Tuesday, 8 July 2014

L'Assassinat- A tale with great pathos of crime and punishment

The details of this tale may be brutal, but Brassens has written a haunting song.  When the client of a prostitute refuses to pay the reasonable price that her youth and beauty merited and her minder comes to intervene, we can expect things to get very nasty.  In spite of the violence, this is a song of great pathos and many performers of Brassens’ music include “L’Assassinat” in their repertoire.

 L'assassinat - 

C'est pas seulement à Paris
It is not in Paris alone
Que le crime fleurit,
That serious crime(1) is rife
Nous, au village, aussi, l'on a
We in the country too, we have
De beaux assassinats.
Some fine murder cases.

Il avait la tête chenu’ (2)
His hair was white with his years
Et le coeur ingénu,
His heart was innocent
Il eut un retour de printemps
He felt a revival of spring
Pour une de vingt ans.
For a girl of twenty.

Mais la chair fraîch’, la tendre chair,
Burt flesh that’s fresh, flesh that’s tender,
Mon vieux, ça coûte cher.
Old chap, that is expensive
Au bout de cinq à six baisers,
After just five or six kisses
Son or fut épuisé.
He’d outspent all he had.

Quand sa menotte elle a tendu’(3),
When she proffered her tiny hand
Triste, il a répondu
Sad, he said in reply
Qu'il était pauvre comme Job.
That he was as poor as Job.
Elle a remis sa rob’.
She put back on her dress.

Elle alla quérir son coquin(4)
She went off to get her bad guy
Qui avait l'appât du gain(5).
Who was out for what he could get.
Sont revenus chez le grigou(6)
They came back to the skinflint’s home
Faire un bien mauvais coup(7).
To perform some dastardly deed

Et pendant qu'il le lui tenait,
Whilst he was holding him for her
Elle l'assassinait.
'twas she did the killing.
On dit que, quand il expira,
They say, at the moment of death,
La langue ell' lui montra.
She had put out her tongue at him
Mirent tout sens dessus dessous,
With the place turned upside down
Trouvèrent pas un sou,
They found not a cent,
Mais des lettres de créanciers,
But some letters from creditors,
Mais des saisi’s d'huissiers.
But lists of bailiffs’ seizures.

Alors, prise d'un vrai remords,
And then, gripped by true remorse
Elle eut chagrin du mort
She grieved for the dead man
Et, sur lui, tombant à genoux,
And dropping to kneel over him
Ell' dit : "Pardonne-nous !"
She pleaded “Forgive us!”

Quand les gendarm's sont arrivés,
When the policemen arrived there,
En pleurs ils l'ont trouvé’(8).
In tears they did find her.
C'est une larme au fond des yeux
'twas a tear deep down in her eyes
Qui lui valut les cieux.
Which earned her a place in heaven.

Et le matin qu'on la pendit,
And the morning when they hanged her
Ell' fut en paradis.
To paradise she went.
Certains dévots, depuis ce temps
Some religious folk since this time
Sont un peu mécontents.(9)
Have been somewhat displeased.

C'est pas seulement à Paris
It is not in Paris alone
Que le crime fleurit,
That serious crime is rife
Nous, au village, aussi, l'on a
We in the country too, we have
De beaux assassinats.
Some fine murder cases.

L'ASSASSINAT  Translation notes


1)      serious crime-  I am adding an adjective to give a 6 syllable line as in the French.

2)      Chenu – ayant la tête chenue means having a head of hair white with age
3)      Sa menotte elle a tendue – The most usual meaning of « La menotte” is the handcuffs.  However in informal talk, for instance to children it has the meaning of “hand”.  In English an informal word for hand is sometimes “mitt”- e.g. “See if you can get your mitts on a smart pair of trousers for me.”  “Paw” also is sometimes used.

4)      Son coquin – « Coquin » as a noun or an adjective describes some-one who is vile, without honour or honesty. It is therefore a term used as insult.  The term can imply sexual immorality:  “la coquine” means the loose woman, the whore and “le coquin” -the “vile” man who, in this story, would be the girl’s pimp.

5)      Qui avait l'appât du gain – « l'appât » translates “the lure” or “the bait” i.e terms used in fishing and hunting.  “Le gain” is profit, remuneration, money-making. – he was very attracted to making money.

