexes useful: 1) Index inAlphabetical Order – 2) Index in Album Order.  I have put links to these alternative indexes at the top of this page.



To access the song, click on the song title -  which links directly to the song on my blogsite.

Cupidon s'en fout -(Don Juan- 1976) - How a very promising date with a young lady in the forest turns out

GRAND-PÈRE (Je me suis fait tout petit -1957) - Events after his grandad’s sudden death arouse in him bitter feelings of social injustice.

Brave Margot  - (Les amoureux des bancs publics) (1954)- A popular song about naughty going-ons  in French country life of the past

Le petit joueur de flûtiau  - (1964 - Les copains d'abord ) The story of a royal musician explains a choice Brassens had made

Le Fantôme(1966 -Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète) -A meeting with a ghost and a hot foretaste of the afterlife.

Le Vent  - (Les amoureux des bancs publics) (1953) A jolly song about the mischievous breeze on the Pont Des Arts

L'assassinatLes Trompettes de la Renommé (1961) A tale with great pathos of crime and punishment

L'épave - (1966 -Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète) A human wreck re-appraises his loyalties 

Le mécréant - (Le mécréant 1960) The non-believer, Brassens, tries to follow Blaise Pascal's religious code.

Penelope - ( 1960 – Le Mécréant) How lonely, loveless lives can be made less so.

Au bois de mon coeur - (1957 - Je me suis fait tout petit) In praise of his loyal circle of close mates - the song he wrote for the film "La porte des lilas."

Le Cocu  (1958 - Le Pornographe) A husband whose wife gives herself freely to others asks them for some consideration

Les sabots d'Helene - (1955 - Chanson pour l'auvergnat) Brassens wrapped his admiration for the wife of the local bistro owner in traditional folksong

Je suis un voyou - (1954- Les amoureux des bancs publics) The frank account of his youthful love for a stunning girl called Margo

A l'Ombre du Coeur de Ma Mie - (1958 - Le Pornographe) The traumatic experience of a man who called on another man's wife

La Femme d'Hector - (1958 - Le Pornographe) Dedicated to one lovely and lovable wife in his group of friends in his early life in Paris.

La ronde des jurons - (1958 - Le Pornographe) Celebrating the richness of French swearing in the past and deploring its present aridity

Le mauvais sujet repenti - (1953 - Les amoureux des bancs publics)  The pimp whose repentance was not so glorious.

La marche Nuptiale - (1957 - Je me suis fait tout petit) The wedding march-- a touching song about the poor wedding of Brassens' parents
Celui qui a mal tourne - (1957- Je me suis fait tout petit) About a man who went wrong.  An insight into Brassens' biography?

 La Marine (1953 -La mauvaise reputation) Brassens sings Paul Fort's sailor's song of love

La fessée -  (1966 - Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète) Brassens consoles the beautiful widow of an old school friend

La Guerre de 14- 18 (Les Trompettes de la Renomme 1961).  His wry comment on the so-called glory of war

La Princesse et le croque-notes (Fernande 1972) Anguish following temptation from a 13 year old.

La fille a cent sous  ( 1960 Le Mecreant) -The girl sold by her husband for 100 sous finds true love

La Rose la Bouteille et la Poignee de main (La religieuse 1969) deplores the loss of the warmth and helpfulness, which people were previously safe to show each other in public.

Lenombril des femmes d'agent  (1955 Chanson pour l’auvergnat) A humorous song about an old gentleman with a very individual fetish

Quatre-vingt quinze pour cent 1972 (Fernande) Inequalities of passion during lovemaking

Marquise Les trompettes de la renommee (1961) A love song written by Pierre Corneille - partly!

Jeanne ( 1961 - Les trompettes de la renommée) In praise of Jeanne's infinite kindness

A l'ombre des maris (1972 - Fernande)An entertaining song about the complications of extra-marital love.

Don Juan (Album- Don Juan - 1976)The story of a modern Don Juan who has loved many women. Brassens would like us to look at him in a charitable and tolerant spirit.

Ballade des dames du temps jadis (La mauvaise réputation -1953)Brassens sings Villon's famous poem

Les Croquants (Chanson pour l'Auvergnat - 1955) Brassens sings of love and marriage believing them to be quite separate.

Le testament (1955 - Chanson pour l'Auvergnat).
While still a young man, Brassens thinks of the death he is very reluctant to accept.

Rien à jeter (1969 - La religieuse) A playful love song extolling the beauty of the woman whom he loved so deeply.

Marinette -J'avais l'air d'un c... - Chanson pour l'Auvergnat 1955 .- A light-hearted song about a hopeless lover.

Les Philistins (1957 - Je me suis fait tout petit)-Brassens song of the poem by Jean Richepin about a son who disappointed his parents' aspirations

Le Pornographe (1958 - Le pornographe)Brassens ponders his public reputation

Heureux qui comme Ulysse (Not recorded in an album)- The theme song for the last film of the great French comic actor Fernandel.

