Thursday, 31 January 2013

La Fessée -A playful spanking in inappropriate circumstances


This is an erotic song which I have previously passed over, but which has a contemporary topicality at a time when the top-selling novel, “Fifty Shades of Grey” also has a much discussed spanking scene. I don’t imagine though that the setting of the couple’s encounter in E. L. James’ book is a Chapel of Rest, with the lady’s husband’s corpse alongside. Brassens is dealing once again with his repeated theme of death and his determination not to let his own eventual death or any actual death suck the life out  from the several decades of living that are granted us.  One weapon in his counter attack is the free enjoyment of human sexuality, which is illustrated in this song. Here it is presented sometimes openly but more often conveyed through teasing innuendo and suggestion so that  the song is as sensual as the audience makes it. The censor made the right (or wrong) interpretation and the song was banned.  It is good to hear the audience laughter on this recording and to know Brassens' song was generally accepted in its true spirit


La fessée

La veuve et l'orphelin, quoi de plus émouvant ?

Un vieux copain d'école étant mort sans enfants,
Abandonnant au monde une épouse épatante,
J'allai rendre visite à la désespérée.
Et puis, ne sachant plus où finir ma soirée,

Je lui tins compagnie dans la chapelle ardente.

Pour endiguer ses pleurs, pour apaiser ses maux,

Je me mis à blaguer, à sortir des bons mots,
 Tous les moyens sont bons au médecin de l'âme...
Bientôt, par la vertu de quelques facéties,
La veuve se tenait les côtes, Dieu merci !

 Ainsi que des bossus, tous deux nous rigolâmes.
Ma pipe dépassait un peu de mon veston.
Aimable, elle m'encouragea : "Bourrez-la donc,
Qu'aucun impératif moral ne vous arrête,
Si mon pauvre mari détestait le tabac,
Maintenant la fumée ne le dérange pas !
Mais où diantre ai-je mis mon porte-cigarettes ?"(1)

À minuit, d'une voix douce de séraphin,
Elle me demanda si je n'avais pas faim.
"Ça le ferait-il revenir, ajouta-t-elle,
De pousser la piété jusqu'à l'inanition
Que diriez-vous d'une frugale collation ?"
Et nous fîmes un petit souper aux chandelles(2).


"Regardez s'il est beau ! Dirait-on point qu'il dort ?
Ce n'est certes pas lui qui me donnerait tort

De noyer mon chagrin dans un flot de champagne."
Quand nous eûmes vidé le deuxième magnum,
La veuve était émue, nom d'un petit bonhomme!
Et son esprit se mit à battre la campagne...


"Mon dieu, ce que c'est tout de même que de nous !"(3)
Soupira-t-elle, en s'asseyant sur mes genoux.
Et puis, ayant collé sa lèvre sur ma lèvre,
"Me voilà rassurée, fit-elle, j'avais peur

Que, sous votre moustache en tablier d' sapeur,(4)
Vous ne cachiez coquettement un bec-de-lièvre..."



Un tablier d' sapeur, ma moustache, pensez !
Cette comparaison méritait la fessée.
Retroussant l'insolente avec nulle tendresse,
Conscient d'accomplir, somme toute, un devoir,
Mais en fermant les yeux pour ne pas trop en voir
Paf ! J'abattis sur elle une main vengeresse !

"Aïe ! Vous m'avez fêlé le postérieur en deux !"
Se plaignit-elle, et je baissai le front, piteux,
Craignant avoir frappé de façon trop brutale.
 Mais j'appris par la suite, et j'en fus bien content,
Que cet état de chos's durait depuis longtemps :


Menteuse ! La fêlure était congénitale.
Quand je levai la main pour la deuxième fois,
Le coeur n'y était plus, j'avais perdu la foi,
Surtout qu'elle s'était enquise, la bougresse :
"Avez-vous remarqué que j'avais un beau cul ?"
Et ma main vengeresse est retombée, vaincue,
Et le troisième coup ne fut qu'une caresse...