6)      Le grigou –a word used in the Langedoc region for a very mean-spirited miser.

7)      Faire un bien mauvais coup – Reverso dictionary gives 2 alternatives: They say un mauvais coup is a familiar expression for- i). acte malveillant – a malicious act ii). affaire qui se révèle infructueuse – an affair that turns out to have unhelpful consequences. “Faire un sale coup à q’n” translates: “to play a dirty trick on some-one”.

8)      En pleurs ils l'ont trouvée – The girl’s recognition of her evil deed and her total remorse is totally conveyed by her behaviour.  She did not seek to escape but accepted her inevitable fate as though her life had no more meaning.

9)      Certains dévots, depuis ce temps sont un peu mécontents. -  Some commentators have said that the only villain in this tale is the girl’s pimp – the girl was redeemed by her repentance, and her client was an innocent man, in desperate straits, who genuinely failed to calculate the price that his pleasures were incurring.  These final lines, however, mention two further guilty parties traditional in the songs of the Anarchist, Georges Brassens, for their violation of natural justice: the Church and the State with their autocratic laws.
The Church
Although repentance and forgiveness followed by salvation were among the prime teachings of Christianity, Church authorities took it upon themselves to decree upon whom God granted this mercy. Brassens says, disapprovingly, that some devout people still refused to forgive the poor girl.
The State legal system
Brassens was no friend of the lawyers, but the particular target of his reproach was their use of the ultimate penalty of capital punishment (see Le Gorille).  His blunt statement of the hanging of this 20 year old girl comes as a shock.

There is a very atmospheric recording of this song by the contemporary French singer Francart and it has excellent subtitles

A comment after the post on YouTube expressed the admiration for Francart that I feel as well:
This song is brilliant because it is so impacting in its human story. Francart's voice carries the emotion and the simple guitar accompaniment allows the lyrics to take hold with its underscoring of them. The story doesn't just go away when the song ends. I still hear his playing and his voice and the tragedy of the story still resonates.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

L’Épave - An unforeseen event makes him re-assess who is his good neighbour

The narrator is a man who is left lying in the street incapable and in mortal need of help.  Those who come by are familiar characters from Brassens' world, for most of whom, he would normally express admiration and sympathy:

The cast of the song are 

  1. the local barman  
  2. a barefoot vagrant  
  3. penniless, long-term student perhaps like the musician in La Princesse et le Croque-notes 
  4. the good wife of a working class man- perhaps even like Jeanne   
  5. a simple girl of the streets making money the only way that she can  
  6. a policeman, the symbol of authority, towards which Brassens always made his attitude clear.

Only one of these will prove to be the  Good Samaritan and followers of Brassens will be therefore intrigued to see who this one will be.

(A heart-warming story goes with this song, which would settle the question straight away, but it should be told only after the song.)

L'épave(1)  - The human wreck

J'en appelle à Bacchus ! À Bacchus j'en appelle! (2)
I appeal to Bacchus! To Bacchus I appeal!
Le tavernier du coin vient d' me la bailler belle(3).
The local barkeeper's put one over on me
De son établissement j'étais l' meilleur pilier.
Of his establishment I was the best pillar.
Quand j'eus bu tous mes sous, il me mit à la porte
When I’d drunk my last cent, he slung me out the door
En disant : " Les poivrots, le diable les emporte!
Saying: "Drunkards, let them all go to the devil "
Ça n' fait rien, il y a des bistrots bien singuliers...
It doesn’t matter; there’re some bars very peculiar

Un certain va-nu-pieds(4) qui passe et me trouve ivre-
A barefoot gent who passes and finds me dead-drunk -.
Mort, croyant tout de bon que j'ai cessé de vivre
Honestly believing that I have stopped living
(Vous auriez fait pareil), s'en prit à mes souliers(5).
(You would have done the same), made off with my shoes.
Pauvre homme ! Vu l'état piteux de mes godasses,
The poor man! In view of their pitiable state
Je dout' qu'il trouve avec son chemin de Damas.(6)
I doubt he’ll find with’m his own road to Damascus.
Ça n' fait rien, il y a des passants bien singuliers...
It doesn’t matter; there’re some passers-by very peculiar.