Gastibelza, l'homme à la carabine - His song of Victor Hugo's famous poem based on a Spanish folk ballad of love and wealth

BONHOMME - HER GOOD MAN (1958 - Le pornographe)A poem of great pathos as a peasant woman faces the death of her husband and the memories stirred.

Si le bon Dieu avait voulu (1961 Les trompettes de la renommée)Paul Fort's simple and sincere love poem to the woman of his life

Pauvre Martin (1954 - Les amoureux des bancs publics) A sad song about a simple farm labourer, who had asked nothing of life or his neighbours. He earns Brassens' admiration.

Le Petit Cheval (1953 La mauvaise réputation) Brassens sings this sad poem by Paul Fort with memorable lines - now a well-known children's song in France.

L’enterrement de Verlaine – The Funeral of Verlaine - 1960 – Le mécréant - Song of the poem by Paul Fort which depicts the popular tribute on the death of the eminent poet at the height of the Belle Epoque

Colombine - 1955 - Chanson pour l'auvergnat. -Verlaine's melodic poem gives a glimpse of the traditional Italian theatre of the Commedia del Arte

Mysogynie à part - 1969 - La religieuse -This rumbustious and sometimes explicit song raises issues about the nature of human love

Les châteaux de sable (Brassens) Mistral Gagnant (Renaud)The two songs tell of the transitory joys of childhood. The beautiful Vanessa Paradis sings the 2nd song with Le Forestier.

La Première Fille - ( Les amoureux des bancs publics.) 1954 The excitement and enduring memory of a first love.

La Marguerite - (Les trompettes de la renommé) 1961 – A simple poem about a parish priest who is suspected by malicious narrow-minded parishoners of a secret love affair.

J’ai rendez-vous avec vous - (Les amoureux des bancs publics.) 1954 An early love song of the exhileration of his youthful passion for Joha Heiman.

Pensees des morts (La Religieuse)Verses from the poem by Lamartine tell of the sadness when deep love can only be experienced in the emptiness left by some-one's absence

Venus Callipyge (Les copains d'abord) Brassens' song that is pure fun - but not so pure to celebrate anatomy admired all the way back to the days of Ancient Greece.

Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète -from the album of the same name. Brassens' thoughts of his final resting place revive nostalgia for the seaside town of his childhood.

Putain de Toi - The tramp that you are! (Les Amoureux des bancs publics 1953) A beautiful girl who let him down badly.

Trompe la mort - Cheating death (Don Juan 1976) Brassens maintains that his death is not as imminent as the newspapers suggest.

La legende de la Nonne -Based on Hugo's poem: "The legend of the nun", where the nun tells her innocent schoolchildren about her God's horrific terrors for those sin, which bcomes a Hugo classic of poetic exuberation. (Chanson pour l'Auvergnat 1955)

La mauvaise herbe – Useless weed that I am -Brassens sees himself as the outsider. (Les amoureux des bancs publics) 1954

Mourir pour des idees -Dying for your ideas. Brassens has little sympthy for murderous ideology. (Fernande) 1972

La tondue - The girl with the shaven head- Ugly reprisals after the Liberation of 1945 against those who had been friendly with the German occupiers. (Les copains d'abord) 1964/65

La chasse aux papillons (La mauvaise reputation)
A cheerful - if somewhat bawdy- tale of first love.

La non-demande en mariage Reasons for not proposing marriage to to his Puppchen in spite of the great love he feels for her. (Supplique pour etre enterre a la plage de Sete)

Les Trompettes de la Renommee from album of the same name - To those who are persuading him to seek popular attention he details the malignant effects of publicity

Saturne - In praise of the love felt by a middle aged couple- a touching tribute to his "Puppchen" as she reaches middle age (Les copains d'abord)

La Cane de Jeanne (Les Amoureux des Bancs Publics) Jeanne's pet duck has died. Brassens writes a solemn dirge - with gentle teasing.

Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux (Les amoureux des bancs publics) The melancholic poem by Aragon about the nature of love.

Dans l'eau de la claire fontaine (Les trompettes de la renommee) A lyrical song of a chance encounter with a nymph-like girl.

L'Orage (Le Mecreant) A tempestuous love affair on the night of a thunder storm. Another poem of love lost.

1)Les copains d'abord (Les copains d'abord) In praise of long-lasting friendships with men who sailed with him on the inland seas near Sete.

Ballade des dames du temps jadis -one verse

Link to the full text and translation of Villon's poem.

Les amours d’antan (Les trompettes de la renommé) Having sung of the legendary beauties of antiquity in the words of Villon, he now sings of the beautiful girls who taught him love- they are from a very different background.

Fernande (Fernande) Carla Bruni's version is included as the second video clip. She tells us that she had been strongly advised not to sing this song, which had been banned for immorality, but she is doing so all the same.

Les amoureux des bancs publics (Les amoureux des bancs publics) The intolerance of respectable people

Auprès de mon arbre (Chanson pour l’Auvergnat) The nostalgia that Brassens feels for the days when he was young and free - and very poor, unlike today when he is rich,bored and lonely.

Oncle Archibald (Je me suis fait tout petit)
One of the eccentrics who fascinated Brassens and earned his affection.

