The Mudcat Café TM
Thread #151871   Message #3549252
Posted By: Will Fly
15-Aug-13 - 05:34 AM
Thread Name: French songs in English translation
Subject: French songs in English translation
Being a bit of a sucker for French songs, it's been an interesting experience doing the ongoing trawl through my recently-acquired 3,000+ sheet music archive - in which a number of French songs in English translation have popped up.

I've been struck by the way in which many of the translations have lost much of their bite when turned into English. It's understandable, of course, given the US/UK markets for which the translations were done, but the translated versions usually give a totally different spin to the originals.

As an example, I've been looking at "Under The Bridges Of Paris" with English lyrics by Dorcas Cochran from 1952. The original French lyrics for "Sous Les Ponts De Paris" were written by Jean Rodor in 1914. To illustrate the point, I give below (a) the English words by Cochran (b) the original French by Rodor (c) my rough translation of the French...

My darling, why I sing this song is easy to explain.
It tells what happens all along the bridges of the Seine.
The vagabonds go there at night to sleep their troubles away,
But when the moon is shining bright, my heart wants to sing it this way...

How would you like to be down by the Seine with me?
Oh what I'd give for a moment or two under the bridges of Paris with you.
Darling, I'd hold you tight, far from the eyes of night,
Under the bridges of Paris with you, I'd make your dreams come true.

Pour aller à Suresnes ou bien à Charenton
Tout le long de la Seine on passe sous les ponts
Pendants le jour, suivant son cours, tout Paris en bateau défile,
L' cœur plein d'entrain, ça va, ça vient, mais l' soir lorsque tout dort tranquille…

Sous les ponts de Paris, lorsque descend la nuit,
Tout's sort's de gueux se faufil'nt en cachette, et sont heureux de trouver une couchette,
Hôtel du courant d'air, où l'on ne paie pas cher,
L'parfum et l'eau c'est pour rien mon marquis, sous les ponts de Paris.

To go to Suresnes or even to Charenton,
All along the Seine one passes under the bridges.
During the day, following its course, all Paris parades by in boats,
With light hearts, that's okay, that's always okay, but in the evening when they all sleep peacefully…

Under the bridges of Paris, when night falls,
Every kind of beggar slips secretly out of hiding, and is happy to find a sleeping place,
At the Hotel "Fresh Air," where payment is cheap,
The perfume and water is free, my 'marquis', under the bridges of Paris.

The next two verses of the original are even darker - poor workers meeting at the factory gates on a holiday and going down to the bridges to make love - with a final verse about a poverty-stricken mother and her three little children sleeping under a bridge.

What struck me is how the 1914 song - probably sung in the caf'concs and cabarets of the time - is so much darker, more robust and socially conscious than the sickly 1950s version. And this contrast crops up again and again. It's odd, because American lyricists like E.Y. Harburg were equally capable of writing songs with "bite" - " Brother, Can You Spare A Dime" springs immediately to mind - but translated songs seem to be melted into sickly romantic offerings.