Un étudiant miteux s'en prit à ma liquette(7)
A scruffy student made off with the shirt I  wore
Qui, à la faveur d'la nuit lui avait paru coquette,
Which, favoured by the night, had seemed to  him real smart,
Mais en plein jour ses yeux ont dû se dessiller.
But in daylight the scales must have dropped from his eyes
Je l' plains de tout mon cœur, pauvre enfant, s'il l'a mise,
I sore pity him, poor kid, if he put it on,
Vu que, d'un homme heureux, (8)c'était loin d'êtr' la ch'mise.
Seein(g), t’was far from being the shirt of blissful man.
Ça n' fait rien, y a des étudiants bien singuliers...
It doesn’t matter; there’re some students very peculiar.

La femm' d'un ouvrier s'en prit à ma culotte.
A labourer’s good wife made off with my trousers.
"Pas ça, madam', pas ça ! Mille et un coups de bottes
“Not those, Madame, not those!"  Countless kicks launched from boots
Ont tant usé le fond que, si vous essayiez
Have so worn the seat of the pants that if you try
D' la mettre à votr' mari, bientôt, je vous en fiche
To fit them on your husband, I give you my word
Mon billet, il aurait du verglas sur les miches."
He would soon have sheets of ice upon his buttocks."
Ça n' fait rien, il y a des ménages bien singuliers...
It doesn’t matter; there’re some families very peculiar.

Et j'étais là, tout nu, sur le bord du trottoir
And there I was stark naked, on the pavement edge
Exhibant, malgré moi, mes humbles génitoires.
Showing, despite myself, my humble genitals.
Une petit' vertu(9) rentrant de travailler,
A street girl, getting home from a job she’d been to
Elle qui, chaque soir, en voyait un' douzaine,
She who, saw a dozen of the same every night,
Courut dire aux agents : "J'ai vu quelqu' chos' d'obscène !"
Ran to tell the police: "I’ve seen something obscene!"
Ça n' fait rien, il y a des tapins bien singuliers...
It doesn’t matter; there’re some floozies very peculiar.

 Le r'présentant d' la loi vint, d'un pas débonnaire.
The custodian of the law came sauntering up
Sitôt qu'il m'aperçut il s'écria : "Tonnerre !
As soon as he noticed me he exclaimed:  “Good grief!
On est en plein hiver, et si vous vous geliez !"
We’re in depth of winter, what if you get frozen!”
Et, de peur que j' n'attrape une fluxion d' poitrine,
And for fear I might catch double pneumonia
Le bougre, il me couvrit avec sa pèlerine.
The fellow, he covered me up in his police  cloak,
Ça n' fait rien, il y a des flics bien singuliers...
 It doesn’t matter; there’re some coppers very peculiar...

Et depuis ce jour-là, moi, le fier, le bravache,
And since that very day, me, the proud, the loud mouth,
Moi, dont le cri de guerr' fut toujours : "Mort aux vaches(10) !"
Me, whose war cry had been always: "Death to the pigs!"
Plus une seule fois je n'ai pu le brailler.
Not one single time more could I yell it.
J'essaye bien encor, mais ma langue honteuse
I try very hard still, but my tongue to its shame
Retombe lourdement dans ma bouche pâteuse.
Falls heavily back down in my mouth, where it’s stuck.
Ça n' fait rien, nous vivons un temps bien singulier...
It doesn’t matter; we live in times very peculiar.

The true story behind this song

The videos of Brassens performing his songs onstage often show him sweating and looking strained.  He frequently suffered from excruciating stage fright and in later years, after his health collapsed, he gave performances when he was a very sick man.  The incident, upon which this song is based, occurred on one such evening.  In his dressing room, Georges Brassens found himself gasping so desperately for breath that he was forced to go outdoors without time to slip on his coat.  As he struggled with his problem, a policeman happened to pass by.  He was alarmed to see a man in such a state on a freezing cold night.  Immediately, he took off his heavy police cape and kept Brassens wrapped in it, until he was sufficiently recovered to go back inside.
“L’Épave” is an expression of thanks from Brassens to an unknown Paris police officer.


1)     Épave – means wreck or shipwreck but also a person who has fallen into an abject state
2)     J'en appelle à – « en appeler à » means to appeal to- in this case to the Greek God of wine and winemaking
3)     Vous me la baillez belle means “you are trying to deceive me”, “you are pulling the wool over my eyes”.
Un certain va-nu-pieds – Un va-nu-pieds means a tramp or a beggar.  In history “les Nu-Pieds” were the common people of Normandy who rose in revolt in July 1639, reduced to misery by a succession of bad harvests and an outbreak of plague. As the characters in the song are representatives of Brassens’ earlier assocates perhaps the barefoot man is a fellow impecunious revolutionary in pursuit of a lofty ideal, whose realisation might or might not come like the flash of light to Saint Paul on the road to Damascus
5)     S’en prendre à = to set about/ to lay into
6)     Son chemin de Damas – symbolises an overwhelming moment of enlightenment as it was on the road to Damascus that St Paul was converted with his vision of Christ
7)     Ma liquette – apparently “liquette” is slang for shirt.
8)     ….. d'un homme heureux,  c'était loin d'êtr' la ch'mise – The fable of the « Shirt of a happy man » seems to be quite well-known in France, although I have never met it in England.  Jules Verne has a story about it and at the start of his “La chemise d’un homme heureux”, he gives us an explanation, that helps us understand this line:
Once upon a time a son of the great Haroun-al-Raschid, who was not happy, went to consult an old derviche.  The wise old man answered him that happiness was a difficult thing to find in this world.  “However”, he added “I know an infallible means of procuring happiness for you.
“What is it?” asked the prince.
“It is,” replied the Derviche, “to put on the shirt of a happy man!”

9)     “Une femme de petite vertu” is a term for a prostitute.  Brassens has condensed the expression.
10) Mort aux vaches ! – This is the standard abusive slogan used in France when violent extremists are restrained by the police.  The choice of cows as a symbol of oppression is most puzzling as we think of them usually as animals peacefully chewing grass in fields.  A theory is that the expression dates back to 1914- 1918 War, when the French people of the occupied Northern area shouted the slogan:”Mort au Wacht”.  The Wacht were the German police.
Brassens would have shouted this slogan often in his mid-twenties when he was a in an activist group of Anarchist group, of which he was one of the leaders.  His song Hecatombe (1953) shows his earlier, bitter anti-police feelings, where uses the slogan in the following lines (“Elles” refers to evil belligerent women in their mob).
Frénétiqu' l'une d'elles attache
Le vieux maréchal des logis
Et lui fait crier: "Mort aux vaches,
Mort aux lois, vive l'anarchie!"
This later song of  Brassens is an appeal for a measure of respect for all individuals in the face of a society that seeks too often to make sweeping judgments and condemnations after affixing group labels.In fact there is good and bad in all and Brassens had had a dramatic personal reminder of this.

D.Y 15/06/ 2014

Please click here to go to the Alphabetical List of my collection of Brassens songs

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Le mécréant - The non-believer, Georges Brassens, tests Blaise Pascal's thesis

In this song, Brassens purports to tell what happened to him when he assiduously adopted the Christian lifestyle that Blaise Pascal, in the 17th century, recommended to a friend, a Sceptic, whom he hoped to save from eternal damnation.  Brassens is typically Irreverential, but his well-informed interest in Pascal’s ideas, suggests that he felt admiration for the great man, who, though dead three hundred years before, is still his neighbour upstairs (line 5).

In a recent poll carried out among devoted Brassens fans, this song emerged as a top favourite.

Le mécréant

Est-il en notre temps rien de plus odieux,
De plus désespérant, que de n'pas croire en Dieu ?
J'voudrais avoir la foi, la foi d'mon charbonnier(1),
Qui est heureux comme un pape et con comme un panier.
Mon voisin du dessus, un certain Blais' Pascal (2),
M'a gentiment donné ce conseil amical :
Mettez-vous à genoux, priez et implorez,

Faites semblant de croire, et bientôt vous croirez.(3)
J'me mis à débiter, les rotules à terre,
Tous les Ave Maria, tous les Pater Noster,
Dans les ru's, les cafés, les trains, les autobus,
Tous les De Profundis(4), tous les morpionibus..(5).
Sur ces entrefait's-là(6), trouvant dans les orties(7)
Un' soutane à ma taille, je m'en suis travesti
Et, tonsuré de frais, ma guitare à la main,
Vers la foi salvatrice, je me mis en chemin.