Le Gorille (La mauvaise réputation)
A provocative song about capital punishment

Le parapluie (La mauvaise réputation)
His first approach to a beautiful, petite young lady who had caught his eye.

La mauvaise réputation (La mauvaise réputation)
Brassens sees himself as the total outsider.

Je me suis fait tout petit (Je me suis fait tout petit) A somewhat lurid account of the submissive role that he plays in his relationship with his lifelong partner.

Chanson pour l’Auvergnat (Chanson pour l’Auvergnat)
Gratitude to those who showed him true charity when he was in desperate need. (Jeanne and her husband)

Il suffit de passer le pont (La mauvaise réputation) The intoxication of the first youthful moment of sexuallove, but also the worries involved.

Les Passantes (Fernande)Antoine Pol's wistful poem about the memorable women who flitted for a moment into his lfe and then were gone

Une jolie fleur (Chanson pour l’Auvergnat)
Trying to get over the loss of a very beautiful woman.

Georges Brassens was born at Sète on the 22nd October 1921 and died on the 29th October 1981 at Saint-Gély-du-Fesc, Hérault, the region of his birth

On this blogsite I have posted more than fifty of the famous songs by Georges Brassens, with videos, French lyrics and my translation.

My hope is to share my enthusiasm for his songs.

In my translation, I seek to make the meaning as clear as possible. Unfortunately a translator cannot convey the poetry, which resides solely in the words written by Georges Brassens. Increasingly I have tried to reflect the rhythm of the songs even though this has moved me away from a precise literal translation.
The quality of Brassens verse has been honoured by the most august literary authorities in France.

He is a true lyric poet because he expresses thoughts and feelings from the heart. He crafts his words and rhythms with infinite care and skill and he tantalises and entertains with different levels of meaning.

And with all this, he does not take himself too seriously and is a great guy!

Les Croquants - Admiration for a girl who is a free spirit

This is a neat and musical song on Brassens’ familiar themes. He tells how respectable parents hand over their daughters in marriage to men of superior status because of their narrow obsession with their future wealth and social status. The result is marriages that are routine, loveless and set until death. In contrast is the girl who loves a man for what he is and not for what has. She is a free spirit, whose life is full of new experiences as she gives her love when and only when she pleases.

Les Croquants
Les croquants(1) vont en ville, à cheval sur leurs sous,
Acheter des pucelle' aux saintes bonnes gens,
Les croquants leur mett'nt à prix d'argent(2)

La main dessus,(3) la main dessous..(4.).

Mais la chair de Lisa, la chair fraîch' de Lison
(que les culs cousus d'or(5) se fass'nt une raison !)(6)
C'est pour la bouch' du premier venu
Qui a les yeux tendre' et les mains nues…
Les croquants, ça les attriste, ça
Les étonne, les étonne,
Qu'une fille, une fill' bell' comm' ça,
S'abandonne, s'abandonne
Au premier ostrogoth(7) venu...
Les croquants, ça tombe des nues(8)

Les fill's de bonnes moeurs, les fill's de bonne vie,
Qui' ont vendu leur fleurette(9) à la foire à l'encan,(10)
Vont s' vautrer dans la couch' des croquants,
Quand les croquants en ont envie...

Mais la chair de Lisa, la chair fraîch' de Lison
(que les culs cousus d'or se fass'nt une raison !)

N'a jamais accordé ses faveurs
À contre-sous, à contrecoeur...

Les croquants, ça les attriste, ça
Les étonne, les étonne,
Qu'une fille, une fill' bell' comm' ça,
S'abandonne, s'abandonne
Au premier ostrogoth  venu...
Les croquants, ça tombe des nues

Les fill's de bonne vie ont le coeur consistant
Et la fleur(11) qu'on y trouve est garantie longtemps,
Comm' les fleurs en papier des chapeaux,
Les fleurs en pierre des tombeaux...

Mais le coeur de Lisa, le grand coeur de Lison
Aime faire peau neuve(12) avec chaque saison
Jamais deux fois la même couleur,
Jamais deux fois la même fleur...

Les croquants, ça les attriste, ça
Les étonne, les étonne,
Qu'une fille, une fill' bell' comm' ça,
S'abandonne, s'abandonne
Au premier ostrogoth(7) venu...
Les croquants, ça tombe des nues

1955 - Chanson pour l'auvergnat

The big shots , ride in town astride their moneybags
To buy up virgins from righteous goodly folk
 The big shots, by making down-payments in cash, get
Their hands on them, their hands under...

But the flesh of Lisa, the cool flesh of Lizie,
(Let the arseholes stuffed with money face up to it)
Is for the mouth of the first man she meets
Who comes empty-handed, eyes filled with love.
The rich sods, it depresses them, it
Astounds them, astounds them
That a girl, a pretty girl like that
Should yield herself, should yield herself
To the first troglodyte that comes along.
The rich sods just can't believe it.

