Thursday 9 December 2010

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

This is the sad story of a poor peasant couple in their old age, living alone.  The husband is mortally ill and the lines of the poem will take us to his end.  Brassens tells us that the old man is dying of natural causes: "De mort naturelle"

But how natural is this death?  If we foresee the events of this poem based on the circumstances given above our expectations would be that the woman will stay by the side of the good fellow who has shared her life.  She will give him words of love and provide attentions to comfort him, all this until his final moment.  The fire will be burning bright to warm and light the deathbed, sustained by wood she has gathered in advance.

Look however how this good  woman behaves and ask yourself why.  It certainly is a "death from natural causes" but it is not a normal deathbed scene


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 some firewood 
To warm her fella
Her fella who’s goin’ t’ die
From natural causes.

Melancholic, she goes
Through the gloom of the forest
Where in times gone she dreamt
Of the one whom she loves
Whom she loves, and who’s goin’ t’ die
From natural causes.

Nothing will now stop in her path
The old woman who is harvesting
The dead wood with numb fingers
Neither thing nor person
For her fella’s goin’ t’ die
From natural causes.

No there’s nothing that will stop her
Neither that doom laden voice,
Which says “When you get back to
Your home, in a bit
He will already have died
From natural causes."

Nor this other, sombre voice
Rising from deep down within her
To remind her in distant past
He was unfaithful
For her Good Man, he'll be dead
From natural causes.


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 - Finally we see the 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 previously 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 to suffer cold and alone.  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 amorous infidelities in the distant past.

We may have begun this poem thinking it was the voice of the Brassens who deplored social inequality;  instead it is principally a tale of the potential tragic cruelty  of human love.  An experience which is universal in all social classes.

Click here to return to the full index of this selection of Brassens songs

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