J' tombai sur un boisseau(8) d'punais's de sacristie(9),
Me prenant pour un autre(10), en choeur, elles m'ont dit :
Mon père, chantez-nous donc quelque refrain sacré,
 Quelque sainte chanson dont vous avez l' secret ! (11)
Grattant avec ferveur les cordes sous mes doigts,
J'entonnai Le Gorille avec Putain De Toi (12).
Criant à l'imposteur, au traître, au papelard,
Ells veul'nt me fair' subir le supplic' d'Abélard(13),
Je vais grossir les rangs des muets du sérail,(14)
Les bell's ne viendront plus se pendre à mon poitrail,
Grâce à ma voix coupée j'aurai la plac' de choix

Au milieu des Petits Chanteurs à la Croix d'Bois.

Attirée par le bruit, un' dam' de charité (15)
Leur dit :"Que faites-vous? malheureus's, arrêtez !

Y'a tant d'hommes aujourd'hui qui ont un penchant pervers
À prendre obstinément Cupidon à l'envers, (16)
Tant d'hommes dépourvus de leurs virils appas,
À ceux qui en ont encor' ne les enlevons pas !"

Ces arguments massues (17) firent une grosse impression,
On me laissa partir avec des ovations.
Mais, su' l' chemin du ciel, je n' ferai plus un pas,

La foi viendra d'ell'-même ou ell' ne viendra pas.

Je n'ai jamais tué, jamais violé non plus,
Y'a déjà quelque temps que je ne vole plus,(18)
Si l'Éternel existe, en fin de compte, il voit
Qu' je m' conduis guèr' plus mal que si j'avais la foi.

1960 - Le mécréant,

The non-believer

Is there in our time anything more odious
Bringing more despair than not to believe in God?
I'd like to have the faith, the faith of my coalman 
Who’s happy as a pope and is daft as a brush.

My neighbour up above, a certain Blaise Pascal
Has kindly given me this friendly advice :
Get down upon your knees , pray and entreat the Lord,
Act as if you believe and soon you’ll be b’lieving.

I began to reel off, kneecaps down on the ground
All the "Ave Marias" and all the "Our Fathers" ,
In the streets, the cafes, on trains  and on buses,
All the De Profundis , all  the morpionibus

At this same point in time, finding left discarded
A cassock in my size , I changed my persona
With tonsure new-shaven my guitar in my hand ,
T'wards the faith that redeems I set forth on my way.

I bumped into a bunch of   zealot churchgoers.

Thinking me some-one else, in one voice they told me:
O Father, sing to us please some sacred refrain,

Some holy song of which you alone have the knack!
Feverishly strumming the strings neath my fingers ,
I intoned Le Gorille and then Putain de Toi .
Shouting "Get the traitor,  impostor,  hypocrite!"
They’re wanting to make me suffer Abelard's  fate.
I'm going to swell the ranks of harem eunochs.
No more will fair maidens come cling to my bosom,
Thanks to my high-pitched voice, I will be centre stage
Amidst the Little Singers of the Wooden Cross .

Attracted by the noise, a good-hearted lady
Tells them: “What’s that you are doing?  Stop, you wretches!

There’re so many men now, perversely inclined

To obstinately take Cupid, turned back to front.
So many men deprived of all their virile charms.
From those who still have them, don’t let us cut them off ! "

These forceful arguments made a great impression,

They let me go away with rousing ovations.
But along heaven’s path, I’ll take not one step more
Faith will come by itself or it won't come at all.

I have not killed ever nor ever have I raped.
It’s already quite a while since I went thieving.
If the eternal exists, he sees,  in the end,
I hardly act worse than if I were a b’liever.


1)      la foi d'mon charbonnier – coalmen had the traditional image of simple, primitive folk – originally they were charcoal burners away for long periods in the forests. Thus there are sayings such as: “Charbonnier est maître chez soi” – even the most humble is free to do as they wish in their own home.

