Thursday 18 May 2017

La Religieuse - Male fantasies aroused by a beautiful nun

"La religieuse"is the song which gave the title to the album which Brassens released in 1969.

This song may cause offence through its sexual content and also Brassens’ typical disrespect for organised religion.

The girl who is the subject of this song had had her head shaven on becoming a nun, with the aim of erasing her beauty and the sexual allure that that implied.  The charms of her body had been hidden for life in a shapeless black robe down to the floor.

However on Sundays, when she attended mass, she wore the striking headgear which some orders of nuns had contrived to introduce in spite of the obvious vanity.  This enhanced the beautiful face with which she had been gifted. 

The effects of this untouchable woman of mystery on the imaginations of the men (and boys) in the congregation are vividly described. These reactions were certainly not in keeping with the aims of religious authorities who might seek to repress human sexuality.

In this song Brassens contrasts the lurid vitality of human imagination with a cold,sterile reality.

I think that students of French language will appreciate the clarity of this recording made by Manuel Hernandez in June 2015

Tous les cœurs se rallient à sa blanche cornette(1),
Si le chrétien succombe à son charme insidieux,
Le païen le plus sûr, l'athée le plus honnête
Se laisseraient aller parfois à croire en Dieu.
Et les enfants de choeur font tinter leur sonnette...

Il paraît que dessous sa cornette fatale,
Qu'elle arbore(2) à la messe avec tant de rigueur,
Cette petite soeur cache, c'est un
Une queue de cheval et des accroche-cœurs(3).
Et les enfants de choeur s'agitent dans les stalles(4)...

Il paraît que, dessous son gros habit de bure(5),
Elle porte coquettement des bas de soie,
Festons, frivolités, fanfreluches, guipures(6),
Enfin, tout ce qu'il faut pour que le Diable y soit.
Et les enfants de choeur ont des pensées

Il paraît que le soir, en voici bien d'une autre !
À l'heure où ses consoeurs sont sagement couchées
Ou débitent pieusement des patenôtres,
Elle se déshabille devant sa psyché.(8)
Et les enfants de choeur ont la fièvre, les pauvres...

Il paraît qu'à loisir elle se mire nue,
De face, de profil, et même, hélas ! de dos,(9)
Après avoir, sans gêne, accroché sa tenue
Aux branches de la croix comme au portemanteau.
Chez les enfants de choeur le Malin s'insinue...

Il paraît que, levant au ciel un oeil complice,
Ell' dit : "Bravo, Seigneur, c'est du joli travail !"
Puis qu'elle ajoute avec encor' plus de malice :
"La cambrure des reins, ça, c'est une
trouvaille !"
Et les enfants de choeur souffrent un vrai supplice...

Il paraît qu'à minuit, Bonne Mère, c'est pire :
On entend se mêler, dans d'étranges accords,
La voix énamourée des anges qui soupirent
Et celle de la soeur criant "Encore ! Encore !"
Et les enfants de choeur, les malheureux, transpirent...

Et monsieur le curé, que ces bruits turlupinent,
Se dit avec raison que le brave Jésus
Avec sa tête, hélas ! déjà chargée d'épines,
N'a certes pas besoin d'autre chose dessus.
Et les enfants de choeur, branlant du chef(10), opinent...

Tout ça, c'est des faux bruits, des ragots, des sornettes,
De basses calomnies par Satan répandues.
Pas plus d'accroche-coeurs sous la blanche cornette
Que de queue de cheval, mais un crâne tondu.(11)
Et les enfants de choeur en font, une binette(12)...

 Pas de troubles penchants dans ce coeur rigoriste,
Sous cet austère habit, pas de rubans suspects.
On ne verra jamais la corne au front du Christ (13)
Le veinard sur sa croix peut s'endormir en paix,
Et les enfants de choeur se masturber (14), tout tristes...

Album La religieuse (1969)
Georges Brassens

All hearts are won over by her nun’s white cornette,
If the Christian succumbs to its insidious charm,
The staunchest pagan, the most open atheist
Would sometimes go as far as believing in God
And young choristers make their little bells tinkle.

It appears that under her fatal cornette
Which she shows off at mass with so much rigour,
This little sister hides, it’s a scandal!
A pony tail and several kiss-curls.
And the young choristers get worked up in their pews

It appears that under her loose homespun
nun’s robe,
She wears seductively stockings of silk
Scallops, fancy items, frills and flounces, guipures
In short all it takes for the devil to be there.
And the young choristers get thoughts that are impure.

It appears that at night, here’s a very big shock!
When her fellow nuns properly are tucked in bed
Or piously  reciting their Pater Nosters
She takes off her clothes before her full-length mirror.
And the choristers’ temperatures soar, poor lads.

