This poem causes confusion because the « bird » in the second line is not of the feathered kind. It only transpires in the subsequent lines that the word describes a man, an “odd bird” married to an attractive wife. He prefers a good night’s sleep to the physical side of marriage and his wife encourages him in the habit by pretending to be a sleeping beauty in an unbreakable trance as soon as she gets between the sheets. Her romantic interest appears to be found elsewhere, as in the scoundrel who tells this tale, which describes the outcome of this situation.
À l'ombre du coeur de ma mie
Un oiseau(1) s'était endormi
Un jour qu'elle faisait semblant
D'être la Belle au bois dormant.
Et moi, me mettant à genoux,
Bonnes fées, sauvegardez-nous!
Sur ce coeur j'ai voulu poser
Une manière de baiser.(2)
Alors cet oiseau de malheur
Se mit à crier Au voleur!
Au voleur! et A l'assassin!
Comme si j'en voulais à son sein.
Aux appels de cet étourneau,(3)
Grand branle-bas dans Landerneau (4):
Tout le monde et son père(5) accourt
Aussitôt lui porter secours.
Tant de rumeurs, de grondements,
Ont fait peur aux enchantements,
Et la belle désabusée
Ferma son cœur à mon baiser.
Et c'est depuis ce temps, ma soeur,
Que je suis devenu chasseur(6),
Que mon arbalète à la main
Je cours les bois et les chemins.
In the shade of my darling’s heart
A bird had fallen asleep
On a day when she made pretence
Of being a Sleeping Beauty,
And I getting down on my knees,
Good fairies, protect us!
On this heart I wanted to place
Some manner of a kiss.
Well then this bird of ill omen
Started to scream and shout “Stop thief!”
“Stop thief!” and “catch this murderer!”
As if I it was his breast I aimed at.
At the squawks of this odd fellow,
There breaks out the greatest commotion:
All the world and his wife join in
Straightaway.to give him their help
So much din, and mounting anger,
Frightened off all the enchantment
And the fair maid disabused
Closed off her heart to my kissing
And it’s since this time, dear sister,
That I have become a hunter,
That with my crossbow in my hand
I prowl the woods and the byways
1) Un oiseau – means a bird of course but it is also used for a person in expressions like “un drôle d’oiseau= a queer bloke”.
2) Une manière de baiser = a way of kissing. However, French grammarians point out that in this construction “Baiser” can be either the noun or the verb. As “baiser quelqu’un” means to have sex with some-one, it is very likely that we should have a stronger verb than “kiss” here. Such double meanings were a great delight to Brassens. Commentators on this poem are very conscious that this is a poem on Brassens album: “Le Pornographe.” Some of the misinterpretations of this short poem come from the over-assiduous search for erotic references – for example one critic states categorically that the bird in line two is a symbol for an intimate part of the female anatomy.
3) cet étourneau – A double meaning – Usual meaning- Starling, the name of a bird but it is also a word of abuse when applied to a human being-= a scatterbrain. A dolt. Brassens keeps the bird image running.
4) Grand branle-bas dans Landerneau – The historical derivation is disputed but expressions which include the word “ Landerneau “ indicate a mighty commotion.
5) Tout le monde et son père – The great French writer of fables, La Fontaine, who was much loved by Brassens, had in his fable : « Le Meunier, Son Fils et l’Ane” the phrase “contenter le monde et son père” meaning to satisfy everyone.
6) Chasseur = hunter - but a « chasseur de femmes » is a Don Juan, a philanderer -which would seem a more likely consequence of this experience rather than becoming a hunter of game. However the next line talks of his crossbow which would make him a true hunter, unless it is some kind of symbol. The idea of a heartbroken hunter in the wilds seems too sugary an ending for Brassens.
As is the usual practice, the scoundrel blames other people for making him what he is, conveniently ignoring the fact that this “life- changing” incident occurred because he was sneaking into bed with another man’s wife.
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