The girls with right manners, the girls who live nice lives,
Who sold their flowerlets  at public auction
Spreadeagle themselves in the rich sods’ beds
When the rich sods fancy a bit…

But the flesh of Lisa, the cool flesh of Lizie,
(Let the arseholes stuffed with money face up to it)
Has never given of her favours
‘ gainst money –gainst her wishes

The rich sods, it depresses them, it
Astounds them, astounds them
That a girl, a pretty girl like that
Should yield herself, should yield herself
To the first troglodyte that comes along.
The rich sods just can't believe it.

The good-living girls have a heart that’s consistent
And the flower within has a long guarantee,

Like the paper flowers found upon hats
And like the stone flowers found upon tombs…

But the heart of Lisa, the great heart of Lizie
Likes to make a new start with every season
Never, twice over, the same colour
Never, twice over, the same flower

The rich sods, it depresses them, it
Astounds them, astounds them
That a girl, a pretty girl like that
Should yield herself, should yield herself
To the first troglodyte that comes along.
The rich sods just can't believe it.

1) Les croquants – The French dictionary, Le Petit Robert, tells us that the word « croquants » was given to peasants who rose in revolt in the reigns of Henri IV and Louis XIII. Robert goes on to tell us that afterwards the word was used simply to mean a peasant, although it is is often used as a pejorative to mean “thief” or “Skinflint”. Brassens’ croquants have too much money for these descriptions to apply. In this poem, when he uses this pejorative, he is thinking of ignorant men enjoying the power of their wealth.

2) A prix d'argent - acheter qch à prix d’or means to pay a (small) fortune for something.(Collins-Robert)

3) La main dessus - "mettre la main sur" means to take possession of to seize hold of.(Robert)

4) La main "dessous" – In the second part of the antithesis is Brassens being rude, suggesting that these objectionable men of money would also put their hands up the girls’ skirts.

5) cousus d'or – cousu is the past participle of coudre to sew. “être (tout) cousu d’or means to be rolling in money.

6) se fass'nt une raison = se faire une raison de qch.means to accept sth./ to put up with sth. (Collins-Robert)

7) ostrogoth(7) = In history the Ostrogoths were the Goths who came from the East. The word has cometo be used to describe a person who is ill-educated,, ignorant, boorish, eccentric. None of these words fit the man that brassens intends to describe. Instead, in this poem, the term represents the person that the anarchistic Brassens admired- a spontaneous person standing apart from the false values of conventional society and indifferent to wealth and personal possessions.

8) tombe des nues – Idioms using these words refer to a state of surprise and incredulity. “Je suis tombé des nues” means you could have knocked me down with a feather

9) La fleurette – Little flower. Brassens uses it as a symbol for virginity

10) à l'encan, ==vendre à l’encan-to sell at auction. (Larousse). (Of course the most common translation for “the auction” is « La vente aux enchères »)

11) la fleur – The flowerlet of the young girl, mentioned earlier, has now matured into a full flower.

12) faire peau neuve = to find a new image - make a new start

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

Friday, 12 November 2010

L’enterrement de Verlaine – The Funeral of Verlaine

Brassens sings Paul Fort’s poem, in which he recalls, in his view, the finest day of the Belle Époque- the day he attended the mass tribute at the funeral of one of the most prominent Bohemian geniuses of the age – Paul Verlaine.

The date is early January 1896 and the scene is the Boulevard Saint Michel (referred to colloquially as the Boul’ Mich) in the Latin Quarter. The backdrop is beauty and elegance in an era when the good things in life were enjoyed.

It was a time when talent was respected and a time of tolerance. The people of Paris, supported their eccentric poet, Paul Verlaine, at the end of his scandalous, dissolute life and they turned out in force for his funeral. Thousands of them thronged the elegant boulevard on that cold winter’s morning. However, as far as Paul Fort was concerned, not one of the people present came close to equalling the stature of the dead man.

Georges Brassens - L'Enterrement De Verlaine
Uploaded by kyssiane. - See the latest featured music videos.

The poem is recited:

Brassens-L'enterrement de Verlaine
Uploaded by irisfromparis. - Explore more music videos.


Le revois-tu mon âme, ce Boul' Mich' d'autrefois
Et dont le plus beau jour fut un jour de beau froid:
Dieu ! S'ouvrit-il jamais une voie aussi pure
Au convoi d'un grand mort suivi de miniatures ?

Tous les grognards - petits - de Verlaine étaient là,
Toussotant, frissonnant, glissant sur le verglas,
Mais qui suivaient ce mort et la désespérance,
Morte enfin, du premier rossignol de la France.
Ou plutôt du second (François de Montcorbier,(3

Voici belle lurette (4) en fut le vrai premier)
N'importe ! Lélian,(5) je vous suivrai toujours!
Premier ? Second ? Vous seul. En ce plus froid des jours.
N'importe ! Je suivrai toujours, l'âme enivrée

Ah ! folle d'une espérance désespérée (6)

Montesquiou-Fezensac(7) et Bibi-la-purée(8)
Vos deux gardes du corps, - entre tous moi dernier.

From the poem of Paul Fort 
My heart, can you see that Boulevard in times past
The finest day of which, was a day fine and cold
God ! Was ever a grand route so pure thrown open
For funeral of a great man with miniatures behind?

