Tuesday, 15 March 2016

Le Mecreant -The non-believer, Brassens, tests Pascal's religious conversion 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 irreverent, 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
More despairing than not to believe in God?
I'd like to have the faith -rock-hard of my coalman 
Who’s happy as a lark and stupid as they come
.


My neighbour there on high, a certain Blaise Pascal
Has kindly given me this counsel of a friend :
Get down upon your knees, pray and entreat the Lord,
Pretend that you believe and soon believe you will.


I started to pour forth, kneecaps upon the ground,
All the "Ave Marias" - all the "Our Fathers" ,
On the streets, in cafes, on the trains  - upon  buses,
All the De Profundis , all  the morpionibus 
At that very juncture, finding thrown on a tip
A cassock just my size, I dressed myself in it
And then freshly tonsured, with my guitar in  hand ,
I set off on my way to the faith that redeems.


I chanced on a gaggle of  strong church devotees
Thinking me some other,  in chorus they told me:
Father, sing to us then some choice sacred refrain,
Some holy song in the way only you know how.
Strumming furiously the strings b‘neath my fingers ,
I intoned Le Gorille and then Putain de Toi.
Shouting “Get him the fraud,  the traitor,   hypocrite!"
They want me to suffer Abelard's torturous fate


I am about 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 get prime position
Among the Little Singers of the Wooden Cross


Drawn there by the noise, a charitable lady
Says to them them: “What ‘re you up to?  Stop it, you wretches!
There're so many men now, who are oddly inclined
Obstinately to take Cupid, the wrong way round.
So many men deprived of their virile charms
From those who still have them, Let us not take them off! "



These forceful arguments made a great impression,
I was allowed to leave with a great ovation.
But on the path to heaven, I’ll take no further step
Faith will come on its own or it won't come at all.



I’ve never killed anyone, nor raped anyone either.
It’s a good long while since last I went a-thieving.
If a God should exist, he can see, all in all
I’m scarcely any worse than were I a believer.





LE MÉCRÉANT TRANSLATION NOTES

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 RELIGIOUS IDEAS OF PASCAL TO WHICH BRASSENS REFERS


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.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

GRAND-PÈRE-Brassens at his rudest and most irreverent as he rages against social inequality


This is a song of Brassens, the social reformer and with its violent element also of Brassens, the anarchist.  His attitude was shaped by the straitened circumstances of the, nevertheless, happy family home of his childhood, when money had been in short supply.  Brassens’ song about the marriage of his parents "La Marche Nuptiale"tells the same story of a humble family fighting for its dignity.







GRAND-PÈRE
Grand-père suivait en chantant
La route qui mène à cent ans.
La mort lui fit, au coin d'un bois,
L' coup du pèr' François.(1)

L'avait donné de son vivant
Tant de bonheur à ses enfants
Qu'on fit, pour lui en savoir gré,(2)
Tout pour l'enterrer

Et l'on courut à toutes jam-
-bes quérir une bière, mais...
Comme on était léger d'argent(3),
Le marchand nous reçut à bras fermés.(4)


"Chez l'épicier, pas d'argent, pas d'épices,
Chez la belle Suzon, pas d'argent, pas de cuisse...(5)
Les morts de basse condition
C'est pas de ma juridiction."

Or, j'avais hérité d' grand-père
Un' pair' de bott's pointues
S'il y a des coups d' pied què'que part qui s' perdent,(6)
C'lui-là toucha(7) son but

C'est depuis ce temps-là que le bon apôtre(8)
C'est depuis ce temps-là que le bon apôtre
Ah ! c'est pas joli...
Ah ! c'est pas poli...
A un' fess' qui dit merde à l'autre(9)

Bon papa(10),
Ne t'en fais pas:
Nous en viendrons
À bout de (11) tous ces empêcheurs d'enterrer en rond(12)

Le mieux à faire et le plus court,
Pour qu' l'enterrement suivît son cours,
Fut de borner nos prétentions
À un' bièr' d'occasion.(13)

Contre un pot de miel (14) on acquit
Les quatre planches d'un mort qui
Rêvait d'offrir quelques douceurs
À une âme soeur.


Et l'on courut à toutes jam-
-bes quérir un corbillard, mais...
Comme on était léger d'argent,
Le marchand nous reçut à bras fermés.


"Chez l'épicier, pas d'argent, pas d'épices,
Chez la belle Suzon, pas d'argent, pas de cuisse...
Les morts de basse condition,
C'est pas de ma juridiction."

Ma bott' partit, mais je m' refuse
De dir' vers quel endroit,
Ça rendrait les dames confuses
Et je n'en ai pas le droit

C'est depuis ce temps-là que le bon apôtre
C'est depuis ce temps-là que le bon apôtre
Ah ! c'est pas joli...
Ah ! c'est pas poli...
A un' fess' qui dit merde à l'autre


Bon papa,
Ne t'en fais pas
Nous en viendrons
À bout de tous ces empêcheurs d'enterrer en rond

Le mieux à faire et le plus court,
Pour qu' l'enterrement suivît son cours,
Fut de porter sur notre dos
L' funèbre fardeau.
S'il eût pu revivre un instant,
Grand-père aurait été content
D'aller à sa dernièr' demeur'
Comme un empereur.

Et l'on courut à toutes jam-
-bes quérir un goupillon(15), mais...
Comme on était léger d'argent,
Le marchand  nous reçut à bras fermés.


"Chez l'épicier, pas d'argent, pas d'épices,
Chez la belle Suzon, pas d'argent, pas de cuisse...
Les morts de basse condition,
C'est pas de ma bénédiction."

Avant même que le vicaire(16)
Ait pu lâcher un cri,
J' lui bottai l' cul au nom du Pèr',
Du Fils et du Saint-Esprit.

C'est depuis ce temps-là que le bon apôtre
C'est depuis ce temps-là que le bon apôtre
Ah ! c'est pas joli...
Ah ! c'est pas poli...
A un' fess' qui dit merde à l'autre.


Bon papa,
Ne t'en fais pas:
Nous en viendrons
À bout de tous ces empêcheurs d'enterrer en rond
À bout de tous ces empêcheurs d'enterrer en rond
Georges Brassens
 (1957 - Je me suis fait tout petit, 7)




Grandpa walked the road, singing,
That leads to his hundred years.
Death sneaked on him down in the woods
And snuffed him out short.

He had given in his life time
Such happiness to his children
That, gratefully, they did their all
For his funeral.

And they ran fast as legs would
Take them to get a coffin, but
As they’d little ready money
The man who dealt in them turned them right down.

"At the grocers, no money, no groceries
At fair Susie’s house, no money, no fun …
Deaths low on the social scale
Aren’t under my jurisdiction.”

Now, I’d inherited from Grandad
A pair of pointy boots
If there are kicks up the bum somewhere done on the quiet
This pair was just the job.


The coffin maker has had ever since
This same fine fellow has had ever since
Ah, it is not nice
Ah, it’s not polite
A very twisted bum which makes him wince.

Kind grandpa
Don't get upset
We will manage to
Sort out those who stand in the way
Of burials due

The best thing to do and quickest
So the funeral might be carried out
Was to limit our requirements
To a second hand coffin

We acquired for a jar of honey
Four planks from a dead man who
Dreamt of giving some sweet things
To a great soul-mate.


And we ran fast as legs would
Take us to get a hearse, but
As we’d little ready money
The man who dealt in them turned us right down

"At the grocers, no money, no groceries
At fair Susie’s house, no money, no fun …

Deaths low on the social scale
Are not in my jurisdiction.”

My boot lashed out,  but I refuse
To tell the spot aimed at
T’would embarrass the ladies
And I don’t have the right to

And the fine fellow has had ever since
And the fine fellow has had ever since
Ah, it is not nice
Ah, it’s not polite
A very twisted bum which makes him wince.

Kind grandpa
Don't get upset
We will manage to
Sort out those who stand in the way of burials due

The very best way and the quickest
So the funeral might follow its course
Was to carry on our backs
The funeral burden.
If he could’ve come back to life a bit
Grandfather would have been content
To go to his final place of rest
Just like an emperor

And we ran at full speed to get
A  holy water sprinkler, but
As we’d little ready money
The man who dealt in them turned us right down.

"At the grocers, no money, no groceries
At fair Susie’s house, no money, no fun …
Deaths low on the social scale
Are not in my benediction.”


