Monday, 30 January 2012

Jeanne by Georges Brassens





This song pays tribute to the generosity and boundless compassion of Mme. Jeanne Planche, who played a very major role in Brassens’ life.  Although she was thirty years his senior and a married woman, they became lovers when Georges was about nineteen or twenty and their loving relationship continued until the end of her life.  She gave him a refuge when he had to go in hiding during the war and also gave him the initial support that made his musical career possible.  The biographical references in this song are discussed below in my translation notes.



Chez Jeanne, la Jeanne,

Son auberge est ouverte aux gens sans feu ni lieu,(1)
On pourrait l'appeler l'auberge de Bon Dieu


S'il n'en existait déjà une,
La dernière où l'on peut entrer
Sans frapper, sans montrer patte blanche...(1)


Chez Jeanne, la Jeanne,
On est n'importe qui, on vient n'importe quand,
Et, comme par miracle, par enchantement,
On fait partie de la famille,(3)
Dans son cœur, en s'poussant un peu,
Reste encore une petite place...


La Jeanne, la Jeanne,
Elle est pauvre et sa table est souvent mal servie,(4)
Mais le peu qu'on y trouve assouvit pour la vie,
Par la façon qu'elle le donne,
Son pain ressemble à du gateau(5)
Et son eau à du vin comm' deux gouttes d'eau...


La Jeanne, la Jeanne,
On la paie quand on peut des prix mirobolants (6)
Un baiser sur son front ou sur ses cheveux blancs,
Un semblant d'accord de guitare,
L'adresse d'un chat échaudé
Ou d'un chien tout crotté comm' pourboire...(7)



La Jeanne, la Jeanne,
Dans ses ros's et ses choux(8) n'a pas trouvé d'enfant
Qu'on aime et qu'on défend contre les quatre vents,
Et qu'on accroche à son corsage,
Et qu'on arrose avec son lait...
D'autres qu'elle en seraient tout's chagrines...




Mais Jeanne, la Jeanne,
Ne s'en soucie pas plus que de colin-tampon


Être mère de trois poulpiquets,(9) à quoi bon ?
Quand elle est mère universelle,
Quand tous les enfants de la terre,
De la mer et du ciel sont à elle...



1961 - Les trompettes de la renommée.
At Jeanne’s house, our Jeanne


Her inn has room for folk in need of warmth and shelter
You might give it the name of the inn of the Lord
If there didn’t exist one already,
The last one where you can walk right in
Without knocking, without showing white paws 


At Jeannes house, our Jeanne
No matter who you are, coming no matter when
And as if by magic, quite miraculously,
You’re straightway one of the family
In her heart, by squeezing up tight,
There is still a little space left.

Our Jeanne, our Jeanne,
She is poor and her table is often quite sparse
But the little you find fills your needs for all time
By the way in which she gives it,
Her bread tastes so much like cake
And her water’s so much like wine, no-one could tell.


Our Jeanne, our Jeanne,
You pay her, when you can, quite astounding amounts:
A kiss on the forehead or placed on her white hair
A rough chord or two on guitar
The address of some scalded cat
Or of some scruffy dog just as a bonus.



Our Jeanne, our Jeanne,
In  her gooseberry bushes found no son or daughter
Whom one loves and defends against what may befall
And whom you clasp to your bosom
And on whom you lavish your milk
Someone else would be upset about it.


But Jeanne, our Jeanne,
Does not give it a thought for the briefest moment
Being mother of three little kids, what’s the point?
When she’s the universal mother
When all the children of the earth
Of the sea and of the sky are hers.












TRANSLATION NOTES


1)       Son auberge est ouverte aux gens sans feu ni lieu - There is a play on words here with the expression "sans foi ni loi", which is an expression meaning “outside the law”. When Brassens went to live in Jeanne’s house, he was in hiding from the authorities.  In March 1943, he had been requisitioned for the Service de Travail Obligatoire and was forced to go to a camp in Basdorf, Germany  to work for the German war effort.  After a year, Brassens got a pass for ten days home leave.  Once back in Paris, he did a runner to avoid returning to Germany. He was then in need of refuge, “Sans feu ni lieu” and It was Jeanne Planche and her husband, Marcel, who offered to hide him and look after him, as long as necessary, in their cramped little house in a narrow cul de sac - l'impasse Florimont in the 14th arrondissement..