All Verlaine’s old crowd – of small importance - were there
Coughing and shivering, slipping on ice patches
But who were foll’wing this corpse and life of despair,
Now at rest, of the first nightingale of the French.(2)
Or rather, of the second. (François de Montcorbier…

Was the true first of them in centuries gone by.)
No matter ! Lélian, I’ll follow you always
The first ? Second ? You alone. This coldest of days
No matter! I’ll follow still, with heart enraptured-

Ah ! mad through a great hope finally despaired of
Montesquiou-Fezensac et Bibi-la-purée
Your two pall-bearers- between ’em all, I at the rear.

 Brassens 1960 – Le mécréant


(1) L’enterrement de Verlaine. -Verlaine was only 51 when he died. During his last years in Paris, he had descended into alcoholism and drug addiction. He lived in poverty in slum lodgings and passed periods in public hospitals. He spent his days drinking absinthe in Paris cafés and this is a photo of the poet around 1895. Throughout this time, he continued to be acclaimed the leading poet of France.

(2) Le premier rossignol de la France – Fort appears to be making the very controversial claim that there had been no previous French poet to equal Verlaine. Many people would propose different candidates for this first position – Musset, Vigny, Hugo etc. If he is merely saying that Verlaine had been given the honorific role of “Prince des poètes”, this is factually true as he held this title from 1894 until his death. If he is saying that Verlaine brought a unique musicality to French poetry many would agree enthusiastically.

(3) François de Montcorbier is the correct family name for the great French poet, François Villon (1431- some time after 1463) – His most famous poem “Où sont les neiges d’autan”. Fort appears to confirm that his intention was to designate the leading French poet ever in French literature, when he concedes that the distinction he had first claimed for Verlaine rightly belonged to Villon.

(4) Voici/ il y a belle lurette – This idiom means a very long time ago. (From “heurette” little hour)

(5) Lélian, : Pauvre Lelian is an anagram which his close friend and fellow poet Rimbaud, had formed from the name “Paul Verlaine”. In the nickname there is perhaps implied some mockery of Verlaine’s over-feminine sensitivity.

Verlaine had married a young girl, Mathilde in 1870, but, a year later, he fell in love with the poet Arthur Rimbaud, who was a seventeen year old student. By 1872, he had deserted his wife and child to be with his young lover. Their relationship was tempestuous and in 1873 Verlaine shot him in the arm during a drunken quarrel. He served an 18 month prison sentence as a result.

(6) folle d'une espérance désespérée – We can only speculate why the poet, Paul Fort, felt so emotional about the dashing of his personal hopes. Perhaps he is thinking bitterly of the high hopes he had had for the Théâtre d' Art which he had founded in 1890, while he was a student at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris. His aim had been to promote the work of people in the arts, including his friend, Paul Verlaine, and Paul Gauguin. The venture survived no more than a couple of years.

(7)Montesquiou-Fezensac. To modern readers, the two proper names on the penultimate line must be meaningless, but these were big, well known personalities in France at the turn of the 20th century. The Comte Robert de Montesquiou-Fezensac was a descendant of d'Artagnan, whose tale is told in Dumas’ « The Three musketeers.” Montesquiou-Fezensac attempted Symbolist poetry and was an art collector and homosexual dandy. It is believed that he was the model for the Proustian character, the Baron de Charlus in Proust’s “À la recherche du temps perdu”.

(8) Bibi-la-purée – This was the name by which André Joseph Salis de Saglia was known. He dressed like a tramp but was one of the leading personalities of the Latin Quarter at the time and was given the title of le roi de la Bohème. He appears in the poetry of Verlaine, in James Joyce’s Ulysses and is seen in a Picasso painting.

On the morning of the funeral, he took up position by the coffin on the strength of his claim that he had been the dead man’s secretary and lover. This could have been true although he was an inveterate liar. Montesquiou, who was a pall-bearer, then intervened to protest that his ragged, eccentric dress was not in keeping with the dignity of the occasion. Bibi-la-purée was moved to a less conspicuous position, where, it is said, he took advantage to pilfer a number of unattended mourners’ umbrellas.

By the end of the day, the snobbish aristocrat and the professional bohemian were reconciled and were chatting intimately, using the “tu” form.

(9) Paul Fort - He was born in 1872 and in 1912 he was given the title of “Prince de Poètes” which he held until his death in 1960. He was a lover of the French ballad and the folk tradition. His verse, clear and rhythmic, converts fairly readily into song lyrics. Other poems by Fort on which Brassens based songs were: Le Petit Cheval – La Marine – Comme Hier – Si le bon dieu avait voulu – He recorded (spoken only) Fort’s poems – Germaine Tourangelle -Petit Verglas. Brassens also wrote a poem to commemorate Paul Fort’s funeral: L’enterrement de Paul Fort.

