Projet Brassens' page of
Songs by Georges Brassens, and original songs by members of Projet Brassens
last update 23.11.05

Georges Brassens tackled a wide range of subjects. His 191 published songs cover almost anything you can think of, from his favourite tree to the perils of living with a DIY fanatic. Brassens also popularised French poetry by setting it to music.
We asked the copyright owners of Georges Brassens' French lyrics to allow us to publish some texts for educational purposes.

The English translations of Georges Brassens chansons available via the links in this section are by Dr. Ted Neather, who offers this introduction.

My aim is to convey meaning and not attempt poetry or song.

Translating poetry is one of the most interesting, most challenging, most rewarding and most hopeless activities known to the linguist. All translation is an impossible act, managing only to approximate to the original language. And the greater the skill, the more transcendent the genius of the original writer, the more despairing must the translator feel. When that genius is concentrated into the marvellous mystery of the poem, where sound and rhyme and rhythm all conjoin to form an indissoluble unity, the translator knows he can only offer the slightest, the vaguest approximation.

How impossible then to translate Brassens, who is not only a poet of incomparable richness but a writer who adds music to his verse, and so gives the translator a further dimension of difficulty. Despite all these reservations and the hopelessness of worthy achievement, there are translators who achieve marvels with their renderings of poetry and there are even fine translations of Brassens. I salute these toilers in the field of translation (see Le testament below) and I know I shall never aspire to more than a pedestrian rendering of meaning.

And so the purpose of these poor efforts is not to imagine that they could ever convey a fraction of the power and meaning, the wit and wisdom of Brassens, but that for English-speaking listeners who love the songs, and who like listening to the French, these English versions might help to clarify some problems of meaning.

Dr. Ted Neather, October 2000

Here is a small selection of Georges Brassens' lyrics, to give you a taste.

Mourir pour des idées (Die for ideas), written in 1972, has contemporary resonance. What happens, writes Brassens here, is that others will send you to your death for a cause, whilst they aim to live as long as possible in this world. A witty, erudite and impassioned song, and, in our opinion, a great example of how skillfully Brassens set the French language to music.

These next two songs are greatly contrasting, but there's an unexpected link between them.

Le bistrot is the story of the worst bar in Paris, with undrinkable wine served by an utterly disgusting barman. The punters flock see the barman's wife. She's gorgeous, but cold as ice. What a waste; life is unfair....

Ballade des dames du temps jadis (Ballade of the ladies of old) is a poem written in the fifteenth century by François Villon, set to music by Brassens. The poet asks, where are all those great, wise, beautiful and talented women who gained fame in years gone by, where are they now? He concludes, well, you may as well ask: "Where are the snows of yesteryear?" Those of you who know Joseph Heller's book 'Catch-22' will recognise this line as the source of the book's oft-repeated catchphrase.
If you read the notes about François Villon at the end of Ballade des dames..., you'll appreciate that despite Villon's elegant turn of phrase within this poem, the scene described by Brassens at Le bistrot may well have been familiar to him.

La marine (The Navy) is a poem by Paul Fort set to music by Georges Brassens.
We chose this song as the title track of Projet Brassens Quartet's first CD because Charlie and Maxine from the Quartet are keen sailors who often 'hissent les voiles' (set sail) around the coast of France.

Les copains d'abord (Friends First) is one of the most well-known popular songs in France, often sung at the end of parties after much wine has flowed. It's also the name of a small boat from the port of Sète in southern France, Brassens' birthplace: an oft-reproduced photo shows Brassens and friends happily posing on board.

Altesse (Your Highness) is a short philosophical poem by Victor Hugo, set to music, but never recorded, by Georges Brassens.

Bonhomme illuminates an aspect of love rarely dealt with in song. We are told that Brassens shut the song away in a drawer for some years, thinking that no-one would want to listen to this theme. In Projet Brassens' recording of Bonhomme on the CD La marine, we try to convey the atmosphere of the winter forest, with the bitingly cold wind.

