Tuesday 8 July 2014

L'Assassinat- A tale with great pathos of crime and punishment

The details of this tale may be brutal, but Brassens has written a haunting song.  When the client of a prostitute refuses to pay the reasonable price that her youth and beauty merited and her minder comes to intervene, we can expect things to get very nasty.  In spite of the violence, this is a song of great pathos and many performers of Brassens’ music include “L’Assassinat” in their repertoire.

 L'assassinat - 

C'est pas seulement à Paris
Que le crime fleurit,
Nous, au village, aussi, l'on a
De beaux assassinats.

Il avait la tête chenu’ (2)
Et le coeur ingénu,
Il eut un retour de printemps
Pour une de vingt ans.

Mais la chair fraîch’, la tendre chair,
Mon vieux, ça coûte cher.
Au bout de cinq à six baisers,
Son or fut épuisé.

Quand sa menotte elle a tendu’(3),
Triste, il a répondu
Qu'il était pauvre comme Job.
Elle a remis sa rob’.

Elle alla quérir son coquin(4)
Qui avait l'appât du gain(5).
Sont revenus chez le grigou(6)
Faire un bien mauvais coup(7).

Et pendant qu'il le lui tenait,
Elle l'assassinait.
On dit que, quand il expira,
La langue ell' lui montra.

Mirent tout sens dessus dessous,
Trouvèrent pas un sou,
Mais des lettres de créanciers,
Mais des saisi’s d'huissiers.

Alors, prise d'un vrai remords,
Elle eut chagrin du mort
Et, sur lui, tombant à genoux,
Ell' dit : "Pardonne-nous !"

Quand les gendarm's sont arrivés,
En pleurs ils l'ont trouvé’(8).
C'est une larme au fond des yeux
Qui lui valut les cieux.

Et le matin qu'on la pendit,
Ell' fut en paradis.
Certains dévots, depuis ce temps
Sont un peu mécontents.(9)

C'est pas seulement à Paris
Que le crime fleurit,
Nous, au village, aussi, l'on a
De beaux assassinats.

It is not in Paris alone
That serious crime(1) is rife
We in the country too, we have
Fine cases of murder.

His hair was white with his years
His heart was innocent
He felt a revival of spring
For a girl of twenty.

But flesh that’s fresh, flesh that’s tender,
Old chap, that’s expensive
After just five or six kisses
His cash had all run out.

When she proffered her tiny hand
Sadly he had to reply
That he was poor as Job.
She put back on her dress.

She went off to get her minder
To whom money was the sole aim
They came back to the skinflint’s home
To do a wicked deed.

Whilst he was holding him for her
She murdered the man.
People say that say when he expired,
She put out her tongue at him.

They turned the place upside down
And found not a sou,
But some letters from creditors,
Some baliffs’ seizure lists.

And then, gripped by sincere remorse,
She felt grief for the dead
And fell to her knees over him
Pleading for forgiveness.

When the policemen arrived there,
Lost in tears they found her.
'Twas one tear deep down in her eyes
Which earned her place in heaven.

And the morning when they hanged her
To paradise she went.
Some religious folk ever since
Have been somewhat displeased.

It is not in Paris alone
That serious crime(1) is rife
We in the country too, we have
Fine cases of murder.


1)      serious crime-  I am adding an adjective to give a 6 syllable line as in the French.

2)      Chenu – ayant la tête chenue means having a head of hair white with age

3)      Sa menotte elle a tendue – The most usual meaning of « La menotte” is the handcuffs.  However in informal talk, for instance to children it has the meaning of “hand”.  In English an informal word for hand is sometimes “mitt”- e.g. “See if you can get your mitts on a smart pair of trousers for me.”  “Paw” also is sometimes used.

4)      Son coquin – « Coquin » as a noun or an adjective describes some-one who is vile, without honour or honesty. It is therefore a term used as insult.  The term can imply sexual immorality:  “la coquine” means the loose woman, the whore and “le coquin” -the “vile” man who, in this story, would be the girl’s pimp.

5)      Qui avait l'appât du gain – « l'appât » translates “the lure” or “the bait” i.e terms used in fishing and hunting.  “Le gain” is profit, remuneration, money-making. – he was very attracted to making money.

6)      Le grigou –a word used in the Langedoc region for a very mean-spirited miser.

7)      Faire un bien mauvais coup – Reverso dictionary gives 2 alternatives: They say un mauvais coup is a familiar expression for- i). acte malveillant – a malicious act ii). affaire qui se révèle infructueuse – an affair that turns out to have unhelpful consequences. “Faire un sale coup à q’n” translates: “to play a dirty trick on some-one”.

8)      En pleurs ils l'ont trouvée – The girl’s recognition of her evil deed and her total remorse is totally conveyed by her behaviour.  She did not seek to escape but accepted her inevitable fate as though her life had no more meaning.

9)      Certains dévots, depuis ce temps sont un peu mécontents. -  Some commentators have said that the only villain in this tale is the girl’s pimp – the girl was redeemed by her repentance, and her client was an innocent man, in desperate straits, who genuinely failed to calculate the price that his pleasures were incurring.  These final lines, however, mention two further guilty parties traditional in the songs of the Anarchist, Georges Brassens, for their violation of natural justice: the Church and the State:

The Church
Although repentance and forgiveness followed by salvation were among the prime teachings of Christianity, Church authorities took it upon themselves to decree upon whom God granted this mercy.  Brassens strongly, disapproves, that some devout people still refused to forgive the poor girl, who had sincerely repented.

The State legal system

Brassens was no friend of the lawyers and  his greatest reproach against them was their use of the ultimate penalty of capital punishment (see Le Gorille).  The hanging of this 20 year old girl shocks us.

There is a very atmospheric recording of this song by the contemporary French singer Francart and it has excellent subtitles

A comment after the post on YouTube expressed the admiration for Francart that I feel as well:

lizziecohen commented 3 years ago

This song is brilliant because it is so impacting in its human story. Francart's voice carries the emotion and the simple guitar accompaniment allows the lyrics to take hold with its underscoring of them. The story doesn't just go away when the song ends. I still hear his playing and his voice and the tragedy of the story still resonates.

Please click here toreturn to the alphabetical list of my Brassens selection

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