Even before the curate
Could give forth a cry
I kicked his arse in name of the
Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

And the fine fellow has had ever since
And the fine fellow has had ever since
Ah, it is not nice
Ah, it’s not polite
A very twisted bum which makes him wince.

Kind grandpa
Don't get upset
We will manage to
Sort out those who stand in the way
Of burials due
Sort out those who stand in the way
Of burials due










Translation notes
1)     Faire le coup du père francais – He compares the sudden, severe stroke that killed his grandfather, with symptoms, no doubt, of fighting for breath, to a mortal attack by notorious French street robbers.
     
The dictionary, Reverso tells their story : Originally, in the course of the second half of the 19th century, the real « coup du père François » could only be carried out if there were two scoundrels, whose aim was to relieve of his money the average citizen, who had the audacity and imprudence to walk out at night in ill-lit streets.
The crime was carried out in the following manner: the first of the attackers would get into conversation with the stroller, with some everyday remark such as asking for a light or asking the time.   The accomplice, armed with a belt to form a slip knot, came up from behind to strangle the victim, while he retained the back of the victim against his own back. The latter, with his feet of the ground was like a sack of potatoes, struggling to breathe and to free himself from the noose,   All the while the man at the front was free to rummage through and empty his pockets.  When the theft was completed, the victim was generally in a very bad state, although not necessarily dead.  The partners in crime would then recuperate the belt they had used and make off.


2)     Pour lui en savoir gré - savoir gré à quelqu’un de quelque chose means to show some-one gratitude for something. 

3)     Léger d’argent – my French dictionary quotes “Abîmé de dettes et léger d'argent ».  Léger can mean in short supply

4)     Reçut à bras fermés – Brassens is using the opposite of the common expression: “recevoir à bras ouverts” to welcome with open arms

5)     Chez la belle Suzon, pas d'argent, pas de cuisse. « Cuisse » means « thigh » because what the lovely Susie had to sell was her body.
 
6)     Des coups de pied quelque part qui se perdent- se perdre has an idiomatic use.  The dictionary says that an act « qui se perd », is an act which is committed with impunity.  I n modern English we talk of things “passing under the radar”.

7)     Toucha  son but - We are reminded that “toucher” also has the sense of “to hit one’s target” –hence the cry in fencing: “touché!”

8)     le bon apôtre – Apôtre means apostle  However the word is sometimes used ironically for some-one who does not live up to the standards pretended.  My translation - “fine fellow”-  is meant to be ironical

9)     Il a un' fess' qui dit merde à l'autre.  Brassens gives this line a build up as « not nice" and "impolite ».  This phrase is making a play on the awful expression: “Il a un oeil qui dit merde  à l’autre”, which means “He is cross-eyed”.  In Brassens’ version “merde” may seem to have reference to the physical locality. But in the original’ it would seem to have its normal colloquial usage to express surprise or pain.  The translation should therefore describe a permanently deformed bottom, associated with pain and should shock the reader or listener.  Not easy!  To restore the emphasis that I have lost , I have added a rhyme.

10)  Bon Papa – In those days “Bon Papa” was a way of saying « Grandad »

11)  Nous en viendrons à bout de – « Venir à bout de quelque chose » means to manage to overcome something

12)  Tous ces empêcheurs d'enterrer en rond.  The expression « les empêcheurs de tourner/danser en rond » means the spoil-sports –.   The expression is applied to people who gratuitously stop you doing what you are fully entitled to do.

13)  Une bière d’occasion. In those days, we are told , planks from previously used coffins were on sale in cemeteries in France by the common graves.  I am puzzled how the dead people came to vacate their coffins!  I haven't the heart to research such a grim subject but I guess that some corpses buried in a common grave were emptied from the coffin first so that it or its timber could be resold, 

14)  Un pot de miel….offrir….à une âme soeur  - The strange story is told that the Brassens family bought the second-hand coffin from the family of a man who had recently died. The latter had stipulated that the price obtained for these boards would have to be to enough to buy a jar of honey. This honey  was to be be given to his great soulmate.  

15)  Ça rendrait les dames confuses – as a modern languages teacher, I used to irritate my classes, so they told me, by talking about « faux amis ».  The word “confus” was one on my list.  In fact “confus has two meanings in French and one is the same meaning as in English – un esprit confus is a confused mind.  However”confus” is a faux ami because the French also use it in a sense not given to the word in English –it often means, as here, embarrassed/ashamed.  He would have embarrassed the ladies by this final line, but he would not not have confused them, if he had said frankly that he landed his pointed boot up the arse of each of the “apostles”.