Two Personal Comments

1 Verlaine as the leading French poet

Paul Fort was taking a liberty in designating the leading French poets as this kind of judgement is very subjective. However, I found sympathy with him because the most active legacy that I clung to after studying a selection of French poets at “A” level fifty years ago was the verse of Verlaine. In particular, we analysed and learned by heart his Chanson d'Automne from his collection , Poèmes saturniens (1866). For years afterwards, I quoted the rich assonance of the first verse:

Les sanglots longs
Des violons
De l'automne
Blessent mon cœur
D'une langueur

Similarly I used to enjoy indulging in the melancholy of « Il pleure dans mon cœur » where Verlaine is at his most Lélian

Il pleure dans mon cœur
Comme il pleut sur la ville;
Quelle est cette langueur
Qui pénètre mon cœur?
Ô bruit doux de la pluie
Par terre et sur les toits!
Pour un cœur qui s'ennuie
Ô le chant de la pluie!

From Romances sans paroles (1874)

These are lines, of course, familiar with most students of French - and that says a lot about Verlaine’s pre-eminence in French literature.!

2 Memories of France of the Belle Époque

Paul Fort is describing here a precious memory of an outstanding event in his life. My French professor used to tell an anecdote about the previous holder of his post. Although this, by then, old man was a lover of France, he had never visited Paris for fifty years. Born in the 1870s, he had lived in Paris at the turn of the century. He knew a Paris where elegant people drove around in horse drawn carriages and the streets were lit by gaslight. He had not the heart to return to Paris and erase this splendid image by superimposing that of modern Paris.

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


Colombine - This poem by Verlaine tells of the female star character of the Italian mime theatre.


Brassens put music to this lilting, melodic poem of Paul Verlaine. The poet tells how someone who ruthlessly exploits his or her sexual charm is able to reduce to a state of abject subjugation those who fall victim - and Verlaine’s life story suggests that perhaps he should know! To illustrate this farcical, human situation, he enacts a typical scene, performed by the Italian mime theatre the Commedia dell'arte.(1)

Verlaine's Colombine

Léandre le sot,
Pierrot qui d'un saut
De puce
Franchit le buisson,
Cassandre sous son

Arlequin aussi,
Cet aigrefin si
Aux costumes fous,
Les yeux luisant sous
Son masque,

Do, mi, sol, mi, fa,
Tout ce monde va,
Rit, chante
Et danse devant
Une frêle enfant
Dont les yeux pervers
Comme les yeux verts
Des chattes
Gardent ses appas (2)
Et disent :
"A bas les pattes ! "

A verse with no words is played next and then Brassens sings the following as his last verse:

L'implacable enfant,
Preste et relevant
Ses jupes,
La rose au chapeau,
Conduit son troupeau
De dupes !

From the poem of Paul Verlaine
Song by Georges Brassens -1955 - Chanson pour l'auvergnat

Silly Leander,
Pierrot who with one
Flea-like jump
Springs over the bush
Cassander neath his
Deep monk’s cowl,

Harlequin also,
That cheating rogue so
Full of guile
In crazy costume,
His keen eyes glinting
Neath his mask

Do, mi, so, mi, fa,
All these go along
Laugh and sing
They dance in front of
A skinny girl who
Means trouble
Whose eyes of menace
Like the bright green eyes
Of felines
Guard her body’s charms
As they say
Wand’ring hands, keep off!

The child, hard to please
Spry and with her skirts
Lifted high
The rose in her hat
Leads on her flock of
Those she fools!


1)The Commedia dell'arte - The poem gives a glimpse of the “Commedia dell'arte”, the Italian theatre which was popular to French audiences during three centuries. Molière knew it well and its influence is seen in his comedies. Two hundred years later, Balzac, in “Le Père Goriot” shows the members of Parisian high society making a weekly visit to the Italian theatre.

The noble and distinguished people who attended this theatre were enjoying boisterous knockabout comedy, which could be very racy. There was comic portrayal of sex and the plot was often based on sexual infidelity and promiscuity. Situations which enacted shipwrecks and fires allowed the actresses to cast off their clothes.

The admirable skill of these players was to go onstage to perform an unwritten drama which, to a great extent, they improvised on the spot.

The theatre had stock characters and we meet some of them in this poem:
• The young lovers- often naïve. In this poem Leander is the young hero, foolishly besotted (with Colombine).
• The easily deceived old man. In this poem it is Cassander, who is wearing a hood to hide his lustful pursuit of the young girl temptress, Colombine.
• The cheeky young serving girl was very often called Colombine as here. She was usually completely amoral and although she had a lover, she shared her favours as she liked.

• The rascally servants. There were usually several of these. They were usually lazy scoundrels and sometimes cruel and cunning. Although they deceived others, they were often so stupid that they were themselves open to deception. Verlaine gives us here the two most well-known:
a. Pierrot was the white faced clown – hence the acrobatics.

b. Harlequin was one of the characters who traditionally wore a mask. He was deeply in love with Colombine, who caused him great jealousy.