"Avez-vous remarqué que j'avais un beau cul ?"
Et ma main vengeresse est retombée, vaincue,
Et le troisième coup ne fut qu'une caresse...







The widow and the orphan, what is more moving ?
An old mate from school having died without children
Leaving behind to the world a stunning wife
I went round to visit the lady in despair
And then not knowing where to finish the evening
I kept her company in the chapel of rest.

In order to staunch her tears and to soothe her woes
I started to make jokes, to attempt a little wit,
Every method is right for doctors of the soul…….
Soon, by virtue of these facetious remarks
The widow was splitting her sides. Thank God !

The two of us were rolling around with laughter
My pipe was poking a bit from my jacket
Kindly, she encouraged me: Stuff it full then.
Let no moral imperative stand  in your way
If my poor husband detested tobacco
At present our smoking does not disturb him
But where the heck have I put my cigarette case”.


At midnight in a soft angelic voice
She asked me if I wasn’t feeling hungry
"Would that bring him back again, she added
To push piety until we drop with hunger
What would you say to a frugal collation?”
And we shared a little supper by candlelight


"Look how handsome he is!   Would’nt y’say he’s sleeping?
He’s certainly not the one to tell me that I’m wrong
To drown my sorrows with a good swig of champagne."
When we had emptied the second magnum
 The widow was emotional, the hell she was!
Her mind began to run away with her a bit.


"My God, what is there, that we mortals have in store!”
She softly sighed, while sitting down upon my lap
And then having stuck her lips tightly onto mine
"There, my mind’s put at rest," she said, “I’d been afraid
That beneath your moustache so like a lady’s muff 
Was a hare lip  you were self-consciously hiding….”

Like a lady’s muff, my moustache, just imagine!
That comparison well deserved a spanking
Hoisting the cheeky girl’s skirts not at all gently,
Conscious of performing what was just a duty
But while closing my eyes lest I should see too much.
Slap ! I brought down on her an avenging hand .


"Ouch ! You have just split my posterior in two!”
She complained and I lowered my eyes in pity ,
Fearing to have struck her in a too brutal way.
But I found out after, to my satisfaction
That this state of things dated back quite a long time:

She had told a lie! The split had been there from birth
And when I lifted my hand for the second time
My heart was no longer in it. I’d lost the faith
Especially as she had enquired, the rascal
« Have you noticed that I had a beautiful bum? »
And my avenging hand fell back down defeated
And the third blow was nothing more than a caress.

« Have you noticed that I had a beautiful bum? »
And my avenging hand fell back down defeated
And the third blow was nothing more than a caress.












TRANSLATION NOTES

(1)   There is a lot of suggestive language in this verse – and the rest of the poem, which a translator should avoid making explicit.

(2)   nous fîmes un petit souper aux chandelles(2). – An unsentimental use of funeral candles
(3)    ce que c'est tout de même que de nous !" – In her cups, the widow makes a declamation about human mortality.  This is a famous expression used by Archbishop Bossuet (1627- 1704) in a funeral oration,  (Bossuet is regarded as one of the great orators of all time).  Bossuet’s enigmatic statement made beside a dead body is seen to express how little our lives have to offer.  Brassens’ use would appear to be ironic, coming from a tipsy young lady intent on making love – although, admittedly, she, like Bossuet was speaking the words beside a dead body.

(4)   Un tablier d' sapeur – In the 19th century, firemen in some parts of France wore black leather aprons for protection.  However the expression has a vulgar usage for female pubic hair.



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Tuesday, 22 January 2013

La guerre de 14- 18 - The nonsense of this war- also Michael Flanders' adaptation



Brassens satirises the conventional teaching of history, which confines itself largely to the amoral listing of successive wars and attributes national glory to the slaughter.  In this poem a new military recruit enthusiastically lists his favourite wars, putting at the top the 1914- 1918 War, which was, of course, the greatest human slaughterhouse in history. 