16)  Un goupillon in Church use is a sprinkler of holy water.  In domestic use, it is brush for cleaning jars

17)  Le vicaire is the curate – the assistant priest to the curé.  The word “vicar”, as used in the Anglican church is priest in charge of the Parish and thus would translate as curé, if it needed to be translated into French.  It is perhaps deliberate that Brassens makes it a lesser priest, who behaves so badly in his story.



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








Friday, 23 January 2015

Brave Margot - A heart-breaking tale of a shepherdess, who adopts a lost kitten

This is a very well-known song with a catchy chorus that people enjoy singing.  It is set in a rustic France whose way of life was characterised by joie de vivre and, in British eyes, with a lot of  sexual naughtiness, usually harmless.  Cat lovers will need consoling that the following is only a made-up story.





Brave Margot

Margoton la jeune bergère
Trouvant dans l'herbe un petit chat
Qui venait de perdre sa mère
L'adopta
Elle entrouvre sa collerette(1)
Et le couche contre son sein
C'était tout c' qu'elle avait, pauvrette,
Comm' coussin
Le chat la prenant pour sa mère
Se mit à téter tout de go(2)
Émue, Margot le laissa faire
Brav' Margot

Un croquant passant à la ronde(3)
Trouvant le tableau(4) peu commun
S'en alla le dire à tout l' monde
Et le lendemain
(Chorus)
Quand Margot dégrafait son corsage
Pour donner la gougoutte(5) à son chat
Tous les gars, tous les gars du village
Étaient là, la la la la la la
Étaient là, la la la la la
Et Margot qu'était simple et très sage
Présumait qu' c'était pour voir son chat
Qu'tous les gars, qu'tous les gars du village
Étaient là, la la la la la la
Étaient là, la la la la la

L' maître d'école et ses potaches
Le mair', le bedeau, le bougnat(6)
Négligeaient carrément leur tâche
Pour voir ça
Le facteur d'ordinair' si preste(7)
Pour voir ça, ne distribuait plus
Les lettres que personne au reste
N'aurait lues
Pour voir ça, Dieu le leur pardonne,
Les enfants de chœur au milieu
Du saint sacrifice(8) abandonnent
Le saint lieu
Les gendarmes, mêm' les gendarmes
Qui sont par natur' si ballots(9)
Se laissaient toucher par les charmes
Du joli tableau

Chorus
Quand Margot dégrafait son corsage
Pour donner la gougoutte(3) à son chat
Tous les gars, tous les gars du village
Étaient là, la la la la la la
Étaient là, la la la la la
Et Margot qu'était simple et très sage
Présumait qu' c'était pour voir son chat
Qu'tous les gars, qu'tous les gars du village
Étaient là, la la la la la la
Étaient là, la la la la la


Mais les autr’s femm’s de la commune
Privées d’leurs époux, d’leurs galants,
Accumulèrent la rancune
Patiemment…
Puis un jour, ivres de colère(10),
Elles s’armèrent de bâtons
Et, farouches, elles immolèrent(11)
Le chaton…


La bergère, après bien des larmes
Pour s’consoler prit un mari
Et ne dévoila plus ses charmes
Que pour lui…
Le temps passa sur les mémoires,
On oublia l’événement,
Seuls des vieux racontent encore
À leurs p’tits enfants…

(Chorus)

Quand Margot dégrafait son corsage
Pour donner la gougoutte(3) à son chat
Tous les gars, tous les gars du village
Étaient là, la la la la la la
Étaient là, la la la la la
Et Margot qu'était simple et très sage
Présumait qu' c'était pour voir son chat
Qu'tous les gars, qu'tous les gars du village
Étaient là, la la la la la la
Étaient là, la la la la la

(1954 – (Les amoureux des bancs publics 2).
Kind-hearted Margot

Li’l Margot the young shepherdess
Finding in the grass a small cat
Which had got lost from his mother
Adopted him
She half opens her dress collar
And lays him up against her breast
It was all that she’d got, poor girl,
For a pillow.
The cat, thinking her his mother
Started to suckle straight away
Thrilled, Margot let him carry on
Kind Margot