(2) Gardent ses appas – « Les appas » mean charms or charming features. A plural noun with the same sound would be « Les appâts » - the bait used to catch your prey. Both could apply to the armoury of the predatory female.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Misogynie à part - For him to mention his partner's quirks in their sex life is not misogyny

Explicit lines in this poem make it suitable only for adult readers. After long hesitation, I include it because I see in the song true Brassens qualities and genuine Brassens fun –as can be seen from the audience reaction in the video.
This poem describes a dysfunctional relationship where the girl while enjoying passionate and adventurous lovemaking, spoils her lover’s experience by insisting on elements of middle class gentility and by merging her sexual ecstasy with the religious ecstasy it aroused in her.

georges Brassens - misogynie a part
Uploaded by bisonravi1987. - Up-to-the minute news videos.

Misogynie à part

Misogynie à part, le sage avait raison :
Il y a les emmerdantes,(1) on en trouve à foison,
En foule elles se pressent,
Il y a les emmerdeuses(1), un peu plus raffinées,
Et puis, très nettement au-dessus du panier,
Y a les emmerderesses(1). 

La mienne, à elle seule, sur tout's surenchérit,
Ell' relève à la fois des trois catégories,
Véritable prodige,
Emmerdante, emmerdeuse, emmerderesse itou,
Elle passe, ell' dépasse, elle surpasse tout,
Ell' m'emmerde, vous dis-je.

Mon dieu, pardonnez-moi ces propos bien amers,
Ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmer-
De, elle abuse, elle attige.
Ell' m'emmerde et j' regrett' mes bell's amours avec
La p'tite Enfant d' Marie (3) que m'a soufflée l'évêque,
Ell' m'emmerde, vous dis-je.

Ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmerde, et m'oblige à me cu-
Rer les ongles avant de confirmer son cul,
Or, c'est pas Callipyge(4).
Et la charité seul' pouss' ma main résignée
Vers ce cul rabat-joie, conique, renfrogné,
Ell' m'emmerde, vous dis-je.

Ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmerde, je le répète et quand
Ell' me tape sur le ventre, elle garde ses gants,
Et ça me désoblige.
Outre que ça dénote un grand manque de tact,
Ça n' favorise pas tellement le contact,
Ell' m'emmerde, vous dis-je.

Ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmerd' , quand je tombe à genoux
Pour certain's dévotions qui sont bien de chez nous
Et qui donn'nt le vertige,
Croyant l'heure venue de chanter le Credo,
Elle m'ouvre tout grand son missel sur le dos,
Ell' m'emmerde, vous dis-je.

Ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmerde, à la fornication
Ell' s'emmerde, ell' s'emmerde avec ostentation, (5)
Ell' s'emmerde, vous dis-je
Au lieu de s'écrier : "Encore ! hardi ! hardi !"
Ell' déclam' du Claudel (6) ! du Claudel, j'ai bien dit,
Alors ça, ça me fige.

Ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmerd', j'admets que ce Claudel
Soit un homm' de génie, un poète immortel,
J' reconnais son prestige,
Mais qu'on aille chercher dedans son œuvre pie,
Un aphrodisiaque, non, ça, c'est d' l'utopie!(8)
Ell' m'emmerde, vous dis-je.

Georges Brassens
1969 - La religieuse
Misogyny apart, the wise man was quite right
There are enmerdant girls, you find them in plenty
In great mobs, they come at you,
There are enmerdous girls, a little more refined
And then very clearly, at the top of the heap
There are the enmerderesses.

Mine stands out alone, outclasses the whole lot
She ticks at the same time all three boxes
Veritable prodigy
Enmerdant, enmerdous, enmerderesse alike.
She goes further, outstrips, she surpasses them all,
She enmerds me, I tell you.

Oh god, pray pardon me these very bitter words
She enmerds me, she enmerds me, she enmerds me
Takes advantage, goes too far.
She enmerds me and I regret my fine amours spent with
The Sunday School girl whom, the bishop pinched from me.
She enmerds me, I tell you.

She enmerds, she enmerds, and forces me to clean
Up my nails before I confirm her bum.
Now she is no Callipyge
And charity alone drives my resign-ed hand
To this joyless bottom, cone-shaped, sad looking
She enmerds me I tell you.

She enmerds me, she enmerds me, I repeat it and when
She’s tapping on my stomach, she keeps on her gloves
And this causes me offence.
Besides this displaying a great lack of tact,
She enmerds me I tell you.

She enmerds, she enmerds, when I fall to my knees
For certain devotions that are OK with the French
And which bring on vertigo
Believing the time ripe for singing of the creed
She flings open out wide her missel on my back
She enmerds me, I tell you.

She enmerds me, she enmerds me during fornication
She enmerds me she enmerds me with ostentation.
She enmerds me, I tell you.
Instead of crying out : « Once more ! Go on! Go on!
She declaims from Claudel ! From Claudel you heard right.
Well that stops me in my tracks.

She enmerds me, she enmerds me, I admit that this Claudel
Is a man of genius, a poet immortal
I acknowledge his prestige
But that one goes seeking within his wordy tomes(7)
An aphrodisiac, no that’s pure Utopia
She enmerds me, I tell you. 


