La Guerre de 14-18

The first World War

Georges Brassens (1962)

1. Depuis que l'homme écrit l'Histoire, Depuis qu'il bataille à coeur joie Entre mille et une guerr' notoires, Si j'étais t'nu de faire un choix, A l'encontre du vieil Homère, Je déclarais tout de suit' : " Moi, mon colon, cell' que j' préfère, C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit ! " 2. Est-ce à dire que je méprise Les nobles guerres de jadis, Que je m' souci' comm' d'un' cerise De celle de soixante-dix ? Au contrair', je la révère Et lui donne un satisfecit Mais, mon colon, celle que j' préfère, C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit ! 3. Je sais que les guerriers de Sparte Plantaient pas leurs epé's dans l'eau, Que les grognards de Bonaparte Tiraient pas leur poudre aux moineaux... Leurs faits d'armes sont légendaires, Au garde-à-vous, je les félicit', Mais, mon colon, celle que j' préfère, C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit ! 4. Bien sûr, celle de l'an quarante Ne m'as pas tout a fait déçu, Elle fut longue et massacrante Et je ne crache pas dessus, Mais à mon sens, elle ne vaut guère, Guèr' plus qu'un premier accessit, Moi, mon colon, celle que j' préfère, C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit ! 5. Mon but n'est pas de chercher noise Au guérillas, non, fichtre ! non, Guerres saintes, guerres sournoises, Qui n'osent pas dire leur nom, Chacune a quelque chos' pour plaire, Chacune a son petit mérit', Mais, mon colon, celle que j' préfère, C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit ! 6. 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 A dir' que ma guerr' favorit', Cell', mon colon, que j' voudrais faire, C'est la guerr' de quatorz'-dix-huit !

1. War has had its historians Of the Trojan war and the rest Ever since history began. If I was forced to name the best At odds with what maintained old Homer I would tell you what I mean: Of all wars, the one I prefer Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! 2. Is that to say that I despise The nice wars of antiquity? That I refuse to memorize The one of eighteen seventy? No! that's a war that I revere I give it a mark of esteem But of all, the one I prefer Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! 3. I know that the warriors of Sparta Were fond of blood, gore and marrow, That the Old Guard of Buonaparte Didn’t fire their guns at sparrows These war deeds to which I refer Are all worthwhile and yet I deem, That of all, the one I prefer Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! 4. Sure the war of nineteen-forty Was no total disappointment: It was full of barbarity And I treat it with no contempt But I think it hardly rates more Than a narrow fail and I claim: Of all wars the one I prefer Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! 5. I don't want the repute to mar Of guerillas, No, no, for shame! Holy wars and undergound wars And wars that dare not speak their name. Each one is a pleasant character, Each one is worthy of esteem, But of all the one I prefer Is the war of fourteen - eighteen! 6. From the depths of his bag of tricks Mars is sure to pull out some day Some rabid hare – real magics! And it will vastly impress me…. Now, unless I hear any further The war which to fight I'd be keen , The war which of all I'd prefer, Were the war of fourteen - eighteen! Transl. Christian Souchon (c) 2017

NOTES

[1] La guerre de 14-18.- It is unusual in English to refer to the First World War in this way.

[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 and 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 not dealing with the bloody civil war of the French Revolution,as assumed by David Yendley but withe the desastrous second World War. The reason for this choice is by no means 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, among others, 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.

[9] Like for most of the Brassens songs at this site these notes are borrowed from David Yendley's blog (http://dbarf.blogspot.fr/2012/05/alphabetical-list-of-my-brassens-songs.html). This singable translation is based on his prose translation.



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