Le testament (Last will and testament). We thank Eric Butterworth for the English song version of Brassens' chanson shown via this link.
Projet Brassens' translator Dr Ted Neather provides an unrhymed translation of the French lyrics, with some notes about Brassens' wordplay, within our booklets "Projet Brassens" and "La marine translated" - details of these booklets are at our sales page.
Dr Neather salutes Eric Butterworth amongst the many "toilers in the field of translation": Mr Butterworth describes himself as "romping through the grass and having fun".
Other translations of Georges Brassens' lyrics
The Georges Brassens American Fan Club has rhymed English interpretations, and links to other sites with translations into various languages.
The Alsop Review publishes some rhymed interpretations within American poet/writer Jack Foley's articles about Brassens, accessible via the archives link.
If you want to delve further
Projet Brassens publishes three booklets by Dr. Ted Neather with English translations of Georges Brassens' songs recorded on our two CDs Le vent and La marine, plus notes about Brassens' use of the French language.

For the complete French lyrics, you can obtain the paperback edition of "Georges Brassens Poèmes et Chansons" from us.

Other books are available, in English and French, about Georges Brassens and his songs.

See our sales page for full details.

By some of the musicians involved with Projet Brassens.
EVERYDAY (Tous les jours)
mp3 (studio recording by Shelly Studios House Band)
English and French lyrics
Charlie Hearnshaw's cool jazz melody, English lyrics (based on a true story) by Maxine Green, French lyrics by Lesley Lawn.
mp3 (Projet Brassens Quartet live 2004)
English and French lyrics
English lyrics and literal French translation
A wistful jazz melody by Charlie Hearnshaw, lyrics by Maxine Green.
Lesley Lawn interpreted Maxine's English lyrics to create the French version.
Nicholas Perrot provided the literal French translation, which is intended to convey the song's meaning, not to be sung.
An instrumental version of this song is on the CD Slotang.
mp3 (Hearnshaw/Green duo, studio recording)
English and French lyrics
English lyrics and literal French translation
Charlie Hearnshaw's song about his boat trip from Truro in Cornwall down the river Fal and out around the coast to Dartmouth in Devon, after two weeks stormbound at Truro Quay. The melody has a Latin feel
Alan Tabor interpreted Charlie's English lyrics to create the French version. We salute Alan's skill. Thanks also to Jean Tanguy, ex-navigation officer aboard a French Navy Fisheries Protection Vessel, for his advice on the French nautical terms. And to Guy and Christine Mottier for their comments.
Lesley Lawn provided the literal French translation, which is intended to convey the song's meaning, not to be sung.
This song is on the CD Sailing By.
LE CHOIX (The choice)
French lyrics and English translation
Score (pdf file)
A poem in homage to Georges Brassens, written in French by English poet Lesley Lawn.
Charlie's Hearnshaw's tune for this song has a medieval touch, making musical reference to Brassens' extensive knowledge of old French poetry. Charlie also includes a musical element often used by Brassens (and commonly found in jazz tunes), changing keys within the song. This song is on the CD Le vent.
mp3 (Hearnshaw/Green duo live 2004)
Maxine Green's jazz 'shuffle' song about the end of a romance.
Charlie Hearnshaw set to music this French jeu de mots poem by Englishwoman Lesley Lawn.
Score & French lyrics, plus comments by Lesley Lawn.
Score and French lyrics in pdf format
mp3 (Hearnshaw/Green duo live 2004)
Written originally by Charlie Hearnshaw as a song for a theatre show, the tune proved popular as a jazz instrumental, and Maxine Green wrote lyrics suggested by the melody.
Maxine Green's song inspired by the style of a country-rock anthem heard on France Musique radio in spring 2005, during the time of a technicians' strike, when the station broadcast a continuous stream of widely differing songs and tunes instead of their regular programmes.
mp3 soundclip (Hearnshaw/Green duo live 2004)
Maxine Green's lyrics to Charlie Hearnshaw's tune.
Charlie Hearnshaw's tongue-in-cheek song from his jazz and deep house influenced CD "House Work".
UN BOEUF SUR LE QUAI (A jam on the quay)
mp3 (Projet Brassens Quartet live 2004)
English and French lyrics
The tune was written by Charlie Hearnshaw during his stormbound sojourn at Truro Quay (see Last Night in Truro). Maxine Green wrote the lyrics with the jaunty melody in mind. Lesley Lawn created the French version. We have recorded two instrumental versions of this song, on the Hearnshaw/Green Duo CDs Jazz and Waltzes and Sailing By.
Students and teachers of French, bilingual visitors, and translators
The French versions of our original English songs Last Night in Truro, Un boeuf sur le quai and Heavy Rain were created by English native speakers. Any comments?
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