2)      Montrer patte blanche - This a reference to the French fairy tale, in which Mother Goat, on leaving for market, tells her children not to open the door, unless whoever calls is able to show a white paw under the door – for fear of the wolf.

3)      On est n'importe qui, on vient n'importe quand,- Et, comme par miracle, par enchantement, - On fait partie de la famille (Lines 8-10).  Section C of my biography of the relationship of Brassens and Jeanne (See below) tells how Brassens came to be so completely at home with her – for so long!

4)      Elle est pauvre et sa table est souvent mal servie (Line 14) Section C of my biography of Brassens and Jeanne (See below) tells of the poverty that they lived in, in the Impasse Florimont and the privations of war.

5)      Son pain - In fact the bread that Jeanne would have served in her home from 1940 to about 1947 was the grey or black French bread of the war years.

6)      On la paie quand on peut des prix mirobolants : - Un baiser sur son front ou sur ses cheveux blancs, - Un semblant d'accord de guitar  (lines 20- 22)- Section C  of my biography of Brassens and Jeanne (See below)tells how little she expected and received in return for her hospitality.

7)      Un chat échaudé - Un chien tout crotté.  Jeanne had an immense love of animals and crowded their inadequate home with strays that she had taken pity on.  In his song of seven years earlier,“La cane de Jeanne”, Brassens had teased her about her excessive emotion on the death of her pet duck.

8)      In the days when parents were uneasy about giving their children lessons in human biology, British parents, when asked by their child how babies were made,  replied that new babies were found under gooseberry bushes and French parents replied that new boy babies were found under cabbages and new girl babies under roses.

9)      Poulpiquet – Larousse tells me that the strict meaning of this word is “an infant not yet weaned”, but adds that in common speech there is a pejorative sense of a child of unruly character.

Biographical links in the poem

When I started to write about the biographical links in this poem, I found that I was practically writing a full biography, but in a fragmentary and inconsequential form.  I therefore decided to write a full story of Brassens and Jeanne’s relationship, to which I could refer some quotations in my translation notes above.

I have put this biography on a separate posting.  To access this please click:


The songs in my collection that tell of his life with Jeanne
This song “Jeanne” is the fourth Brassens song in this collection that refers to his life at the house of his very great friend, Mme Jeanne Planche. The dates when the four songs appeared were:

1)      1954 – “La cane de Jeanne”, in the album - Les amoureux des bancs publics.  This song was written, therefore, just a couple of years after Brassens began to have success with his music and achieve some earnings.


2)      1955 – “Chanson pour l'auvergnat”, in the album of the same name. The man from the Auvergne, to whom the song was dedicated, was her husband, Marcel, but she has her own verse in it.

3)      1955 – “Auprès de mon arbre”. This song was also in the album - Chanson pour l'auvergnat, and includes a description of his life of total bliss  in his slum accommodation.

4)      1961 – “Jeanne”, in the album   - Les trompettes de la renommée. After the publication of this song, Brassens was to live on another five years in Jeanne’s house until the death of Marcel Planche, in 1966, when Jeanne decided to remarry.



Click here to go to the chronological list of songs in albums





Saturday, 28 January 2012

The story of Georges Brassens and his Jeanne

SOME BACKGROUND NOTES

George Brassens was born on the 22 October 1921, in the town of Sète, a town in southern France near Montpellier.


Brassens grew up in the family home with his mother, Elvira Dagrosa, and his father, Jean-Louis.  Also in the house was Georges’ half-sister, Simone, who was the daughter of his mother, Elvira, and her first husband who had been killed in the World War I. Their grandfather, Jules, also lived with them. He was the father of Georges’s Dad.