It seems she takes her time  gazing at herself nude,
Full frontal, in profile even alas rear-view,
After hanging her outfit with no inhibition
On the arms of the cross as if on a coat-stand.
With the choristers the Devil sneaks himself in…..

It seems, raising a knowing eye up to heaven
She says: ”Well done Lord, that’s a fine piece of work!”
Seems that then she adds, even more mischievously:
The curve of the behind is something special
And the choristers experience real torture. 

It seems, at midnight Holy Mother, things get worse:
One hears blending together in strange harmonies
The love-stricken voice of angels who are sighing ,
And that of the Sister yelling “Again! Again!”
And the wretched choristers, break into a sweat.

And the reverend priest who’s disturbed by  these noises
Tells himself quite rightly that the good lord Jesus
With his head, alas, already laden with thorns
Certainly does not need anything else put on it
And the shuddering choir nod their heads in agreement.

All this talk  is false rumour, nonsense, balderdash,
The basest of slander spread around by Satan
No more are there kiss curls beneath the white cornette
Than any pony tail, but a skull shaven bald
And the young choristers screw their faces at that.

No dark inclinations in this rigorist heart
Beneath this austere robe no suspicious ribbons
One will never see horns on the forehead of  Christ.
The lucky fellow on his cross can sleep in peace
And the choir-boys, glumly, can do it for themselves...

This is Brassens singing the song in concert at the Bobino in 1969

La religieuse Translation  Notes

1)     Se rallient à sa blanche cornette –  “Cornette” translates  in English « cornet », the headgear of certain orders of nuns, pictured previously. In this first line, Brassens is making play with a famous rallying cry in French history.  Before the battle of Ivry in 1590, Henry of Navarre’s rallying cry was “Ralliez-vous à mon panache blanc”.  Se rallier à means to join/ change sides to a certain cause.

2)     Arborer means to wear with a sense of ostentation

3)     Un accroche-cœur This is a curl of hair worn over the the forehead or temple, which my French source tells me is a traditional device of sexual seduction.  The same source gave me the picture below.

     Une queue de cheval - I am taking this to mean pony tail.  However, in old superstition, finding animal parts hidden in some-one’s clothing was proof of a person’s communion with the devil.

(4) les stalles... In English as in French church choirs sit in choir “stalls” but, because of the previous mention of horses,  I prefer to say “pews” realising that there is the same dual meaning of “stall”in French  and my fear of the distraction of a false association might be unfounded.

(5) Bure refers to homespun material but it is used for the frock worn by clergy.  Thus “porter la bure” means to be a monk.

(6) Guipure – My dictionary tells me that this is heavy lace consisting of embroidered motifs held together by large connecting stitches.

(7) en voici bien d'une autre ! This is an expression to prepare for a surprising revelation about to be made.

(8) sa psyché.  This word has two meanings in French.  Firstly, it is the name given to the long mirrors which tilt on a pivot, used for example in fashion shops.  Secondly as used by Brassens here, there is a reference to the derivation of the word.  In Greek mythology, Psyche was a woman of exceptional beauty.  The young nun is therefore gazing at her own striking beauty.

(9) même, hélas ! de dos – From other songs we know that Brassens particularly admired the well- rounded female bottom see "Venus callipyge"

(10) branlant du chef, opinent... « opiner de la tête » means to nod your head in agreement.   “Branler la tête/ branler du chef” mean to shake/ wag your head.  Some French commentators say that Brassens is suggesting the choir boys were shaking something else.

(11) un crâne tondu- The heads of nuns are shaven bald.  We note the outrage that Brassens always felt to see those in power hurting the susceptible or the helpless and we think of his song: “La Tondue

(12) les enfants de choeur en font, une binette. – In normal usage une binette is a garden tool – a hoe.  However in familiar language, it is an alternative word (unflattering usually) for face or facial expression, just as in English we use the word “mug”.

(13) On ne verra jamais la corne au front du Christ - As the little nun obeys her nun’s vows strictly, there is no question of her being unfaithful to her husband Jesus Christ.  When a girl or woman becomes a nun she undergoes a ceremony of marriage to Jesus Christ, wearing a wedding dress and wedding ring, lying prostrate on the Church floor.
Explanation of “La corne”.  In France when a married woman deceives her husband, they say that her unfortunate partner « porte des cornes » - that is he wears horns.  Why is the image relevant?  It is said that when a wife is unfaithful the last person to realise it is the husband.  Thus the deceived husband walks around with horns on his head but everyone sees them but the victim.

(14) Many listeners will have had suspicions from the start that the excited choirboys might be doing something private under their cassocks and might have appreciated it as a gentle suggestion..  However here in the last line Brassens deliberately shocks us by telling us bluntly what had been going on. Some of us translators would prefer to keep the ambiguity and I am taking that liberty in my translation, but readers should suit themselves according to their personal reactions.

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