Tuesday, October 13, 2015


 I wonder if this song could ever be written, much less sung, at the present time?
The last few lines especially - would any self-respecting woman or man nowadays dare to say:
Let me become 
The shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand
The shadow of your dog

Nevertheless these are emotions which many people still feel, whether expressed or not. Nobody ever did it better than Jacques Brel in his terrific original, unpolished version - shared here from YouTube.

I've recorded myself intoning it just now, you can listen to it here .

My translation below is far from perfect but better than the awful ones I've seen via Google.

Ne Me Quitte Pas (Jacques Brel and Jacques Roman)

Don't leave me
Let's forget
Forget everything
That's already vanishing
Forget the time of misunderstanding
And the time wasted
Who knows how
Forget those hours
Which sometimes killed
With blows of why 
The heart of bliss.
Don't leave me (r)
I'll offer you
Pearls of rain
From countries where it never rains
I'll dig the earth
Even after my death
To clothe your body
With gold and light
I'll build a kingdom
Where love is king
Where love is law
Where you'll be queen.
Don't leave me (r)
I'll invent
Nonsense words
Which you'll understand
I'll tell you about
Those lovers
Who saw their love's fire
Twice rekindled
I'll tell you the story
Of that king
Who died because
He could not meet you.
Don't leave me (r)
An ancient volcano
Believed extinct
Often reawakens
And there are burnt lands
Which yield more wheat
Than the kindest April
And when night falls
When the sky is blazing
Doesn't the red
Marry the black?
Don't leave me (r)
I won't cry anymore
I won't talk anymore
I'll just hide here
And watch you
Dance and smile
And listen to you
Sing and laugh
Let me become
The shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand
The shadow of your dog
Don't leave me (r)


Ellena said...

No matter how heartwarming the begging and the offerings - time to leave remains time to leave.
I always liked this song.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Ellena, you're absolutely right. There should be a parallel song, from the point of view of the one who is leaving, singing to the one she/he is leaving behind.

Roderick Robinson said...

The answer to that first question is yes, a firm affirmative. Self-respecting people (I'm not sure I've ever met one) have been known to fall in love and love - other than for total exhibitionists - is a private state where anything may said and/or done so long as it doesn't frighten the horses.

I'm familiar with this song even though it isn't to my taste. The pathos is rather too pronounced and the performance somewhat self-conscious. I prefer an admixture of wit and that's a word the French have difficulty with. None of the translations I've seen get anywhere near its complex meaning; come to think of it none of the definitions (ie, in English) are entirely satisfactory either.

I think it's courageous of you translate it. The short sentences are a snare and a delusion since their very shortness lays them open to wide interpretations. I checked an independent translation with French and English side by side and there's a point at which the word "now" enters the meaning in one of the repetitions even though the French words do not change. Apparently it's understood, though not by me.

You've done a good job though obviously you don't need me to tell you. Characteristically you tell us yourself. Where would all be without a grain of self-confidence?

Talking of which I had a hubristic period when I thought I'd have a go at translations, long before my blog came to your notice, when it was in any case called Works Well. I posted a very long semi-academic piece on the inadequacies of French translations of Shakespeare which was like shooting fish in a barrel. As a climax I eschewed echt Shakespeare and translated a Shakespearean-format sonnet I'd written myself. Some people were kind, others kinder still by remaining silent.

I even went a stage further and recorded the sonnet (in English) and posted it. But I'm over all that now.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Robbie, I'm glad you see the difficulties in translating this. I admit that Brel's performance of this song is self-conscious and the pathos leans towards bathos. I still like it a lot, but he's done better ("Amsterdam" for ex.)
It's really a challenge to find English equivalents for some phrases that sound perfectly natural in French - eg:
"Il est paraît-il des terres brûlées..." Could be literally translated as: "They say there are burnt lands (earths?)..." Not good!

" there's a point at which the word "now" enters the meaning in one of the repetitions" I too don't see where that is understood. The only difference in the repetitions of "Ne me quitte pas" is at the end, where he adds "Mais....ne me quitte pas".

Is there a link to the sonnet you recorded? I'd like to hear it.

Roderick Robinson said...

No you wouldn't.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

You can't know that!

Lucy said...

I suppose the abnegation of self-respect is rather the point.

However, I rather like to imagine, once she has given him something like Ellena's very apposite answer, him giving a Gallic shrug, saying to himself 'it was worth a try' (to which you can doubtless supply a better French equivalent than I can), lighting up a Gauloise and cherching the next femme.

I like your translation, though I've not troubled to scrutinise it in parallel.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Lucy,you've said it, that's exactly the point!
But I doubt that Brel, at least at that young stage in his life, would have given the Gallic shrug to la femme qui le quittait. Having read something of his history, he would have been too much in love to take it lightly.

Roderick Robinson said...

Mindd-reading is one of my lesser skills. The fact is I lumber, shamefully

Hattie said...

I am enjoying this interchange. One of the great regrets of my life is that I don't know French.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Hattie, since it was my first language and France my birthplace I can't claim any credit. No effort or scholarship was involved - French is just by chance part of my DNA.