How Trenet’s ‘Douce France’ became a manifesto for equality of rights.

 

Charles Trenet by Jean Cocteau

Charles Trenet (1955), by the French writer, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker Jean Cocteau (1889-1963) — image: Le portail des amis de Charles Trenet

 

 

The French singer and songwriter Charles Trenet (1913-2001) composed Douce France in 1943, during the German occupation.

French lyrics, followed by a translation

Il revient à ma mémoire
Des souvenirs familiers
Je revois ma blouse noire
Lorsque j’étais écolier
Sur le chemin de l’école
Je chantais à pleine voix
Des romances sans paroles*
Vieilles chansons d’autrefois

Douce France
Cher pays de mon enfance
Bercée de tendre insouciance
Je t’ai gardée dans mon cœur
Mon village
Au clocher aux maisons sages
Où les enfants de mon âge
Ont partagé mon bonheur
Oui je t’aime
Et je te donne ce poème
Oui je t’aime
Dans la joie ou la douleur

It comes back to my memory
Familiar recollections
I see again my black blouse
When I was a schoolboy
On my way to school
I was singing out loud
Romances without words
Old songs of the past

Gentle France
Dear country of my childhood
Lulled with tender carefreeness
I’ve kept you in my heart
My village
With its steeple with its calm homes
Where children of my age
Have shared my happiness
Yes I love you
And I give you this poem
Yes I love you
In joy or in pain

(* Romances sans paroles, published in 1874, is the title of a collection of poems by Paul Verlaine (1844-96).)

The following verse was written by Trenet but not sung in his original version:

J’ai connu des paysages
Et des soleils merveilleux
Au cours de lointains voyages
Tout là-bas sous d’autres cieux
Mais combien je leur préfère
Mon ciel bleu mon horizon
Ma grande route et ma rivière
Ma prairie et ma maison

I’ve known wonderful
Landscapes and suns
On distant journeys
Far away under other heavens
But how much I prefer
My blue sky my horizon
My main road and my river
My meadow and my home

In 1986, this song (including the latter verse) was covered by the French band Carte de Séjour (Residence Permit), whose lead singer was Rachid Taha, born in Algeria in 1958; this appropriation (of which Trenet approved) of the song by immigrants was a statement—and a reminder—that all citizens share the French Republic’s values and are equals, regardless of their genders, origins, ethnicities and faiths (or absence of faith).

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