An oafish man walking around
Finding the tableau unusual
Went to tell everyone the tale
And the day after
(Chorus)
When Margot was undoing her blouse
To give her cat its drop of milk
All of the lads of the village,
Were out there, la la la la la la
Were out there, la la la la la
And Margot, a simple, very good girl Presumed it was to see her cat
That all the lads of the village,
Were there, la la la la la la
Were there, la la la la la

The school teacher and his pupils
The mayor, the beadle, the coalman
Flagrantly neglected their work
To see this.
The postman, normally so prompt
To see this, stopped delivering
The mail that, besides, no-body
Would have read.
To see this, may God forgive them,
The altar boys right at the height
Of the Holy Sacrifice sneak off
From God’s house.
The gendarmes, even the gendarmes,
Who are, by nature, so cumbrous
Let themselves be touched by the charms
O’the pretty tableau.

(Chorus)
When Margot was undoing her blouse
To give her cat its drop of milk
All of the lads of the village,
Were out there, la la la la la la
Were out there, la la la la la
And Margot, a simple, very good girl Presumed it was to see her cat
That all the lads of the village,
Were there, la la la la la la
Were there, la la la la la


But the other women of the district
Deprived of husbands or boyfriends,
Built up their resentment
Patiently …
Then one day, vicious with anger,
They armed themselves with staves
And ferociously slayed
The small cat …


The shepherdess, after much weeping,
So to console herself, got wed
And ne’er again revealed her charms
But for him …
Time passed over the memories;
The happenings were forgotten;
Just some old men still tell the tale
To their grandchildren …

(Chorus)

When Margot was undoing her blouse
To give her cat its drop of milk
All of the lads of the village,
Were out there, la la la la la la
Were out there, la la la la la
And Margot, a simple, very good girl Presumed it was to see her cat
That all the lads of the village,
Were there, la la la la la la
Were there, la la la la la

















Translation Notes

1)     Collerette- Larousse tells us that this is a little round collar, often pleated, made of fine linen.  It gives us a little sketch:

2)     Le chat se mit à téter tout de go.  This fact gives us a problem.  If the young shepherdess has milk in her breasts, she must be a nursing mother and we find out later that she was not then married.  From this it would appear that she is not so “sage” in the French sense ( not such a good girl) and perhaps not so young.
On the other hand it is important for the poem that the shepherdess is young and innocent.  Perhaps the answer is that Brassens is being very relaxed about human biology for the sake of his tale.
3)     A la ronde= around -  for example «  à des kilomètres à la ronde » translates as  « for miles around »
4)     Le tableau : We would normally translate the word « tableau » as “picture” and this would be acceptable  here, but its meaning in French is also “theatrical scene” and   the French word is used in English.  The dictionary defines “ tableau » in English as: “an arrangement of people who do not move or speak, especially on a stage, who represent a view of life, an event, etc.”.
5)     Le bougnat – Larousse tells us that this word refers to a coal merchant.
6)     La gougoutte : is baby talk for « la goutte » - the drop (of water etc).
7)     Preste – Robert translates this as “nimble”.  It describes speed of movement and as an interjection “preste!” means “hurry up!”  I suppose that is why British magicians say “Hey presto!”
8)     Au milieu du saint sacrifice – thus at the climax of the mass.
9)     Ballot :  in correct speech this means parcel/ package.  Robert says that this is a noun in familiar speech meaning “nitwit”.  The basic idea seems to be heavy and plodding of movement. The idea of policemen being like a parcel seems to link with the policeman image in Enid Blyton's children’s stories of the "Noddy" series.  Her policeman is called “Mr Plod .
10)  Ivres de colère – the most common translation for « ivre » is drunk/ intoxicated but it also means in the grip of extreme passions hence: ivre de joie= wild with joy, ivre de sang= thirsting for blood.
11)  Larousse tells us that immoler is to offer an animal or a human being as a sacrifice/to put to death/massacre. Brassens, like Jeanne a cat lover, would never have condoned such cruelty against animals.  One of his major grievances against his teenage lover. Jo, was that she maltreated his cats- see "Putain de toi"



This Russian version of the song by the talented Alexandre Avanessov has some charming and amusing illustrations




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