(1) emmerdantes, emmerdeuses, emmerderesses - These words and the idea behind them come from Paul Valéry (1871-1945) the famous poet, critic and essayist. Like Brassens, Valéry was born in Sètes and like Brassens is buried there – but not in the same cemetery. Brassens talks about him in another poem on this website – see Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète - .
Valéry is quoted as saying: « Il y a trois sortes de femmes: les emmerdeuses, les emmerdantes... et les emmerderesses ».
Emmerder.  -My Collins dictionary lists the verb « emmerder » to badly annoy/ to bug someone.
 emmerdant Collins lists “emmerdant”, the participle used as an adjective, to translate the word “annoying” with pejorative force suggesting various English oaths.  Thus says Collins, emmerdant could describe someone who is: damned annoying / a damned nuisance/  a pain in the neck.  Other dictionaries say a pain in the ass/  a real drag/ a lousy bore.
L’emmerdant – The noun form would use the above expressions e.g.  “quel emmerdant!” = what a bloody nuisance. C’est une emmerdante could translate- She is real trouble
 Un emmerdeur”/ une emmerdeuse  Collins translates as the same as “Emmerdant”, thus :a damned nuisance/ a pain in the neck. You could also say He/ She is real trouble/ He/ she is a right pain in the ass and variations on all the expressions above.
Emmerderesse - Collins and the French dictionaries do not give the word “emmerderesse », which Valéry seems to have invented himself by analogy with other words made feminine with the suffix “esse” e.g. “pécheur”/ “pécheresse” = sinner.

A lot of looking up in dictionaries has merely shown me that all Valery’s three words mean the same and if there is a gradation, it is only in Valéry’s mind.
All these words are based on the word “merde” which means “s**t”. Although this word is used more freely in French and lacks the shock of the English translation, its basic meaning still applies.
On translating this poem, I tried to use the words “annoy” “irritate” “exasperate”, but found them very deficient in meaning. In desperation, I have imitated my colleagues in sociology and invented my own code word:
To enmerd = to drive people to desperation by imposing on them a load of pointless, demeaning rubbish (merde)

2) Misogynie à part – Who is the misogynist? Paul Valéry seems to be saying that all women are guilty of emmerdement, which is a very sweeping condemnation of the female sex. This is obviously a misogynistic remark. I feel that Brassens shows by his choice of title that he recognised the misogyny of Valéry’s sentiments, but, all the same, he was glad to use Valéry’s terminology as a springboard for this provocative song.

3) La p'tite Enfant d' Marie – The 1930s saw the growth of political youth movements. In the Soviet Union, there were the pioneers. In Germany, there was the Hitler Youth. The Catholic Church formed a youth movement for boys, called « Les Croisés » and for girls called “Les Enfants de Marie” aimed particularly against Communist atheism which had growing support among the left-wing in France. This membership gives an expectation of strict sexual morals.

4) Vénus callipyge - The statue of the Venus Kallipygos is now in the Royal Museum in 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.

5) Ell' m'emmerde, ell' m'emmerde - This word, emphatic in itself, is made even more emphatic by its repetition, six times in three lines. However, some of the humour comes from the sense that this is a pretend indignation, while describing their mutual pleasure. Also the style of their lovemaking seems to be an established routine to which each returned willingly. No doubt, Brassens was fascinated and amused by his quirky young partner. The vehemence of his overstatement is comic as we see from the reaction of singer and audience.

6) Ell' déclam' du Claudel - Paul Claudel (1868 -1955) was a very prominent man of letters, who produced an incredible output of poems, plays, travel books, literary criticism and more. His plays were extremely long- one lasting eleven hours. In his writings, he expressed his very strong faith in Roman Catholicism. Like many influential French Catholics, he had been a strong supporter of the ideals of the collaborationist Vichy government of General Pétain, to whom he addressed a eulogical poem. This background served to limit Claudel’s appeal to those on the political left, such as Brassens.
The article about Claudel in Wikipedia, has a sentence which seems relevant to this poem. We read there that Claudel used “scenes of passionate, obsessive human love to convey with great power God's infinite love for humanity”. Above the physical detail of lovemaking, which Brassens has described in his poem, most people are probably aware of a spiritual dimension- although not necessarily with religious connotations. In the play Les Miserables, Jean Valjean says "to love another person is to see the face of God.". There is another quotation- also from Victor Hugo I think- that when two people make love, God is always present at that altar.

Perhaps the unconventional, strong-minded young girl gets the better in this poem! At the start we had expectations that she would have conformist, life-denying inhibitions but instead she emerges as an individualist, seeking her own answers. Despite his over-loud protestations against his partner, Brassens has given us another example of one of life’s eccentrics, so dear to him.

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

About Me

My Photo
Notes on the classics of French literature. During my years of teaching, I wrote thousands of pages for my students. Preferring not to discard all these years of work, I am posting them on the Internet as a resource for teachers and students and I am using my blogsite as the portal in order to give access to the individual books. During my university course, I was an Assistant for one year in Arras and my nostalgia for Georges Brassens stems from these happy days- now long gone- when his songs were first being recorded and he was all the rage among the student surveillants. When I opened this Blogsite many years ago, I used David Barfield, my maternal family name, as my Internet alias. My actual name is David Yendley and if any of my past students come across this site, I send them my best wishes. They were great company to be with.