Saturday, July 23, 2011

Fils de

[Found this in Drafts, thought I might as well publish it.]

One of Jacques Brel's best songs is "Fils de" ("Sons of" or "Children of"), but it is badly served by a famous but crude translation by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman that takes liberties and introduces lines that are not in the original at all, which loses the gentleness and subtlety of the original.

Fils de bourgeois ou fils d'apôtres 
Tous les enfants sont comme les vôtres. 
Fils de César ou fils de rien, 
Tous les enfants sont comme le tien. 
Le même sourire, les mêmes larmes 
Les mêmes alarmes, les mêmes soupirs. 
Fils de César ou fils de rien, 
Tous les enfants sont comme le tien. 
Ce n'est qu'après, longtemps après. 

Mais fils de sultan, fils de fakir, 
Tous les enfants ont un empire 
Sous voûtes d'or, sous toits de chaumes 
Tous les enfants ont un royaume 
Un coin de vague, une fleur qui tremble 
Un oiseau mort qui leur ressemble. 
Fils de sultan, fils de fakir, 
Tous les enfants ont un empire. 
Ce n'est qu'après, longtemps après. 

Mais fils de bon fils ou fils d'étranger 
Tous les enfants sont des sorciers. 
Fils de l'amour, fils d'amourettes, 
Tous les enfants sont des poètes. 
Ils sont bergers, ils sont rois mages, 
Font des nuages pour mieux voler 
Mais fils de bon fils ou fils d'étranger 
Tous les enfants sont des sorciers, 
Ce n'est qu'après, longtemps après. 

Mais fils de bourgeois ou fils d'apôtres 
Tous les enfants sont comme les vôtres. 
Fils de César ou fils de rien, 
Tous les enfants sont comme le tien. 
Le même sourire, les mêmes larmes 
Les mêmes alarmes, les mêmes soupirs. 
Fils de César ou fils de rien, 
Tous les enfants sont comme le tien. 

And here, with a few obvious corrections by me, is a heroic attempt by Google page translator to render it, which to me feels better than the standard "Sons of" translation mentioned above, though I only have a few words of half-remembered school French to work with. As you can see there is no mention of "Sons of the sinner, sons of the saint / Who is the child with no complaint", which is actually a pretty good couple of lines but not from Brel's lyric! (No?) Nor is there any "Some built roads ... some went to war .. some never returned", which is a terrible liberty that changes the emphasis from the original where the key image is the little empire of childhood, "a dead bird" and other little things, no grand bluster.

Another thing to remember when thinking about this is that in French, the plural of a word that has masculine and feminine (fils, fille) takes the masculine. So "fils de" in French not only means "sons of" but also "children of". [Update: I have been corrected about this in the comments below, qv!] There is almost that sense available in English too, if you think you can bend it into the same collective sense whereby "man" is sometimes used in a gender inclusive way.

Sons of the bourgeois or sons of Apostles 
All of the children are like your own. 
Sons of the Caesar or of nothing, 
All children are like yours. 
The same smile, the same tears 
The same fears, the same sighs. 
Sons of the Caesar or of nothing, 
 All children are like yours. 
It was not till after, a long time after... 

But son of the Sultan, son of Fakir, 
All children have an empire 
Under golden arches, thatched 
All children have a kingdom 
A corner wave, a flower that trembles 
A dead bird that looks like them
Son of Sultan, son of Fakir, 
All children have an empire. 
It was not till after, a long time after... 

But the son of a good son or son of a stranger 
All children are sorcerers. 
Son of love, son of love affairs, 
All children are poets. 
They are shepherds, they are kings, 
Are the clouds to fly better 
But the son of a good son or son of a stranger 
All children are sorcerers, 
It was not till after, a long time after... 

But the sons of bourgeois or sons of apostles 
All children are like yours. 
Son of the Caesar or of nothing, 
All children are like yours. 
The same smile, the same tears 
The same fears, the same sighs. 
Son of the son of Caesar or nothing, 
All children are like yours. 

A challenge to somebody to produce a poetic translation in keeping with the original instead of the mawkish Blau/Shuman effort from "Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris". Footnote: The above is as nothing compared to the abominable "Seasons in the Sun" (Terry Jacks), which bears no relation to Brel's brilliant lyrics for "Le Moribond", doesn't even try, only shares the tune - and even ruins that too.

2 comments:

  1. Hello! I've just drafted a translation of Fils de... here: http://romanabyrne.com/2014/04/01/jacques-brel-fils-de/

    Also, the masculine plural doesn't apply to 'fils'. Fils only means son, not daughter, although it can, in certain contexts, means 'descendent.' I think it is most definitely 'son' in this case, although I agree with you that Brel uses 'son' as one might use 'mankind.'

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