Thursday 14 September 2017

La traîtresse - Adultery with an unexpected twist

This song is the lament of an adulterous lover, whose free-spirited lady friend has dramatically turned the tables on him.
As Georges Brassens often played this same role, we might at first assume that the song is based on a personal experience.  However, we would be doing Brassens a great injustice, as the attitudes to love and women shown by this deserted lover would seem to be very different from those we would associate with Brassens.

(I talk about Brassens’ love life at greater length at the end of this post)


J'en appelle à (1) la mort; je l'attends sans frayeur ;
Je n' tiens plus à la vie ; je cherche un fossoyeur
Qui aurait un' tombe à vendre à n'importe quel prix :
J'ai surpris ma maîtresse au bras de son mari,
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

J' croyais tenir l'amour au bout de mon harpon,
Mon p'tit drapeau flottait(2) au coeur d' madam' Dupont,
Mais tout est consommé : hier soir, au coin d'un bois,
J'ai surpris ma maîtresse avec son mari, pouah !
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

Trouverai-je les noms, trouverai-je les mots,
Pour noter d'infamie cet enfant de chameau(3)
Qui a choisi son époux pour tromper son amant,
Qui a conduit l'adultère à son point culminant ?
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

Où donc avais-j' les yeux ? Quoi donc avais-j' dedans ?
Pour n' pas m'être aperçu depuis un certain temps
Que, quand ell' m'embrassait , ell' semblait moins goulue(4)
Et faisait des enfants qui n' me ressemblaient plus.
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

Et pour bien m'enfoncer la corne(5) dans le coeur,
Par un raffinement satanique, moqueur,
La perfide, à voix haute, a dit à mon endroit :
"Le plus cornard(6) des deux n'est point celui qu'on croit."
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

J'ai surpris les Dupont, ce couple de marauds(7),
En train d' recommencer leur hymen à zéro,
J'ai surpris ma maîtresse équivoque(8), ambiguë,
En train d'intervertir l'ordre de ses cocus(9).
Ma maîtresse, la traîtresse !

 (1960 – Album - Le mécréant,)


I am calling on death – which I await calmly;
I care no more for life; I seek a gravedigger
Who has a tomb for sale at no matter what price:
I’ve just caught my mistress, upon her husband’s arm,
My mistress, the traitress!

I thought  that I held love firm upon my harpoon,
My little flag fluttered o’er Mme Dupont’s heart,
But all that’s at an end: last night down in the woods,
I surprised my mistress with her husband. Sick'ning!
My mistress, the traitress!

How shall I find the names, how shall I find the words,
To brand with infamy this degenerate child 
Who has chosen husband to cheat upon lover,
Who has brought adultery to its utter limit
My mistress, the traitress!

Where had I been looking? What had got in my eyes
For not having noticed, that for a certain time,
When she was kissing me, she seemed  less voracious
And she bore babies who, no longer looked  like me.
My mistress, the traitress!

And to drive the dagger deep in my foolish heart,
With diabolical refinement,  to mock me,
The perfidious one said loudly  to my face:
“The worst dupe of the two isn’t the one thought to be”
My mistress, the traitress!

I surprised the Duponts, this couple of dropouts,
Absorbed in restarting their marriage from scratch.
I surprised my devious, two-faced mistress
Busy reversing the order of her cuckolds
My mistress, the traitress!

Translation notes

(1)   J'en appelle à la mort  means I call on death to strike me- an expression of total despair

(2)   Mon p'tit drapeau flottait au coeur d' madam' Dupont. When an army conquers territory, a flag is raised over it to show possession.  This Don Juan sees himself as a conqueror, as his later image of catching and holding a woman with a harpoon implies. Brassens would have been appalled by the idea of one human being possessing another.

(3)   Cet enfant de chameau.  “Chameau” is the word for camel but, in French, it is used as an insult , to say that some-one is a low kind of beast.

(4)   ell' semblait moins goulue –voracious,  greedy, in this case greedy for love.

(5)   m'enfoncer la corne dans le cœur – la corne is the horn of an animal.   « Porter des cornes » is a common expression in France to denote a man who is being deceived by his wife, as he wears horns of humiliation that everyone else but the husband can see. Brassens uses the word in the singular to make it a dagger of sexual deceit.

(6)   Le plus cornard des deux – « Cornard » is the adjective from the usage of “cornes” explained in note 5 above.  It means therefore “cuckold”

(7)   Ce couple de marauds-  un maraud is a scoundrel or a rogue – someone who stretches the social code to the limit.

(8)   ma maîtresse équivoque  to translate the word  « équivoque » my dictionary gives me : equivocal / ambiguous or (with a sense of deception): dubious /questionable.

(9)   En train d'intervertir l'ordre –”  - The chauvinist male is ironically the one who comes off worst.  In this and in other songs, e.g. “95%”, Les croquants” Brassens takes pleasure in the idea of women being the controller in the game of love.

The irregular love life of Georges Brassens.

Some of Georges Brassens' devoted followers are disinclined to talk about his irregular love life.  However Brassens himself had no such inhibitions.    In the biographical film : “Regard de Georges Brassens" he tells us unashamedly that he never knows love except through adultery.  He explains that this is a necessary consequence of lifestyle.  He had chosen never to marry because he wanted to write songs and not be distracted by the domestic concerns of wife and children. (These sentiments are expressed in his song: “La Non-demande en Mariage”.)  He goes on to say that his policy was to choose women who already had a husband but who had got fed up with them.  He says that there is a plentiful supply of them in Paris and indeed in the provinces.

In the same film, his friends comment on the number of women who made themselves available to him, mentioning the legal outcome when they were found out.  The name of Georges Brassens was often cited as the third party in divorce cases heard in French courts one friend claims.

However at the same time as he knew all these girls and women, he retained his great undying love for his Jeanne and asserted his strong devotion to his Puppchen, Joha Heiman, both of which relationships were, true to form, adulterous. We note that in the biographical film it is said that Brassens felt pangs of conscience with regard to Jeanne's husband, Marcel.

Brassens' unconventional attitude to marriage and sexual relationships should not surprise us as he was always the outsider to polite society. He tells us this in many of his songs - very forcefully for example in: “Je suis la mauvaise herbe.” 

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