Georges’ mother came originally from southern Italy and was a devout Roman Catholic. In contrast, his father was an easy-going, generous, open-minded, anticlerical man. Brassens grew up between these two starkly contrasting personalities. Nonetheless,  the family was all united by one thing - their love for music. His mother, whom Brassens labelled a “militante de la chanson”, and Simone and grandpa Jules, were always singing.
Brassens never lost his love for his native town.  One of his songs describes how much he enjoyed, later in life, returning to sail there with his close band of pals. See Les Copains d'abord

Another song declares his wish to be buried on the shore there,so that he will be able to spend eternity as a summer holiday in Sète. See Supplique pour etre enterre a la plage de Sete


THE STORY OF THE LOVE OF GEORGES BRASSENS AND HIS JEANNE

In 1939, shortly before he turned eighteen, Georges Brassens found himself on the wrong side of the law. He had started going around with a gang of boys who had not too much respect for authority. They neglected their studies and skipped school. Two songs which Brassens wrote, set in his teenage years - "Il suffit de passer le pont" and "La Premiere Fille" - are to most of us, just charming poems about the first experience of love in the springtime of life.  However, in the repressive mores of the 1930s, they give evidence of a boy, who was ready to break this rigid social and religious code in the very sensitive and explosive matter of sexuality. 

Some of the activities of Georges and his undesirable friends began to give grounds for really serious concern. The youths became secretly involved in petty crime and pilfered small items that they could sell, raising enough money to buy records, among other things.. Their victims were mainly  members of their own families. Georges helped himself to a ring and bracelet, belonging to his half-sister. When some of the stolen property was recognised in a local shop window, the police tracked down the culprits. They were taken to court and a number of boys were sent to prison. With the support of his father, Georges got away with a one year sentence on remand. In his song,”L’auvergnat”, he talks of one sole person who looked on him with compassion when the police took him away and this could have been his father.

Although some commentators dismiss Brassens’ misdemeanour as no more than the trivial offence of an adolescent, there is no doubt that it caused a major crisis in the lives of the Brassens family, Georges was expelled from school and when he went out in public he was painfully aware of the strong disapproval on the part of the respectable people in his hometown of Sète. It is probable that the trauma of these events, at this formative stage, lingered with him for the rest of his life. He certainly had a permanent resentment of censorious middle class people, whom he characterised as “croquants” and “croquantes”.

Brassens’ first period of refuge – In Aunt Antoinette’s house Feb 1940- March 1943
Brassens decided to move to Paris in February 1940, even though France, at this time, was under threat of German invasion. His Aunt Antoinette Dagrossa, his mother’s sister, who ran a family boarding house at 173 rue d’Alésia, in the 14th arrondissement, had offered him accommodation.

On arrival in Paris, he got himself a job in the Renault car factory. Two months later, in May 1940, the factory was bombed and in the same month the German army entered France followed by the fall of Paris on the fourteenth of June. Brassens returned to Sète in the summer of 1940, but after three months, he returned to occupied Paris.

For the next three years, Georges Brassens had no employment but lived off the hospitality of his aunt. In his song “L’Auvergnat”, Brassens pays tribute to the hostess who fed him when he had no-one else to turn to. This is often seen as referring to his stay with Jeanne Planche, but in view of the hospitality which Aunt Antoinette showed to him over this long period, it is possible that it was his aunt whom he had first in mind.   Brassens paid glowing tributes to the warmth of heart and generosity of the Aunt who acted as his "hostess". He admired also her determination and her courage, as she had broken away from an unhappy marriage in Sète and had established an independent life for herself in Paris, at a time when social convention prohibited such a way-out for an unhappy wife. The idle life that she allowed him gave him the opportunity to spend his days in the public library, discovering authors, some of whom would appear later in his songs. He also was writing, publishing his first collection of poems in 1942:, ‘Des coups d’épées dans l’eau’ , soon followed by ‘A la venvole’. Also in these years he had time to improve his musical skills, teaching himself to play his aunt’s old piano.

In March 1943, this easy period in his life ended abruptly, when Brassens lost his freedom. He was requisitioned for the Service de Travail Obligatoire and was forced to go to a camp in Basdorf, Germany to work for the German war effort.

Brassens’ second period of refuge - in Jeanne’s house March 1944 – August 1944
After a year, Brassens was successful in getting a pass for ten days home leave. Predictably, once back in Paris, he did a runner to avoid returning to Germany. In fact he did not run far away from his Aunt’s house. It was Jeanne Planche and her husband, Marcel, who offered to hide him and look after him, as long as necessary, in their cramped little house in a narrow cul de sac - l'impasse Florimont in the 14th arrondissement.

