marcel barang

Festival Brel – 2

In English, French, Reading matters on 09/02/2011 at 7:55 pm

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Perhaps the most popular of Jacques Brel’s songs is his paean to Amsterdam, a truculent summing-up of the ways of seafarers in a port of call, at least as received wisdom has it. The way Brel sails this particular sea of words is challenging for translators, as the many versions available on the net attest. Here is mine, which tries to transpose the layers of meaning (too bad for the morue!) and keep as much of swing and beat as English allows. For the original thrill of a voice with a mug and a mike, go to youtube.com/watch?v=cMzAmrNS164.

Amsterdam – Jacques Brel – 1964

Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui chantent
Les rêves qui les hantent
Au large d’Amsterdam
Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Y a des marins qui dorment
Comme des oriflammes
Le long des berges mornes

In the port of Amsterdam
there are sailors who sing
the dreams that haunt them
at sea off Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam
there are sailors who sleep
like regal banners
along mournful canal banks

Dans le port d’Amsterdam,
il y a des marins qui meurent
pleins de bière et de drames
aux premières lueurs
Dans le port d’Amsterdam
il y a des marins qui naissent
dans la chaleur épaisse
des langueurs océanes

In the port of Amsterdam
there are sailors who die
full of beer and tragedy
in the first light of dawn
In the port of Amsterdam
there are sailors being born
in the clammy heat
of oceanic calms

Dans le port d’Amsterdam
il y a des marins qui mangent
sur des nappes trop blanches
des poissons ruisselants
et vous montrent des dents
à croquer la fortune
à décroisser la lune
à bouffer des haubans

In the port of Amsterdam
there are sailors who eat
dripping wet fish
on over-bleached tablecloths
and flash around teeth
made to crunch godsends
to uncrescent the moon
and to gorge on ship shrouds

Et ça sent la morue
jusque dans le cœur des frites
que leurs grosses mains invitent
à revenir en plus
puis se lèvent en riant
dans un bruit de tempête
referment leur braguette
et sortent en rotant

And there’s a tart smell of cod
down to the very chips
their beefy hands invite
for extra helpings
Then they get up in storms
of roaring laughter
fasten up their flies
and leave burping

Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Il y a des marins qui dansent
en se frottant la panse
sur la panse des femmes
et ils tournent et ils dansent
comme des soleils crachés
dans le son déchiré
d’un accordéon rance

In the port of Amsterdam
there are sailors who dance
rubbing their bellies
against female bellies
and they turn and they dance
like suns spat into
the ragged sounds
of a rancid accordion

Ils se tordent le cou
pour mieux s’entendre rire
jusqu’à ce que tout à coup
l’accordéon expire
Alors le geste grave
alors le regard fier
ils ramènent leur Batave
en pleine lumière

They twist their necks the better
to hear themselves laugh
until all of a sudden
the accordion gives out
Then with solemn manners
and pride in their eyes
they walk their Valkyries back
to the footlights

Dans le port d’Amsterdam
il y a des marins qui boivent
et qui boivent et reboivent
et qui reboivent encore
Ils boivent à la santé
des putains d’Amsterdam
d’Hambourg ou d’ailleurs
Enfin, ils boivent aux dames

In the port of Amsterdam
there are sailors who drink
and drink and drink again
and again drink some more
They drink to the health
of the whores of Amsterdam
Hamburg and other places
In short, they drink to the ladies

Qui leurs donnent leur joli corps
qui leurs donnent leur vertu
pour une pièce en or
et quand ils ont bien bu
se plantent le nez au ciel
se mouchent dans les étoiles
et ils pissent comme je pleure
sur les femmes infidèles

Who give them their pretty bodies
who give them their virtue
for a gold coin or two
and when they’ve drunk plenty
they stand erect their faces to the sky
they blow their noses in the stars
and they piss as I cry
over unfaithful women

Dans le port d’Amsterdam
Dans le port d’Amsterdam…

In the port of Amsterdam
In the port of Amsterdam…

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