Brassens, Georges: Le Fantôme
Le Fantôme (French)
C'était tremblant, c'était troublant(1),
Mon Cupidon, qui avait la
"Mon cher, dit-elle, vous êtes fou !
Eh bien, messieurs, qu'on se le dise :
Le Fantôme - notes
1) tremblant, c'était troublant – Brassens is using an effective alliteration and as both words are used in English we can retain this.
2) les dehors de la vision – « Les dehors » are the outward appearances, e.g. Robert quotes : « sous des dehors aimables, il est dur » = under a friendly exterior, he is a hard man. As I will need synonyms for the word appearance, I note these options : airs- (false) front – mannerism - putting on airs – show – aura – semblance – bearing – effect –feeling – presence - look.
3) quelque peu convexes, - Brassens was great admirer of a nicely rounded bottom see VénusCallipyge
4) un p'tit Poucet perdu – to describe how the ghost is lost and alone, Brassens relates her to the character, of an ancient fairy tale, well-known in France,. This tale had existed in the spoken tradition for centuries at the time in the 17th century when it was translated and adapted by Charles Perrault Petit Poucet is the main character in this tale. He and his brothers and sisters were taken out into the forest by their parents, who could not afford to keep them, with the intention of losing them so that they would be killed and eaten by the fierce animals and ogres that inhabited it. (Like many of the traditional fairy-tales, it is horrific and sadistic.)
5) d'un' voix morfondue – « morfondu » means « dejected »- « crestfallen »
6) en déroute - -« mettre en déroute » means to rout/ to put to flight
7) osselets in both English and French are arthritic lumps on a horse’s fetlock. There is a word “ossicles”, which are small bones of the middle ear. In the story of Petit Poucet, Petit Poucet knowing his parents’s intentions dropped a trail of pebbles so that he could retrace his steps to get back home. It seems that Brassens is using “osselets” to mean little bones and he pictures the alluring skeleton ghost leaving her track by using her own tiny bones. At one point in the tale Petit Poucet chose items for his track that were eaten by the animals of the forest
8) The ghost is justified in saying that not many people believe in ghosts these days, but a British T.V. show called “Most Haunted” wins a big viewing audience.
9) Cavalière – literally- female dancing partner.
10) Fit mouche – « Faire mouche » means to hit the bulls-eye, to score, to hit home.
11) Sournoisement – sournois means deceitful- underhand
12) Voir mes icônes, mes estampes - The phrase "Want to come up and see my etchings?" is a sexual euphemism by which a person entices someone to come back to their place with an offer to look at something artistic, but with ulterior motives. Wikipedia gives the full history at this link.
13) mes pénates – In Ancient Rome the Penates were the gods of the household and they were worshipped. The word comes from “Penus” – a Latin word for food (more usually alimentum). The French use “pénates” as a figurative expression for home as in this poem. Robert quotes the example: "regagner ses pénates"- to go back home.
14) Satanées – « satané » is an oath such as “blasted” – “damn”- “confounded”
15) Polissonnes – polisson means naughty as in “naughty child ». but as in English can have the sense of saucy – randy – somewhat sexy e.g. you may be told – “There were some naughty goings on at the party last night.”
16) le déduit = enjoyment/ act of lovemaking. In old French « déduire » had the sense of « divertir”.
17) Et je ne veux nommer personne - I strongly suspect that the person, whom he would not name, would be in the wings as he sang this song. Joha Heiman, who was his closest companion in his later years, seems to have lost interest in the physical side of their relationship, while keeping a close eye to ensure that Brassens did not find consolation elsewhere - see- Je me suis fait tout petit Brassens makes repeated reference to his sexual deprivation in his songs - see Aupres de mon arbre.
18) un' fougu' – la fougue means- ardour- exhibiting a fiery, lively spirit.
19) Capua is a city in Campania, Southern Italy. After Hannibal’s rout of the Roman army at Cannae in 216 BC, he allowed his army a period of rest there, before his final assault on Rome. The Roman historian, Livy, states that the delights of the town and its ladies, were so great that his army was not in fit shape for battle afterwards- hence Brassens choice of oath after an apparent night of sensual indulgence. (N.B.Other historians maintain that Hannibal’s men fought equally hard after their winter break in Capua and so it probably did them no harm) Brassens and death
Death was a major theme -some claim the major theme- of Brassens’ songs. It is said that all his life he was attracted to cemeteries and enjoyed going to funerals, even of those with whom he did not have any close connection.
In this song, he meets one of the dead and together they enjoy close relations, but at the very end it turns out to have been nothing but a strange dream that he had had in his early youth, when he was still living at home and was still a practising Catholic under the strict religious discipline of his mother.
As it is a dream about a ghost there is a temptation to use the word "nightmare", but the way Brassens tells it, in spite of the oddity, it is more like the "Sweet dreams" we wish each other at bedtime. One is bound to reflect that some of the sweetest moments of life are those that you waken up from.
In this boyhood dream, as retold by the older man, there are ideas on death and the afterlife that are found in quite a number of other Brassens songs.
The idea of continuing sexuality after death is found in his song Oncle Archibald, where he consoles himself that his Uncle’s sudden death was the instant occasion for his sensual matrimonials with the female angel of death. Similarly when he envisages his own death and burial in Supplique pour être enterré à la plage de Sète, he imagines himself appreciating the experience when ladies come to use the mound of his seaside grave as a seat, when they change into bikinis to go bathing.
Although Brassens had given up his Catholic religion, he seemed to take for granted the existence of an afterlife. However, whereas the traditional Christian concept of heaven is the medieval ideal representing the power and magnificence of the elite, with king and judges in palatial settings, Brassens’ world of the dead is a relaxing, everyday and democratic place, Here he can at last live without the threat of mortality, that had haunted him all of his living days. Luxuriously,he can imagine spending eternity on a pedalo off the beach at Sète. According to "le Phantome", Georges Brassens had the same instinctive feeling at the age of sixteen or seventeen.
A jelenés (Hungarian)
Rémisztő volt és remegő,
Az, ahogy ott közeledett,
„Elveszett gyermek vagyok én”
Fantáziátlan, rossz költők,
Reggel, ha a kakas kiált,
Egy macska sem hagy hidegen,
Sztorim itt véget is érne,
Kupidóm, ki akkoriban
„Drágám, nem tudja, mit gagyog.
Uraim, bízvást mondhatom,
Miután betelt a vágyam,
„Hé, hétalvó! Ki az ágyból! –