Organ-grinding tweets for August 2017

From Charles Trenet, two musical De Gaulle anecdotes

Re the songs, L’âme des poètes and Douce France.

L’âme des poètes/The poets’ soul

Trenet’s 1951 song-about-a-song is a tribute to his friend, the poet Max Jacob, who died en route to Auschwitz in 1944. Long, long, long after the poets have disappeared, their songs still walk the streets. The crowd sings them, slightly absent-mindedly, ignorant of the author’s name, not knowing for whom their hearts beat. Sometimes we change a word, a phrase, and when we run out of ideas, we sing la la la:

Longtemps, longtemps, longtemps
Après que les poètes ont disparu
Leurs chansons courent encore dans les rues
La foule les chante un peu distraite
En ignorant le nom de l’auteur
Sans savoir pour qui battait leur coeur
Parfois on change un mot, une phrase
Et quand on est à court d’idées
On fait la la la la la la
La la la la la la

The anecdote:

In 1965 Charles Trenet is presented to General de Gaulle on the occasion of the annual gala of the Ministry of Justice. The Head of State says to him: “You know, I mentioned you this morning in the Council of Ministers. I said to them, ‘And above all, remember that long, long, long after you have disappeared, your decrees will still walk the streets.'”

Douce France/Sweet France

The French Wikipedia entry suggests a link between the commonplace taken as the title of this song, issued in 1943, and the 11th century Chanson de Roland, in which Roland dies fighting the Muslims at Roncesvalles, 1 his gaze fixed on Spain but his mind recalling sweet France:

Le comte Roland s’étendit dessous un pin.
Vers l’Espagne, il a tourné son visage.
Bien des choses lui reviennent en mémoire,
Tant de terres que le baron conquit,
La douce France, les hommes de son lignage,
Charlemagne, son seigneur qui l’éleva.
Il ne peut s’empêcher de pleurer et de soupirer.

Mad Beppo: Dear land of my childhood, I have kept you, cradled with tender thoughtlessness, in my heart:

Cher pays de mon enfance
Bercée de tendre insouciance
Je t’ai gardée dans mon cœur

The anecdote:

General de Gaulle visits Quebec, where the band, instead of striking up La Marseillaise, plays Douce France. The General doesn’t bat an eyelid and stands to attention.

I got to know Trenet’s repertoire via an artistic dynasty in Barcelona, which had a well-worn disc of La Mer from the early 1960s:

The clear barrel organ allusions in the arrangement of L’âme des poètes at the beginning of this post thus remind me of grandma, who inter alia created puppets like this Madrilenian dance scene with pianola which is currently in the marionette museum at Tibidabo:


  1. Roland seems to have suffered a cerebral haemorrhage as a result of blowing the elephant horn. I believe this to be the first self-inflicted death by aerophone on record. Joshua’s trumpets at Jericho must have caused considerable loss of life, but afaik there were no recursive (or even friendly fire) casualties.

Rhyme vs reason

Restif de la Bretonne goes one step beyond Shakespeare and says that poetry is the language of Gods and beasts, and that reason speaks in prose.

I’m neither a logician nor a Shakespeare scholar, but I think that the following from The comedy of errors means that there can be rhyme without reason, and reason without rhyme, but that the two are not necessarily incompatible:

Was there ever any man thus beaten out of season,
When in the why and the wherefore is neither rhyme nor reason?

I’ve been reading Restif de la Bretonne’s Le nouvel Abeilard recently, basically because of an interest in the fairy tales (and particularly the first known version of demi-coq) included therein. In it he goes a step further and makes rhyme and reason mutually exclusive:

–Mais, mon Ami, voila déja bien des fois que j’ai envie de te demander, Pourquoi la Rivière, le Coq, le Loup & le Renard ne parlent-ils donc qu’en rimes?
–C’est, ma chère Phylis, que la Poésie est le langage des Dieux & des Bêtes. La Raison ne parle qu’en prose.

Aka Rétif opens with an epigraph from Pope ( “The art of writing, Abeilard, was doubtless invented/By the captive loveress and the agitated lover./Everything lives by the heat of an eloquent letter/Feeling is painted by the fingers of the lover” ), so I suppose this might be another reference to our own poxy dwarf and thence heroic coupler, who in 1714 “in an ungrateful and splenetic fit” wrote

I should be sorry and ashamed to go on jingling to the last step, like a waggoner’s horse, in the same road, and so leave my bells to the next silly animal that will be proud of them. A man makes but a mean figure, in the eyes of reason, who is measuring syllables and coupling rhymes.

The same Monthly review review of some tract called Aesthetische Gespraeche also points to the blind French poet-courtier Houdar de la Motte’s campaign against the use of rhyme in tragedy, without which the French apparently regarded it “not only as unpleasing, but unnatural.” Wikipedia implies that La Motte was struggling against excess rather than against rhyme per se. Anyway, I’m off to sing trad jazz, where the issues are not in doubt.