Jeanne was Aunt Antoinette’s dressmaker and Brassens had got to know her through her regular visits. Brassens tells us that, in the course of the years of his stay there, the two of them became good friends, in spite of their thirty year age gap, because they found that they had a lot in common. In fact they became much more than good friends and a passionate love affair developed.

There is an intimate song of Brassens:"La fille à cent sous", which perhaps gives a picture of the emotional evening, when Georges and Jeanne first made love.


 The T.V biographies in 2011 revealed an example of the amorous messages that they exchanged. - Brassens tells us in his song, “A l’ombre des maris (1972)”, that one day he discovered that a married woman offered love more exquisite than any other:
En ce qui me concerne, ayant un jour compris
Qu’une femme adultère est plus qu’une autre exquise
Je cherche mon bonheur à l’ombre des maris
.

The facts of his biography allow us to speculate with whom he had enjoyed this memorable moment, celebrated in this poem, and Jeanne’s name comes immediately to mind.

Photos taken in these early years help to explain Jeanne’s charms. 
Her hair had not yet turned grey and we see an attractive woman with a happy personality.

Even in later years when she showed all the signs of her age commentators still refer to her beauty some of which must have been the reflection of her good nature which never left her. This photo of Jeanne and Georges together suggests the ease of their relationship and their pleasure in each other’s company.

Brassens tells us that when he was seeking refuge after going absent without leave, it was a joint offer that he received from Jeanne and her husband, Marcel. We can imagine, however that Jeanne was the moving force, not only because of her personal interest in the young man, but also because it was Jeanne, the strongest character, who always made the decisions. Brassens in the same letter, goes on to praise the generosity of the couple in undertaking to feed an extra person from the ration coupons for two that they were allocated. He also praises their courage in taking the risk of concealing an escapee from a German work camp. These acknowledgements serve to bring out the irony of the situation -that the gesture on Marcel’s part was in protection of a young man who was secretly sleeping with his wife. A commentator in a T.V.documentary (2011) about Brassens tells us that he felt very bad conscience about deceiving Marcel. However, Pierre Onténiente, Brassens’ close friend, who was, in later years, his right-hand man and his private secretary, explained that Jeanne’s husband was either indifferent or unaware, as he was in the habit of starting to get drunk from eight in the morning.  Brassens expressed his gratitude to him in his song of 1955 "Chanson pour l'auvergnat"the nickname apparently for Jeanne's husband.

Brassens’ forced confinement in Jeanne’s house lasted from March 1944 until August 1944. He had the consolation of Jeanne’s love and in this reclusion he continued to write poems and songs. His only musical instrument was a low piece of furniture which he used as a drum, beating out the rhythms. Nevertheless the tensions of these months should not be understated. The strain of this experience can be gauged by the fact that late in his life Brassens recalled to an acquaintance from his early days in Paris, who had just written to him (See Appendix below), that he had endured “this state of siege” for a year and three months. In fact the time that he was shut away totalled five months. The tally in Brassens’ mind no doubt reflected the length of those days when, deprived indefinitely of his liberty, he lived in constant suspense of the possibility of discovery by the Vichy police or the Gestapo, with the terrible consequences that this would imply, not only for him but for Jeanne and Marcel.

Brassens’ extended stay in the Impasse Florimont – 1944 – 1966
In the same letter to a correspondent, Brassens says that it was quite natural that he stayed on at Jeanne’s house in the Impasse Florimont after Paris was liberated and he was able to come out of hiding:
Mais même après la Libération, j'ai tout naturellement choisi de demeurer chez Jeanne, malgré l'inconfort notable des lieux, sans électricité, sans eau courante, sans tout-à-l'égout
It would surprise most people that he chose to go on living there for the very reasons that he mentions. The house was without electricity, running water and proper sanitation. It was in fact a slum and Jeanne made matters worse by the animals that she accumulated there – living side by side in her yard were cats, dogs, hens and Jeanne’s special duck that Brassens made famous in his song. The soft hearted Jeanne could not turn away any strays and she poured out on them the love that she would have lavished on her children, if fate had been kind enough to grant her any. Her boarder, Georges Brassens had an equal attachment to her cats.

