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.


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

No comments: