Thursday, 9 December 2010

Bonhomme - a peasant woman redresses the scales of her marriage at the last

This pessimistic song tells of the poverty of the underprivileged and of the sadness of human mortality in stark terms.  This would leave us with a gloomy, to the English mind, a Victorian poem.  Such indeed is the background but there is more to the poem than this.   There is a hidden message and the clue is in the last line of each verse: the old man is dying "De mort naturelle".  The man is old and ill, therefore what is the significance of repeatedly giving this reassurance about his death.  We should ponder this as we hear the poem.


Malgré la bise ( 1) qui mord,
La pauvre vieille de somme(2)
Va ramasser du bois mort
Pour chauffer Bonhomme,
Bonhomme qui va mourir
De mort naturelle

Mélancolique, elle va
À travers la forêt blême(3)
Où jadis elle rêva
De celui qu'elle aime,
Qu'elle aime et qui va mourir
De mort naturelle.

Rien n'arrêtera le cours
De la vieille qui moissonne(4)
Le bois mort de ses doigts gourds,
Ni rien ni personne,
Car Bonhomme va mourir
De mort naturelle.

Non, rien ne l'arrêtera
Ni cette voix de malheur
Qui dit : "Quand tu rentreras
Chez toi, tout à l'heure
Bonhomm' sera déjà mort
De mort naturelle."

Ni cette autre et sombre voix,
Montant du plus profond d'elle
Lui rappeler qu'autrefois
Il fut infidèle,
Car Bonhomme, il va mourir
De mort naturelle.(5)

Georges Brassens
1958 - Le pornographe
In spite of the biting wind
The old female beast of burden
Goes to gather up dead wood
To warm up her fella
Her fella who’s goin’ t’ die
From natural causes.

Melancholic, on she goes
Crossing through the dim lit forest
Where long ago she daydreamt
Of the one whom she loves
Whom she loves, and who’s goin’ t’ die
From natural causesl

Nothing will now stop in her path
The old woman who is harvesting
The dead wood with her numb fingers
No no thing and no person
For her fella’s goin’ t’ die
From natural causes.

No there’s nothing 'll stop her
Neither that doom laden voice,
Which says “When you make your way
Back home, in a little while
He will have already died
From natural causes."

Nor this other, sombre voice
Rising from far deep within her
To remind her that in times past
He’d been unfaithful
For her Good Man, he's dying
From natural causes.

TRANSLATION NOTES - and how I see this poem.

1)La bise – the cold winter wind
2) Une bête de somme – a beast of burden
3 blême = pale , pallid but there seems an eerie quality about the word
4) moissonner= to harvest.

5) De mort naturelle - I see irony in this phrase.  The man is suffering from a terminal illness and is lying in bed in the final throes.  The couple love each other and always have, but he could not resist the charms of other women and made her suffer by his infidelity.  In these last moments she feels the compulsive necessity to go out of the cottage and leave him cold and alone, while she goes away to collect the firewood which will warm the room for her husband's corpse.  She thus adds to their loving relationship her own act of infidelity, which counterbalances his own..

The poem is thus a sad moral tale, not just of peasant life but of people of all classes.

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