Projet Brassens lyrics and translations Les copians d'abord

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Les copains d'abord* Friends First*
Non, ce n'était pas le radeau
De la Méduse, ce bateau,
Qu'on se le dis' au fond des ports,
Dis' au fond des ports,
Il naviguait en pèr' peinard
Sur la grand-mare des canards,
Et s'app'lait les Copains d'abord
Les Copains d'abord.
No, this wasn't the raft of the Medusa,
This boat of ours.
Let them tell each other that
Deep in the harbours and ports
It sailed along, taking it easy
On the big duck pond,
And they called it Friends First,
Friends first of all.
Ses fluctuat nec mergitur
C'était pas d'la litteratur',
N'en déplaise aux jeteurs de sort,
Aux jeteurs de sort,
Son capitaine et ses mat'lots
N'étaient pas des enfants d'salauds,
Mais des amis franco de port,
Des copains d'abord.
Its "fluctuat nec mergitur"
Were not exactly literature,
Begging the pardon of magicians and sorcerers,
Magicians and sorcerers.
The captain and his crew
Were not sons of bitches,
But mates, as good as you could get,
Best mates first of all.
C'étaient pas des amis de lux',
Des petits Castor et Pollux,
Des gens de Sodome et Gomorrh',
Sodome et Gomorrh',
C'étaient pas des amis choisis
Par Montaigne et La Boéti',
Sur le ventre ils se tapaient fort,
Les copains d'abord.
They weren't high quality friends
Like Castor and Pollux
Or the guys of Sodom and Gomorrha,
Sodom and Gomorrha.
They weren't friends chosen
By Montaigne and La Boétie,
But they were mates and got on well together,
Friends first of all.
C'étaient pas des anges non plus,
L'Evangile, ils l'avaient pas lu,
Mais ils s'aimaient tout's voil's dehors,
Tout's voil's dehors,
Jean, Pierre, Paul et compagnie,
C'était leur seule litanie
Leur Credo, leur Confitéor,
Aux copains d'abord.
They weren't angels either,
They hadn't managed to get round to reading the gospel,
But in friendship they sailed towards each other in full rigging,
In full rigging.
Jean, Pierre, Paul and the rest,
And this was their only Litany,
Their Credo and their Confiteor,
Friends first of all.
Au moindre coup de Trafalgar,
C'est l'amitié qui prenait l'quart,
C'est elle qui leur montrait le nord,
Leur montrait le nord.
Et quand ils étaient en détresse,
Qu'leur bras lancaient des S.O.S.,
On aurait dit les sémaphores,
Les copains d'abord.
At the slightest hint of Trafalgar,
It was friendship which took over the watch,
That was what gave them their bearings,
Gave them their bearings.
And when they were in distress,
And their arms signalled SOS,
You would have said they were signalling
"Friends first of all."
Au rendez-vous des bons copains,
Y'avait pas souvent de lapins,
Quand l'un d'entre eux manquait a bord,
C'est qu'il était mort.
Oui, mais jamais, au grand jamais,
Son trou dans l'eau n'se refermait,
Cent ans après, coquin de sort !
Il manquait encore.
When the mates met up,
It wasn't often that one of them was missing,
If there was a gap, he must be dead,
He must be dead.
But never, absolutely never
Did the hole in the water close over him.
A hundred years later, would you believe it,
They would miss him still.
Des bateaux j'en ai pris beaucoup,
Mais le seul qui'ait tenu le coup,
Qui n'ait jamais viré de bord,
Mais viré de bord,
Naviguait en père peinard
Sur la grand-mare des canards,
Et s'app'lait les Copains d'abord
Les Copains d'abord.
I've boarded a lot of boats
But the only one which really stayed on course,
Which never got on the wrong tack,
Never got on the wrong tack,
Sailed along, taking it easy
On the big duck pond,
They called it Friends First,
Friends First.
© 1965 ED. MUSICALES 57
Texte et musique G. Brassens
© 2000 Dr. Ted Neather
This translation aims to convey meaning and does not attempt poetry or song.



*The French "Copains d'abord" is a play on words. Literally, it means 'Mates come first'. However it sounds like 'copains de bord' which means 'shipmates'. Thus the title could also be translated as 'Shipmates first and foremost'. Our thanks to Lynton Cox from Maisons Laffitte for his correspondance highlighting this double meaning.

Thanks also to correspondant Dominique Contant for the following clarifications, passed on via our translator Dr Ted Neather.

The sailing ship the Medusa sank on the 2nd July 1816. 149 survivors crowded together on a raft. 27 days later the sailing ship the Argus rescued only 15, who had experienced every horror, even cannibalism. Géricault immortalised the incident in his painting 'Raft of the Medusa'

Fluctuat nec mergitur  is the motto of the city of Paris, which is represented by a ship in full sail. The expression means  Beaten by the waves but does not founder.

Mais des amis franco de port: There is a play on words here: franco de port = postage paid, and port = harbour

Castor et Pollux: In Greek mythology these were not only two inseparable friends but also gods of navigation.

Sodome et Gomorrhe: The Bible tells that God destroyed the 2 cities. Sodom was of course the city in which men did not have female partners. Brassens was often accused, although very mildly, of being a little mysogynistic.

Montaigne et La Boétie: Montaigne, one of the greatest figures of French literature and thought, had a close and enduring friendship with the humanist La Boétie, which ws celebrated in Montaigne's great essay "On friendship. Their's was an intellectual as well as emotional bond, rather different from the familiarity (and vulgarity) of the "copains" who (translated literally) "slap each other on the belly"...the nearest equivalent English expression might be "mates who slap each other on the back".

Coup de Trafalgar: French speakers use this expression to describe a disaster...

Brassens had a gift for using slang expressions with new insight, well demonstrated in this particular song.

Va-t'en voir là-haut si j'y'suis.
Va voir la bas si j'y suis is French slang for 'go away', literally: go and look over there to see if I am there.. In this song, Brassens has adapted the slang phrase such that God says to him "Go and look up there to see if I'm there."
J' ferai la tombe buissonnière,
Faire l'ecole buissonière means to play truant, to bunk off school. In this song, Brassens plays truant from the grave.
Par le chemin des écoliers.
Le chemin des écoliers (literally the schoolkids' route) is French slang for the longest way round, by which Brassens means to leave for the Other World. Dr Neather has translated this phrase with a line from William Shakespeare.