Monday, 6 December 2010

Le petit cheval - Georges Brassens

Brassens makes a song of Paul Fort’s poem about a little white horse. With its catchy refrain lines: “Tous derrière, tous derrière” ........... “Tous derrière et lui devant »this has become a popular children’s song often taught in French primary schools. Yet a French girl commenting after the YouTube recording tells how it always made her cry as a child and now that she sees it again at eighteen, it has the same effect.

Here Brassens is accompanied by Nana Mouskouri



Le petit cheval
Le p'tit ch'val dans le mauvais temps
The little horse in bad weather
Qu'il avait donc du courage !
What then was the heart that he showed!
C'était un petit cheval blanc
He was just a little white horse
Tous derrière, tous derrière
All men behind, all men behind
C'était un petit cheval blanc
He was just a little white horse
Tous derrière et lui devant !
All men behind and he in front

Il n'y avait jamais de beau temps
There wasn’t ever fine weather
Dans ce pauvre paysage !
On this ill-favoured countryside
Il n'y avait jamais de printemps
There was never a sign of Spring
Ni derrière, ni derrière,
Neither behind, neither behind,
Il n'y avait jamais de printemps
There was never a sign of Spring
Ni derrière ni devant !
Neither behind nor in front

Mais toujours il était content
However he was still content
Menant les gars du village
Taking the lads of the village
A travers la pluie noire des champs
Across the black rain of the fields
Tous derrière, tous derrière
All men behind, all men behind
A travers la pluie noire des champs
Across the black rain of the fields
Tous derrière et lui devant !
All men behind and he in front.

Sa voiture allait poursuivant
His cart went along, pursuing
Sa bell' petit' queue sauvage
His proud little tail a-swishing
C'est alors qu'il était content
It was then that he was content
Tous derrière, tous derrière
All men behind, all men behind
C'est alors qu'il était content
It was then that he was content
Tous derrière et lui devant !
All men behind and he in front!

Mais un jour dans le mauvais temps,
However in the bad weather,
Un jour qu'il était si sage
One day he’d been perfectly good
Il est mort par un éclair blanc
He died from a white lightning bolt
Tous derrière, tous derrière
All men behind, all men behind
Il est mort par un éclair blanc(1)
He died from a white lightning bolt
Tous derrière et lui devant !
All men behind and he in front!(2)

Il est mort sans voir le beau temps
He died without see’ng fine weather
Qu'il avait donc du courage !
What then was the heart that he showed!
Il est mort sans voir le printemps
He died without seeing the spring
Ni derrière, ni derrière
Neither behind, neither behind,
Il est mort sans voir le printemps
He died without seeing the spring
Ni derrière, ni devant !
Neither behind, nor in front!

Paul Fort

Brassens (1953) La mauvaise réputation

1) un éclair blanc – There are two contrasting colours in this poem, the black pessimism of the grim scene and its weather with its black rain. In contrast there is the white optimism of the horse and surprisingly the force that kills him is white. Perhaps there is a symbol that the horse, who did no wrong, was too good for this world and was taken to join the light.
2) Il est mort par un éclair blanc …… Tous derrière et lui devant - When I first translated these two lines, I wrote « He died struck by a lightning bolt, all men behind and he at front. ». I realised that I had widened the tragedy by making the young men in the back share the horse’s fate – as was quite likely. However the focus of the poem is on the white horse and I adjusted this. Nevertheless, the refrain links together the men in the back with the horse in front and the message could be that the lot of the horse is the lot of humankind. A bit demoralising for the kids perhaps?

Click here to return to the Index of Brassens songs

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

First, I would like to echo the thank you for all your hard work. If I may say so in all humility your translations achieve both neatness and accuracy- no easy task.
As to the French girl's comment, one imagines that if she had read about Trompette in "Germinal", she would never have made it to 18!

Fanny LE MASSON said...

My Grandpa use to sing us this song before bed when we were kids. I don't think i was very attentive to the lyrics at the time, but now whenever i listen to this song it makes me want to smile and cry at the same time!

Fanny LE MASSON said...
This comment has been removed by the author.

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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.