A godless French song

May 29, 2015 • 1:30 pm

George Brassens (1921-1981) was a well known French poet, singer and songwriter who, as you can tell from this song about unbelief, was a renegade (he called himself an anarchist). He also loved cats, which are often mentioned in his songs.

The song was sent, and the English translation rendered, by a reader who describes herself as “grenouille à moitié”. If you speak even a bit of French, you’ll know what that means. It’s a lively and catchy tune, but also cerebral. Follow the words along with the song.

Le mécréant
(The unbeliever)

Georges Brassens (1960)

Est-il en notre temps rien de plus odieux
De plus désespérant, que de n’pas croire en Dieu ?

Is there in our time nothing more questionable, nothing more devastating than not to believe in God?
J’voudrais avoir la foi, la foi d’mon charbonnier
Qui est heureux comme un pape et con comme un panier
I would like to have faith, the faith of my coalcutter, who is happy like he  was the pope and stupid like a paper basket
Mon voisin du dessus, un certain Blais’ Pascal
M’a gentiment donné ce conseil amical
My neighbour from above, a certain Blaise Pascal, gave me this friendly advice:
” Mettez-vous à genoux, priez et implorez
Faites semblant de croire, et bientôt vous croirez “
“Kneel down, pray and implore
Pretend to believe, and soon you will believe.”
J’me mis à débiter, les rotules à terr’
Tous les Ave Maria, tous les Pater Noster
And so I mindlessly recited, kneecaps on the floor, all the Ave Marias, all the Pater Noster
Dans les rues, les cafés, les trains, les autobus
Tous les de profundis, tous les morpionibus
In the streets, in the cafes, the trains, the busses, all the de profundis, all the “morpionibus”
Sur ces entrefait’s-là, trouvant dans les orties
Un’ soutane à ma taill’, je m’en suis travesti
At that moment, in the nettles I stumbled across a cassock that fit me and I dressed up with it.
Et, tonsuré de frais, ma guitare à la main
Vers la foi salvatric’ je me mis en chemin
and, with a freshly shaved tonsure, and with my guitar in my hand, I went on my path towards salvation through belief
J’tombai sur un boisseau d’punais’s de sacristie
Me prenant pour un autre, en ch?ur, elles m’ont dit
I stumbled across a bushel of “sacristy bugs”.
They thought I was someone else and all together said to me:
” Mon pèr’, chantez-nous donc quelque refrain sacré
Quelque sainte chanson dont vous avez l’secret “
“My father, sing some sacred songs to us, some decent songs which are no mystery to you.”
Grattant avec ferveur les cordes sous mes doigts
J’entonnai “le Gorille” avec “Putain de toi”
Scratching my guitar strings fervently with my fingers, I proceeded to sing to them “Le Gorille” and “Putain de toi”
Criant à l’imposteur, au traître, au papelard
Ell’s veul’nt me fair’ subir le supplic’ d’Abélard
The women shouted I was a traitor, an imposter, a papelard
They wanted to make me suffer the torture of d’Abbélard
Je vais grossir les rangs des muets du sérail
Les bell’s ne viendront plus se pendre à mon poitrail
And thus I shall contribute to the ranks of the silent men of the “sérail”.
The beautiful women will not flock to my chest any more.
Grâce à ma voix coupée j’aurai la plac’ de choix
Au milieu des petits chanteurs à la croix d’bois
Thanks to my thus cut voice, I shall have a place of honour amongst the petits chanteurs à la croix d’bois
Attirée par le bruit, un’ dam’ de Charité
Leur dit : ” Que faites-vous ? Malheureus’s arrêtez
But another charitable lady was attracted by the noise
And she tells the others: “What are you doing?
Stop it, you miserables
Y a tant d’homm’s aujourd’hui qui ont un penchant pervers
A prendre obstinément Cupidon à l’envers
There are already enough men nowadays who have pervers tendencies stubbornly taking Cupide the wrong way around
Tant d’hommes dépourvus de leurs virils appas
A ceux qu’en ont encor’ ne les enlevons pas
So many men are destitute of their manly charms
To those who still possess them, let’s not take that away.”
Ces arguments massue firent un’ grosse impression
On me laissa partir avec des ovations
Those convincing arguments left a big impression
I was let loose with big ovations
Mais, su’l’chemin du ciel, je n’ferai plus un pas
La foi viendra d’ell’-même ou ell’ ne viendra pas
But, on the way to heaven, I will not make one more step
Either the belief will come my way on its own, or it won’t.
Je n’ai jamais tué, jamais violé non plus
Y a déjà quelque temps que je ne vole plus
I never killed, I have never raped, and it’s already been a good while that I haven’t stolen anything either
Si l’Eternel existe, en fin de compte, il voit
Qu’je m’conduis guèr’ plus mal que si j’avais la foi
If the Eternal exists, he must ultimately see
that I hardly behave worse than if I had faith.
George et chat

24 thoughts on “A godless French song

  1. A man after my own heart. Gotta luv music and cats….throw a few dogs in there too as long as they’re not too noisy. Thanks for the awesome song and great photo.