If it is a surprise that Brassens chose to live on in these conditions and it is a further surprise how long he lived on there. In fact, he stayed in the run-down cul-de sac, close to Jeanne for another twenty years, even after he had become rich and internationally famous.  The personality of Jeanne must surely have been the major factor in this attachment.  In my interpretation of Brassens' song, "La Femme d'Hector", she is the partner on whom he can rely absolutely throughout the years, who is, in the bargain, a woman of incomparable qualities.


Brassens explained in a radio interview that he stayed on there because he felt comfortable. In the letter to his acquaintance of time past, he said that by remaining there he was able to keep his little routines, because the local residents respected what he termed the private territory of his daily life. There, he was near to his friends him, including those, who had just returned from the German labour, among whom his close friend, Pierre Onténiente. With a number of these friends he attempted to launch an anarchist movement.

The most important person in this company was Jeanne, who gave him great love and support. A less romantic view of this appeared in the recent T.V. documentary on his life. This pointed out that for ten years Jeanne kept Georges who had no income and who made little effort to find some kind of job which would at least allow him to pay his keep. Unkind people could say that throughout all these years, he was Jeanne’s kept man.

From an artistic point of view it was vital that Jeanne gave him the encouragement to persevere in his composition and to go on trying to get his songs played. Brassens was lacking in confidence and experienced nervousness and panic when he had to perform in public (a nervousness which is still evident in his heavy perspiration sometimes as he performs in his later years).continuing his study of poetry and was working on his songs. Jeanne gave him vital encouragement and bought him a guitar (on the death of his Aunt Antoinette in July 1946, he inherited her piano). They battled on for over five years in the face of refusals and disappointments and all the while, he did not earn a penny.
                                                                                 
The turning point came in in March 1951, when the famous French singer Patachou sang his songs at her cabaret (below left)and called the nervous young man with a big moustache up on stage to sing. He was greeted with acclaim.

Hear Brassens' first song composition and record, when in 1952, he and Patachou, both on the brink of their dazzling careers sang in duet the tale of his debt to his parents' unfailing love and his regret for his adolescent excesses.  Please click on "Maman Papa"



It was through Patachou that Brassens had met the bass player, Pierre Nicolas.  He was an accomplished musician, who would become his accompanist and give him the solid support he needed to perform in public, as Brassens' nervousness on stage never left him.


Below Right - In later years, Brassens rehearsing with Pierre Nicolas.

From 1952 onwards, Brassens was earning enough not only to pay his rent and his keep but to make improvements in Jeanne’s home, installing electricity and running water.

In 1955, he bought Jeanne and Marcel Planche’s home for them and also the neighbouring house as an extension for their house, into which he himself was able to move. In his private cine-films, we see Jeanne in the smart clothes that Brassens was now able to buy her, accompanied by Marcel – and dog- on an outing to the Bois de Boulogne, to where they were driven in a fine car.


L’Impasse Florimont continued to be Brassens’ home, although he was absent for increasing periods of time as his successful career involved him in tours both within France and abroad.  In 1960, around the time when Jeanne turned seventy, Brassens wrote the touching song:"Jeanne" to celebrate the infinite warmth and kindliness of her nature.  In their personal cine-films, we see Brassens constantly putting his arms around her and his hands upon her, getting in return more than once a flirtatious glance - the body language of two people, whose feelings of intimacy had not diminished.




This situation, strange in many ways,  finally ended in 1966.

On the 7th May of the previous year Marcel Planche had died. On the 2th May 1966, to the dismay of Brassens, Jeanne married again at the age of 75. Her new husband was only 37 years old. In a show of disapproval, Brassens moved out of Jeanne’s house. (See the postscript below)

On the topic of fidelity, It has to be said that from as early as 1945 Brassens had conducted clandestine love affairs, while living with Jeanne. He would seek to smuggle the women into his room secretly so as not to arouse Jeanne’s jealous anger. The TV biographies of 2011, tell how the gentle natured Jeanne became very angry when she learnt of his relationships with other women.

Jeanne’s new marriage was to prove short-lived. Just two years later, she was taken ill and underwent a gall-bladder operation, from which she failed to recover. She died on the 24th October 1968 and Georges Brassens was at her bedside.
The photo on the left looks back to the days when Georges first met Jeanne.

