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Gainsbourg's faves N°2 (1959)

La Nuit d’octobre

Summary

Innocent young Serge uses a poem by Alfred de Musset to tell off a more experienced woman who has corrupted his poor tender heart.

Paroles de Gainsbourg Musset

Honte à toi qui la première m’as appris la trahison,
Et d’horreur et de colère m’as fait perdre la raison !
Et d’horreur et de colère m’as fait perdre la raison !

Honte à toi, femme à l’œil sombre, dont les funestes amours
Ont enseveli dans l’ombre mon printemps et mes beaux jours !
Ont enseveli dans l’ombre mon printemps et mes beaux jours !

C’est ta voix, c’est ton sourire, c’est ton regard corrupteur
Qui m’ont appris à maudire jusqu’au semblant du bonheur ;
Qui m’ont appris à maudire jusqu’au semblant du bonheur ;

C’est ta jeunesse, c’est tes charmes qui m’ont fait desespérer,
Et si je doute des larmes c’est que je t’ai vu pleurer.
Et si je doute des larmes c’est que je t’ai vu pleurer.

Honte à toi, j’étais encore aussi simple qu’un enfant ;
Comme une fleur à l’aurore mon cœur s’ouvrait en t’aimant.
Comme une fleur à l’aurore mon cœur s’ouvrait en t’aimant.

Certes, ce cœur sans défense, pu sans peine être abusé ;
Mais lui laisser l’innocence était encore plus aisé.
Mais lui laisser l’innocence était encore plus aisé.

Honte à toi qui fut la mère de mes premieres douleurs
Et tu fis de ma paupière jaillir la source des pleurs !
Et tu fis de ma paupière jaillir la source des pleurs !

Elle coule, sois-en sûre, et rien ne la tarira ;
Elle sort d’une blessure qui jamais ne guérira ;
Elle sort d’une blessure qui jamais ne guérira ;

Mais dans cette source amère, du moins je m’laverais
Et j’y laisserais, j’espère, ton souvenir abhorré !
Et j’y laisserais, j’espère, ton souvenir abhorré !
Et j’y laisserais, j’espère, ton souvenir abhorré !

Discussion

I decided to translate this song because I hadn’t yet done anything from Gainsbourg’s second EP, N°2 — and because, in an interview from 1964, he listed this as one of the six songs he’d written to that point that he was actually proud of. (Getting Gainsbourg to say anything positive, even about himself, was never easy.)

Which is funny, for a couple of reasons.

First, because he didn’t write it. In that interview, he calls it “l’affaire conjoint de Musset et moi” — the joint production of Musset and me. Well, lyrically, it’s not a joint production: it’s a straight lift of a long section of Alfred de Musset’s 1837 poem “La Nuit d’Octobre.” (As far as I can tell, Gainsbourg only changes one thing, from Musset’s “Honte à toi! tu fus la mère” to “Honte à toi qui fut la mère” — an insignificant change).

Second, because at other times he said he disliked not only this song but also Musset’s poem. In Gilles Verlant and Loïc Picaud’s Intégrale de Gainsbourg, Gainsbourg is quoted as saying this is one of Musset’s worst poems (parmi “les plus mauvais poèmes de Musset” and that he only picked it because he had just gotten dumped (“venait de se faire jeter”) and temporarily susceptible to its pull.

I do think he would have appreciated the context of the original poem, though, even in happier moments.

Musset’s poem is structured as a dialogue between the poet-speaker and his muse. The passage taken up in this song is spoken by the poet, who is defending his own infidelity by shifting the blame on to the muse, whom he claims cheated on him first.

Divine context aside, the poem has an obvious root in Musset’s own biography. From 1833-35, Musset had a tumultuous love affair with the novelist George Sand (the pen name of Aurore Dupin — note the appearance of the word “aurore” in this poem!). After they broke up, he wrote a novel about their fling (La Confession d’un Enfant du Siècle / The Confession of a Child of the Century, 1836) and then a whole collection of poetry about it, Nuits, from which “La Nuit d’Octobre” is taken.

A few years later, when Gainsbourg got dumped by Brigitte Bardot, he followed Musset’s model by memorializing the whole experience in song (see “Initials B. B.”).

Gainsbourg would also have been attracted to this poem by the fact that George Sand / Aurore Dupin went onto to have another, equally tortured love affair with Frédéric Chopin, whose portrait Gainsbourg kept on the piano where he composed his songs…

So yes, in sum, I believe him when he says it was one of his favourites!

Some interesting connections to Melody Nelson, I think. First, the reversal of the Serge / Melody relationship. Here, it’s Serge who presents himself as the innocent one being corrupted by a more experienced lover. And perhaps the connection is signalled in the first stanza, whose “Et d’horreur et de colère m’as fait perdre la raison” is echoed in “Tu étais la condition / Sine qua non / De ma raison” from “Ballade de Melody Nelson.”

Traduction de “Fluid Makeup”

The October Night

Shame on you, who first taught me to betray
And with horror and rage made me lose my reason.

Shame on you, dark-eyed woman, whose murderous love
Cast my springtime and sunny days in shadow.

It’s your voice, your smile, your corrupting gaze
That taught me to curse the happiness of others;

It’s your youth, your charms that made me despair,
And if I’ve come to distrust tears, it’s because I’ve seen you cry.

Shame on you, I was as innocent as a child;
Like a flower at daybreak, my heart opened in order to love you.

Yes, my defenceless heart was easy to abuse,
But leaving it innocent would have been more easeful.

Shame on you, mother of my first sorrows,
Who turned my eyelid into a gushing springs of tears.

Which flows still, you can be sure, and nothing can dry it out —
Its source is a wound that will never be healed;

But in this bitter spring, at least I’ll be able to cleanse myself
And I’ll wash off, if I can, your abhorred memory.

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