Brassens’ song inspired the British comedy duo, Flanders and Swann to write their own version in the context of British martial history and this is posted afterwards.



La guerre de 14-18 




Depuis que l'homme écrit l'Histoire,
Depuis qu'il bataille à coeur joie
Entre mille et un' guerr's notoires,
Si j'étais t'nu de faire un choix,
À l'encontre du vieil Homère,(2)
Je déclarerais tout de suite :
"Moi, mon colon, cell' que j' préfère,
C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit !"


Est-ce à dire que je méprise
Les nobles guerres de jadis,
Que je m' soucie comm' d'un' cerise
De celle de soixante-dix ? (3)
Au contraire, je la révère
Et lui donne un satisfecit
Mais, mon colon, cell' que j' préfère,
C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit !


Je sais que les guerriers de Sparte
Plantaient pas leurs épées dans l'eau,(4)
Que les grognards de Bonaparte (5)
Tiraient pas leur poudre aux moineaux..
Leurs faits d'armes sont légendaires,
Au garde-à-vous, j' les félicite,
Mais, mon colon, cell' que j' préfère,
C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit !


Bien sûr, celle de l'an quarante (6)
Ne m'a pas tout à fait déçu,
Elle fut longue et massacrante
Et je ne crache pas dessus,(7)
Mais à mon sens, ell' ne vaut guère
Guèr' plus qu'un premier accessit,
"Moi, mon colon, cell' que j' préfère,
C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit !"

Mon but n'est pas de chercher noise
Aux guérillas, non, fichtre ! non,
Guerres saintes, guerres sournoises,
Qui n'osent pas dire leur nom,(8),
Chacune a quelque chos' pour plaire
Chacune a son petit mérite,
Mais, mon colon, cell' que j' préfère,
C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit !

Du fond de son sac à malices,
Mars va sans doute, à l'occasion,
En sortir une - un vrai délice ! –
Qui me fera grosse impression...
En attendant je persévère
À dir' que ma guerr' favorite,
Cell', mon colon, que j' voudrais faire,
C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit !

Georges Brassens
1961 - Les trompettes de la renommée
Since man’s been writing history
Since he’s been gaily waging war
From ‘thousand and one wars of note,
If I was forced to make a choice
At odds with what old Homer said,
I would state firmly like a shot
« Me, colonel, the one I prefer
Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! »


Is that to say I look down on
The noble wars of times gone by
That I don’t care a fig about
The one of eighteen seventy
On the contr’ry I respect it
And award it a credit mark
« But colonel, the one I prefer
Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! »


I know the warriors of Sparta
Did not mess about with their swords,
Those of Napoleon’s Old Guard
Didn’t fire their powder at sparrows
Their war deeds are legendary
Come to attention, I salute them,
« But colonel, the one I prefer
Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! »


Sure that of the Revolution
Was no total disappointment
It was long and full of massacres
And I treat it with no contempt
But to my mind it hardly rates
Hardly more than a narrow fail,
« Me, colonel, the one I prefer
Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! » 

My aim isn’t to pick a fight
With guerillas, no damn it ! no
Holy wars and undergound wars 
Which do not dare to speak their name
Each one has got something to please
Each one has its little merit
« But colonel, the one I prefer
Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! »

From the depths of his bag of tricks
Mars is going, without doubt, some day
Pull out one such – a real delight!
Which will vastly impress me….
Meanwhile I am carrying on
Saying that my favourite war
The one, colonel, I’d like to fight
Is the war of fourteen - eighteen





TRANSLATION NOTES


1)      La guerre de 14-18.-  It is unusual in English to refer to the First World War in this way, but Flanders and Swann keep it in their copy of Brassens' song.  See below.

2)      Homère – Homer the great poet of Ancient Greece wrote the Illiad telling the story of the last year of the Trojan War.   He lived around 750- 650 BC and so did not have as wide a choice of wars as the young man in Brassens’ poem.