As we grow older we necessarily live in the continuity of the full span of our lives. When Brassens looked at Jeanne that last time, no doubt he saw also the bright-eyed woman, younger than her years, whose first warm embrace of illicit love, at number 173 rue d’Alésia, had introduced him to a deep and enduring relationship. Jeanne’s death at the age of 77 greatly affected Brassens.


Brassens died of cancer in 1981, in Saint-Gély-du-Fesc. He had suffered health problems for many years, as is evident in a number of videos on this blog.  He was laid to rest in accordance with his wishes (almost!) at the  Cimetière le Py in Sète.


Postscript
After Brassens finally moved out of the Impasse Florimont in 1966, following Jeanne’s remarriage he bought a more modern apartment. However he did not find this style of living to his taste and he sold up three years later to buy a house in the 15th arrondissement. In the letter to a personal correspondent, quoted several times above in this biography, he explained that, after his temporary removal, he had no intention of leaving the district of Paris where he felt at ease and which was now his permanent home. We note the continuing pull of this neighbourhood where he had lived with Jeanne.


APPENDIX

The following is the letter, which I have mentioned several times in the piece above.  Brassens wrote it in reply to the reminiscences of an acquaintance from his early days in Paris. Brassens wrote an appreciative letter that is full of biographical insights:


Cher Voisin, Bonjour,
Je trouve bien émouvant que vous évoquiez, et sur un ton si chaleureusement intimiste, cette époque où je pouvais flâner nonchalamment dans mon quartier du 14e arrondissement. Et de penser que nous nous sommes croisés, entre la rue Didot et la rue de Vanves, que nous aurions pu faire un bout de conversation place du lieutenant Piobetta, face à cette caserne de pompiers, à quatre pas de ma maison.

Car effectivement c'est bien là que j'ai habité, impasse Florimont, au no9, devenu depuis le no7, pendant 22 ans. Lorsqu'à 18 ans, en février 1940, j'ai quitté ma ville natale de Sète pour monter à Paris, il n'y avait qu'un seul point de chute possible. Ma tante, Antoinette Dagrossa, soeur de ma mère, possédait une pension de famille au 173, rue d'Alésia. Déjà à l'occasion de vacances ou de l'Exposition Universelle, tous les membres de la famille qui passaient à Paris étaient inévitablement logés chez cette tante chaleureuse, restée très attachée à sa soeur et à la famille. Moi-même, lors de deux précédents voyages dans la capitale, j'avais pu apprécier la générosité mais aussi la rigueur et la détermination de cette femme de tête. Pour fuir un mariage inconfortable, elle avait choisi de quitter Sète et de se reconstruire une vie marquée par l'autonomie, ce qui était très courageux dans le contexte de l'époque et était de nature à soulever mon estime. J'étais d'autant plus heureux d'habiter chez elle que j'avais libre accès à un piano d'une tenue convenable, sur lequel, grâce à des méthodes dénichées aux Puces de Vanves, j'ai pu combler le gouffre de mon ignorance musicale.



J'ai habité rue d'Alésia durant trois années et c'est pendant cette période que j'ai fait la connaissance de Jeanne Planche, couturière attitrée de tante Antoinette, devenue son amie au fil des années. Bien que 30 ans d'âge nous séparaient, des affinités multiples tissaient entre nous des liens certains.
En mars 1943, je fus contraint au S.T.O., le service du travail obligatoire. Après un an, les Allemands accordèrent parcimonieusement des permissions. Très peu retournèrent au camp. Pour ma part, il n'était pas question que je me réinstalle chez Antoinette, où j'aurais été vite repris et aurais dangereusement compromis mon hôtesse.
C'est alors que Jeanne et son mari Marcel offrirent de m'héberger, de me cacher, dans leur maisonnette, pourtant déjà bien exiguë de l'impasse Florimont. Outre le courage et la générosité de m'accorder de l'espace et d'assumer le risque, il allait bien vite se poser le problème de la nourriture, puisqu'ils acceptaient que l'on mange à trois avec des coupons d'alimentation émis pour deux personnes. La bonne Antoinette et ma brave mère aideront dans la mesure de leurs moyens par quelques colis occasionnels. 
L'état de siège dura un an et deux mois. Mais même après la Libération, j'ai tout naturellement choisi de demeurer chez Jeanne, malgré l'inconfort notable des lieux, sans électricité, sans eau courante, sans tout-à-l'égout. Ce n'est qu'à partir de 1952, grâce à mes premiers cachets, que j'ai pu progressivement rehausser le niveau de confort de la maisonnette, jusqu'à acheter la maison mitoyenne pour agrandir.