2)        un certain Blais' Pascal  - Blaise Pascal (1623 -1662) was an outstanding French intellectual who made important contributions to mathematics and physics..  Later he became a convinced Christian and tried to use the logic of his scientific background to show why anyone should seek to live a Christian life.  In this poem, Brassens is putting Pascal’s proposals to the test in his own life.  I will look at these arguments in more detail in supplementary notes on Pascal at the end of this post.

3)      Faites semblant de croire, et bientôt vous croirez. – This line is a direct reference to what is now known as “Pascal’s wager” – in French “Le pari de Pascal “.  He made the claim that belief is logically justified because: Si Dieu n’existe pas, on ne perdra rien à croire à lui, alors que s’il existe, on perdra tout en n’y croyant pas.”

4)      Tous les De Profundis – This is a very appropriate text for Brassens to use as he begins to test the efficacy of prayer. “De Profundis” are the first words of psalm 130, which in the King James’s version reads:  “Out of the depths, have I cried unto thee, O Lord- Lord, hear my voice; let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications.”

5)      tous les morpionibus.. – In contrast with (4) above, this is a totally inappropriate text for Brassens to use as a prayer.  In spite of the apparently Latin title, it is an excruciatingly obscene song.  I looked it up on the Web to find two lines to quote in contrast with the psalm above but found it too revolting.  “De Profundis Morpionibus” appeared in 1864 and the words were written by the famous poet, Théophile Gautier (1811 – 1872), who had been promised anonymity when it was published.  It was sung to a funeral march, written for an eminent contemporary.

6)      Sur ces entrefait's-là –«  Sur ces entrefaites-là » is a phrase that means « At that moment/ Meanwhile »

7)      trouvant dans les orties – Une ortie is a stinging nettle and jeter quelque chose dans les orties means to throw something  unceremoniously away.  As a cassock has been discarded there is an implication that some cleric had, voluntarily or otherwise, declined Pascal’s wager -see below.

8)      un boisseau – this is an old measure of dry materials and the English translation is a bushel- equal to about ten litres.

9)      d'punais's de sacristie – une punaise is a bug/ drawing pin.  Une sacristie is a sacristy/ vestry.  However une punaise de sacristie is an idiom which my dictionarry tells me means some-one too attached to religion/ a bigot.

10)   Me prenant pour un autre – The cleric with whom he imagines being confused with his new identity is probably the singing cleric, le Père Duval for whom Brassens had the nickname of « La calotte chantante ».  Brassens describes Duval’s very human extra- curricular activities in “Les Trompettes de laRenommée”.  In the 1950s several popular music hall acts emerged with a predominantly religious appeal and , sometimes shared the stage with him.  Later in the poem, Brassens mentions “Les Petits Chanteurs à la Croix de Bois”, a children’s choir popular in the 1950s, 1960s and beyond.  They brought an audience different in taste from that of Brassens and it is possible that he felt some irritation.

11)   chanson dont vous avez l' secret  - When in English we congratulate some-one by saying « You really have the secret of doing or making something », there is no idea of secrecy but of doing things particularly well.  It is the same with “Vous en avez le secret” in French.

12)   J'entonnai Le Gorille avec Putain De Toi – These two songs would have had a moral content.  The first is a protest against the horror of capital punishment.  The second expresses indignation about sexual deceit and betrayal.  However the frank realism  of the two songs would cause offense to the narrowly religious.

13)   le supplic' d'Abélard - The love affair of the 12th century philosopher and theologian, Abélard and his student Héloise is one of history’s most passionate and romantic true love stories. We are told that  Héloise (1101-1164) was quite beautiful and was outstanding for her learning.  She fell in love with her much older tutor, Pierre Abélard (1079- 1142) and they became lovers. She bore him a child. Unfortunately, Héloise (1101-1164) was the beloved niece of an important cleric, Canon Fulbert.  He and the rest of her family strongly disapproved of the affair. It is suspected that Canon Fulbert paid some men to attack and castrate Abélard. After this mutilation, Abélard became a monk. The correspondence of the lovers has survived for posterity.  Brassens is no doubt suggesting that the righteous anger of religious zealots has always been capable of such extreme brutality.

4)   muets du sérail  - Brassens says flippantly that if the indignant crowd had castrated him, he would have been eligible to join the guard of eunuchs, who according to the history of the Ottoman Empire, were the only men permitted to come near the women in the harem of the Sultan.  Some of these eunuchs had also had their tongues removed so that they could not tell of the acts of strangulation on potential contenders for the Sultanate they had been required to perform.