  2. The portrait with Siamese cat, brought Omar Sharif to mind though I haven’t seen an image of that actor in many years.

    grenouille à moitié = half frog?

    1. “grenouille” I recognised, and the “moitie” I took as “a bit”.
      But idiomatically … I’m hopping on one leg.

      1. Call me oldfashioned, but isn’t moitié “half”? So that’d be half a frog.

        That’s no way as enticing as the thought of crisply sizzled frog legs, yes? In a burgundy sauce maybe?

  3. OK I’m making a quasi-mathematical pun in a foreign language, but I want to say

    Il ne cherche pas à “trianguler” avec Pascal.

  4. My wife and I are great Brassens fans, but we didn’t know this song. So thanks for publishing it. A couple of remarks, tho. The word “con” is decidedly more vulgar than that: Where americans say “a**hole”, the french say con, referring to a specifically female bodily part; the word is not unlike an english word. The song “Le gorille” tells the story of a man who is raped by a gorilla and yells “Maman” at the supreme moment. And a morpion is a crab louse, which lives in pubic hair. Brassens is extraordinarily vulgar and extraordinarily funny. The song “putain de toi” (litle whore) refers to a bad infatuation who winds up whipping his cats until he throws her out. Wonderful man, Brassens!

    1. The word “con” does not refer to external female organs in modern French. This is indeed the original meaning of the word but it had already lost that meaning long before the time of Brassens. It is not consider to be a swear word anymore, just informal. For the record, I am a native French speaker.

  5. Well, if you have an article about George Brassens, then you should also explore his Italian counterpart Fabrizio De Andre.

    The latter translated and sung many of Brassen’s songs like “Le Passanti”

    De Andre also released a record in the Mid 70’s completely dedicated to the gospels. This is one of the title songs “The Testament of Tito” (Tito’s Last will). Tito being one of the thieves on the cross.

    It basically recounts the 10 commandments and the hypocrisy therein.

    The entire album is themed to follow the Gospel of Matthew, if I recall.

    This is a translation of the song I did some time ago published at this link:


    “Thou shalt have no other gods before me”, often made me think
    different folks who came from the east said that it was the same
    They worshipped someone other than you and they did not hurt me
    They worshipped someone other than you and they did not hurt me

    Do Not take the name of the Lord in vain
    With a knife stuck in my back I screamed His name in pain
    but maybe he was tired, maybe he was too busy and He did not listen to my pain
    but maybe he was tired, maybe too far away, really I named His name in vain

    Honor your father and honor your mother and honor their beating stick
    kiss the hand that broke your nose because you begged for a mouthful of food
    when my father’s heart stopped, I did not feel any pain
    when my father’s heart stopped, I did not feel any pain

    Remember to observe the Sabbath, easy for us thieves
    Breaking into temples, spewing psalms of slaves and their masters
    without being tied to the altar, slaughtered like animals
    without being tied to the altar, slaughtered like animals

    The fifth says “you must not steal” and perhaps it’s one I have observed
    Stealing from the pockets of those that already had stolen from others
    but I, a lawless thief, I stole in my name; they stole in God’s name
    but I, a lawless thief, I stole in my name; they stole in God’s name

    You shall not commit impure acts, do not disperse the seed
    impregnate your woman each time you make love to her, and you’ll be a man of faith
    then the passion fades but the child remains and so many hunger kills
    I may have confused pleasure and love, but I didn’t create pain

    The seventh said, “thou shalt not kill if you want to be worthy of heaven”
    look at it today, this law of God, three time nailed to the cross
    Look at the end of that Nazarene and a thief doesn’t die any less
    Look at the end of that Nazarene and a thief doesn’t die any less

    Do not bear false witness and help them to kill a man
    They know Divine right by heart but they always forget forgiveness
    I perjured the name of God and I perjured my honor but I feel no pain
    I perjured the name of God and I perjured my honor but I feel no pain

    Thou shalt not covet the property of others, don’t desire their woman
    tell that to the few, ask the lucky ones who have a woman and some wealth
    In other men beds, still warm from their love I felt no pain
    the envy of yesterday is not over yet, tonight I envy your life

    But now that night comes and darkness takes the pain away from my eyes
    and the sun sets beyond the dunes to rape other nights
    I watch this man’s dying, and Mother I feel pain
    With compassion uncontaminated by hatred, mother I learned to love

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