Et ce n'est que lorsque Jeanne, devenue veuve, a décidé de se remarier, en 1966, que j'ai choisi de quitter l'impasse, mais sans m'éloigner du quartier, que j'ai toujours habité par la suite. Ainsi, j'ai pu pour un temps et dans la mesure du possible, préserver mes petites habitudes, les résidents de ma paroisse respectant généralement, tout comme vous l'avez fait vous-même, le territoire privé de mon quotidien.


Au plaisir,
Brassens

Click here to go to the Alphabetical list of Brassens Songs with English translation

Monday, 9 January 2012

À L'OMBRE DES MARIS -Brassens

À L'OMBRE DES MARIS – IN THE SHADOW OF HUSBANDS

This is an amusing song about the complication of extra-marital relationships among people most typically in the world of entertainment and the arts. In a programme shown last year on French TV, « Regard de Brassens », Brassens, in a recorded interview, told us frankly that he deliberately chose affairs with married women, because falling in love with a single woman could mean marriage and children and loss of his liberty. In the light of this principle, the song « A l’ombre des maris » has a comic irony that Brassens must have enjoyed.




Les dragons de vertu n'en prennent pas ombrage,
Si j'avais eu l'honneur de commander à bord,
À bord du Titanic quand il a fait naufrage,
J'aurais crié : "Les femm's adultères d'abord !"
Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...


Car, pour combler les voeux, calmer la fièvre ardente
Du pauvre solitaire et qui n'est pas de bois, (1)
Nulle n'est comparable à l'épouse inconstante.
Femmes de chefs de gare,(2) c'est vous la fleur d'époi. (3)
Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...


Quant à vous, messeigneurs, aimez à votre guise,
En ce qui me concerne, ayant un jour compris
Qu'une femme adultère est plus qu'une autre exquise,
Je cherche mon bonheur à l'ombre des maris.
Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...


À l'ombre des maris, mais cela va sans dire,
Pas n'importe lesquels, je les trie, les choisis.
Si madame Dupont,(4) d'aventure, m'attire,
Il faut que, par surcroît, Dupont me plaise 
aussi !
Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...


Il convient que le bougre ait une bonne poire
Sinon, me ravisant, je détale à grands pas,
Car je suis difficile et me refuse à boire
Dans le verr' d'un monsieur qui ne me revient
 pas.

Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...


Ils sont loins mes débuts où, manquant de pratique
Sur des femmes de flics (5) je mis mon dévolu.
Je n'étais pas encore ouvert à l'esthétique,
Cette faute de goût je ne la commets plus.

Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...


Oui, je suis tatillon, pointilleux, mais j'estime
Que le mari doit être un gentleman complet,
Car on finit tous deux par devenir intimes
À force, à force de se passer le relais.(6)

Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...



Mais si l'on tombe, hélas ! sur des maris infâmes,
Certains sont si courtois, si bons si chaleureux,
Que, même après avoir cessé d'aimer leur femme,
On fait encor semblant uniquement pour eux.
Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...


C'est mon cas ces temps-ci, je suis triste, malade,
Quand je dois faire honneur à certaine pécore,
Mais, son mari et moi, c'est Oreste et Pylade,(7)
Et, pour garder l'ami, je la cajole encore.
Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...

Non contente de me déplaire, elle me trompe,
Et les jours où, furieux, voulant tout mettre à bas
Je crie : "La coupe est pleine, il est temps que je rompe !"
Le mari me supplie : "Non, ne me quittez pas !"
Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...

Et je reste, et, tous deux, ensemble on se flagorne
Moi, je lui dis : "C'est vous mon cocu préféré."
Il me réplique alors : "Entre toutes mes cornes,
Celles que je vous dois, mon cher, me sont sacrées."
Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,
Je suis derrière...

Et je reste et, parfois, lorsque cette pimbêche
S'attarde en compagnie de son nouvel amant,
Que la nurse est sortie, le mari à la pêche,(8)
C'est moi, pauvre de moi ! qui garde les enfants.