15)   un' dam' de charité – This lady bravely speaks up for a man being brutally attacked by group of men.  She would seem to have charity in the sense of love for fellow creatures in need.  Some commentators refer to a Catholic organisation “Les Dames de Charité”, but Brassens does not use capitals.  I would have liked to convey the idea of a very proper lady to retain the humour of the incongruity of the grounds for her arguments against the castration - the wilful reduction of the provision of female sexual satisfaction!

16)   un penchant pervers à prendre obstinément Cupidon à l'envers -   These words are in inverted commas and are therefore those of the charitable lady.  Many commentators conclude that the lady and possibly Brassens was homophobic.  In mitigation, they point out that in 1960, when this song appeared, it was not yet politically incorrect to express hostility to same-sex love.  However, we should perhaps not be too ready to see these words as homophobic on Brassens’ part.  Living in the world of theatre, Brassens was constantly in the society of homosexuals and we have little evidence elsewhere that he felt such hostility.   More positive commentators say that we should not see any judgemental element in these words but recognise that Brassens is fulfilling his usual role as an observer of contemporary society.

17)   Ces arguments massues  -   Une massue is a club, i.e. the weapon of ancient man. Un argument massue = an overwhelmingly persuasive argument .

18)   Y'a déjà quelque temps que je ne vole plus – In 1939, when he was seventeen, Brassens got into bad company in his hometown of Sète.  He was convicted of theft and this caused great disgrace and upheaval in his life. See the full story at “Thestory of Georges Brassens and his Jeanne”.    


The ideas of Pascal that Brassens is referring to in this song are found in one of the longer fragments of his “Pensées” that is often known as Pascal’s wager: “Le Pari de Pascal”.

Pascal maintains that it is not possible to prove the existence of God by rational means.  However, influenced by his years of research into probability theory in the sciences, he thought it useful to examine outcomes to be expected for persons who accepted to live the Christian life and for persons who declined.  He presented these alternatives as a wager that we are invited to make. All the same. Pascal believed that there was only one logical choice. 

His argument for making this religious wager runs as follows:

Accepting that no satisfactory evidence is available, the expected value of a belief in God is vastly greater than non-belief.  This is because, if one believes and commits oneself to a true Christian life  and it turns out that God really does exist, then the outcome for you is enormous good with the prospect of eternal life.  Yet if it turns out that God does not exist, you have lost little if anything.  Thus it is a matter of pure logic to adopt a belief in God and to live the way of life that goes with it.  Pascal therefore invites his libertine friends to place their bets on the existence of God.

His argument that religious conviction is  achieved after adopting a Christian way of life.

In his poem, Brassens says “Act as if you believe and soon you’re a believer - and Pascal said just that! The following explanation consists largely of sentences from Pascal's "Pensées"
Pascal recommended habit as a more effective path to salvation than the exercise of human thought.  Whereas intellectual proof  convinces only the mind, habitually leading a Christian life allows us to achieve the strongest and rawest conviction.  The explanation is that man is not only a mind but he is also an automaton and the discipline that comes through the machine removes the need for the confirmation given by reason.  Pascal asks what will happen to you once you have taken the decision to take the steps along this pathway and he gives his own reply that you will be faithful, decent, humble, grateful, beneficent, sincere and true. Thanks to the experience of the new life and the religious observance that you have adopted, you will rise up from the level of intelligence to a new order which is that of the heart.  This move will involve your growing closer to God.  Finally, through the transcendence of the heart and of love, the the ultimate conviction of the existence of God is achieved.

The highly intellectual Pascal was a very sincere Christian, whose belief, as he showed above, came from personal intuition rather than  from reasoning. It was a faith that he absolutely needed to cope with the trials of his life.  Pascal was permanently disabled from the age of eighteen and never passed a day without pain.  He was able to maintain the quality of his life with the help of the warm love of family and friends.  Had he lived a few years longer, his faith would have been cruelly tested by the destructive autocracy of Church and State.  I describe this in my biography of Pascal, the link to which I will be posting later.

Click here to return to the alphabetical list of the 75 songs in my collection.

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.