3)      La Guerre de soixante-dix.  In the War of 1870, France suffered total defeat, outnumbered by the armies of Prussia and Germany.  There were however some glorious moments for the French such as the charge of the Le Premier Cuirassier at the battle of Reichshoffen.

4)      Les guerriers de Sparte plantaient pas leurs épées dans l'eau = The expression  « donner des coups ‘épée dans l’eau » means to exert oneself in order to achieve nothing.  The Spartan warriors did the opposite and used their swords to very bloody effect.

5)      Les grognards de Bonaparte – This was the name given to the soldiers of Napoleon’s Vieille Garde, the utmost elite section of Napoleon’s elite Imperial Guard.

6)      Celle de l'an quarante  -  Here Brassens is dealing with the bloody civil war of the French Revolution.  In this poem of dates,  Brassens had reached the most famous date of all- 1789.  However, he preferred instead to use “l’an quarante” , because the revolutionaries had a joke about the 40th year of reign of Louis XVI.  As the king was 38 when they chopped his head off, the reason for this choice of number is obscure.

7)      ……..  je ne crache pas dessus – « Cracher sur », which literally means “to spit at”, is used figuratively to mean “to be contemptuous of”.

8)      Guerres… Qui n'osent pas dire leur nom -  .  “La guerre sans nom” was the term used by critics of the war to describe the conflict between Algerian nationalists and French forces between 1954 and 1962.  Here Brassens was touching on a contemporary issue which was very controversial and was debated with great passion, some of which, Brassens was inevitably drawing onto  himself.

------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------


A British version of Brassens' song made by Michael Flanders, who was a famous humourist and performer on stage and TV



 Released in the 1960s as a single with “20 Tons of TNT”- it was a very powerful anti-war song. 
   





The War of 14-18 

War has had its apologians,
Ever since history began,
From the times of the Greeks and Trojans, when they sang of arms and the man,
But if you asked me to name the best, Sir,
I'd tell you the one I mean,
Head and shoulders above the rest, Sir, was the War of 14-18,
Head and shoulders above the rest, Sir, stands the War of 14-18.

There were the wars against all those Louis,
There were Caesar's wars in Gaul,
There was Britain's war in Suez, which wasn't a war at all,
There was the war of the Spanish succession,
Many other wars in between,
But they none of them made an impression like the war of 14-18,
They didn't make the same impression as the war of 14-18.

The war of American independence,
That was enjoyable, by and large,
Watching England's free descendants busy defeating German “Garge”,(1)
But the Boer war was a poor war, And I'm still inclined to lean,
Though Sir, it possibly isn't your war like the war of 14-18,
Though, it probably isn't your war, Sir, the war of 14-18.

There are certainly plenty of wars to choose from, you pick whichever one you please,
Like the one we've had all the news from liberating the Vietnamese,
Or those wars for God and country, be it Korean or Philippine,
Sir, if you'll pardon my effrontery, give me the war of 14-18,
If you'll pardon my effrontery, Sir, the war of 14-18,

Every war has its own attraction from total war to border raid,
Call it rebellion, police action,
War of containment or crusade,
I don't underrate the late war we see so often on the screen,
But that wasn't the really great war like the war of 14-18,
No, the late war wasn't the great war like the war of 14-18.

No doubt Mars, among his chattels, has got some really splendid war,
Full of bigger and bloodier battles that we've ever seen before,
But until that time comes, Sir, when that greater war comes on the scene,
The one that I on the whole prefer, Sir, is the war of 14-18,
Yes, the one that I still prefer, Sir, is the war of 14-18.



TRANSLATION  NOTE

 1) German “Garge” -  There are questions posted on the Internet about the meaning of this phrase.  Michael Flanders has distorted the name of the King of England, at the time of the American war of Independence - George III.  He does this no doubt to make the rhyme with “large”. 

Although in our modern histories, we like to depict this war as Americans fighting British imperialists, it was a war between British colonialist settlers in America against their home government in England, led by a German King: George III from the House of Hanover.






Please clickhere to return to the full alphabetical list of my Georges Brassens selection