Ne jetez pas la pierre à la femme adultère,

1972 - Fernande


May dragons of virtue take no offence at this:
If I’d had the honour to have command on board
On board the Titanic when it was wrecked at sea I would have yelled: “All adulterous women go first”.
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.

For to sate the desires, calm the fevers that rage
In a poor lonely soul, who is made not of stone Nothing can compare with an inconstant wife.
Station-masters’ wives, you’re the pick of the crop.

Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.


As for you, lordly priests, love in your kind of way
As for me, from the day, I grew to understand
An adulterous wife is exquisite as none other
I seek my greatest bliss in the husbands’ shadow.
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.


In the husbands’ shadow, but there’s no need to say,
Not just any husband, I sort them, I choose them
If it’s Madame Dupont, who p’rhaps catches my eye,
It’s vital besides that I like Dupont as well !
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.


It’s fitting that the fellow has a pleasant face
Otherwise, on second thoughts, I clear off like a shot.
For I am most choosy and I refuse to drink
From the glass of a man, whose looks put me right off.
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.


They’re far off, my beginnings, when lacking practice
I used to go out on the trawl for policemen’s wives
I had not yet achieved a sense of aesthetics.
This error of good taste, I don’t make any more.
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.


Yes I am finicky, demanding, but believe
That the husband must be a gentleman complete,
For you finish up both getting extremely close
By dint of, dint of making the baton changes.
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.



But if you come across, alas ! nasty husbands,
Some others are so polite, so kind, so friendly
That even after having stopped loving their wives
You still pretend to be devoted just to them.

Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.


That’s how I am just now, I am sick and downcast
When I must do the honours with one crazy wife
But her husband and I, we’re Oreste and Pylade,
And to keep him my friend, I fondle her still.
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.

Not content with turning me off she’s unfaithful,
And on days I get mad, want to call it all off
I shout : “This’s gone too far; it’s time I make the break!”
The husband beseeches: “No don’t you desert me!”
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.

I stay on, and, we both, butter up the other.
I say to him : My favourite cuckold is you
He replies to me then : Of all the horns I wear
The ones I owe to you, dear friend, are sacred.

Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman
I am right behind her.


I stay on and sometimes when that jumped-up creature
Stays too long in her latest lover’s company,
When the nanny’s out, the husband’s gone off fishing
It is me, poor old me, who has to watch the kids
Cast not a stone at the adulterous woman 








Translation Notes 


1) As a figurative expression for “unfeeling”. Brassens uses “made of wood” but as wooden in English suggests awkward, I have substituted “stone”.

2) The stationmaster is a symbol of the deceived husband because of a line in a well-known vulgar song: “Il est cocu, le chef de gare” – he is cuckolded the stationmaster.

3) Fleur d’époi is a complimentary term, which would tell us that wives of stationmasters dress with the utmost elegance. However there is a secondary meaning because “l’époi” is the tip of a stag’s horns which are the symbol of cuckoldry.

4) Madame Dupont – the name is chosen as a common French surname, just as, in English, we would use Mrs Smith or Mrs Jones for a general name.

5) Femmes de flics. This disparaging verse about the wives of cops is somewhat gratuitous, but Brassens often felt the need to express his distaste for the police

6) À force, à force de se passer le relais. - Brassens’ repetition at the start of this line might suggest hesitation about giving erotic detail of the actual arrangements, with the passing over of the wife from one to the other. When I was struggling with this line, a little linguistic point struck me: English terminology is “pass the baton” a French word of course. The French, however , do not use it saying: “Passer le témoin” – pass the witness.

7) Oreste and Pylade -are characters in classical mythology (and in Racine’s Andromaque) who typify friendship. Orestes was the son of Agamemnon who was murdered by his wife, Clytemnestra. When he reached adulthood, Orestes returned to his native Mycenae to seek revenge for the death of his father. With the collusion of his sister, Electra and of his cousin and close friend, Pylades, Orestes killed his own mother, Clytemnestra and also her lover, Aegisthus. Pylades became the husband of Electra.

8) le mari à la pêche – There is a line of a French song : Le cocu qui s'ennoblit en pêchant.

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