Sunday, February 1, 2009

Né en 17 à Leidenstadt

click to go to the Wikipedia article on Né en 17 à Leidenstadt


Words and music by JEAN-JACQUES GOLDMAN
From the 1990 album FREDERICKS GOLDMAN JONES
Released as a single in 1991



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This song was a big hit when I was living and working in France, and I fell in love with the words and the arrangement. The lyrics show the moral and intellectual courage of Jean-Jacques Goldman, who has Polish Jewish forebears, as he reflects on how he would have felt had he been one of the Germans in their humiliating WWI defeat in the town of the title. He also wonders how he would have felt in the tribalised atmosphere of industrial Belfast, and the late Carole Fredericks, from Springfield, sings the verse wondering how she would have acted had she been born white and rich in Johannesburg. The last two lines speak of a hope of peace springing from stepping back from war until we are somewhat more enlightened than at present, and the sampled bagpipes in the chorus, which is sung only once, are the icing on the cake. My English translation is below the French words.

Si j’étais né en 17 à Leidenstadt
Sur les ruines d’un chams de bataille
Aurias-je été meilleur ou pire que ces gens
Si j’avais été allemand?

Bercé d’humiliation, de haine et d’ignorance
Nourri de rêves de revanche
Aurais-je été de ces probables consciences
Larmes au milieu d’un torrent

Si j’avais grandi dans les docklands de Belfast
Soldat d’une fois, d’une caste
Aurais-je la force envers et contre les miens
De trahir: tender un main

Si j’étais née blanche et riche à Johannesburg
Entre la pouvoir et la peur
Aurai-je entendu ce cris porté par le vent
Rien ne sera comme avant

On saura jamais c’qu’on a vraiment dans nos ventres
Caché derrière nos apparences
L’âme d’un brave ou d’n complice ou d’un bourreau?
Ou le pire ou plus beau?
Serions-nous de ceau qui résistant ou biens les moutons d’un troupeau
S’il fallait plus que ces mots?

Si j’étais né en 17 à Leidenstadt
Sur les ruines d’un chams de bataille
Aurias-je été meilleur ou pire que ces gens
Si j’avais été allemand?

Et qu’on nous épargne à toi et moi si possibles très longtemps
D’avoir à choisir un camp.

Translation

If I was born in 1917 in Leidenstadt,
On the ruins of a battlefield
Would I have been better or worse than its people
If I’d been German?

Brought up with humiliation, hatred and ignorance
Cutting my teeth on dreams of revenge
Would I have been improbably conscientious,
Tears in the midst of a flood?

If I’d grown up in the docklands of Belfast,
Soldier of one faith, one tribe,
Would I have had the strength to go around and against my own people,
To betray – reach out a hand?

If I’d been born white and rich in Johannesburg,
Living between power and fear,
Would I have heard the voices on the wind
Saying things would never be the same again?

We never know what’s in each other’s mind,
Hidden behind our appearances.
The soul of a brave, or a collaborator, or an executioner?
Or something better, or worse?
Would we be among those who resist, or else with the sheep in the flock
If more than words were needed?

If I was born in 1917 in Leidenstadt,
On the ruins of a battlefield
Would I have been better or worse than its people
If I’d been German?

And if you and I spare each other long enough,
We might not have to choose a side.

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8 comments:

Nilla /Le Petit Paradis said...

I really love this song too.

Frugal Dougal said...

Thanks, Nilla!

Sorry for the delay in getting back to you, I was at a Christian week in Butlin's Holiday Camp.

I'm afraid I wasn't able to understand your blog, but the picture at the top is beautiful, and I loved the music!

shadow said...

Thanks for the translation, I'm like "hunting" JJG songs translated to english...
Great blog!

RJ

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the translation of Ne en 17 a Leidenstadt. It helped me study it for my french class and what's more now I better understand the meaning of such a beautiful, original song.

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Anonymous said...

Hi Frugal Dougal!

I'm French and I was trying to translate this song for an American friend and you help me a lot. As a fair reward, I would like to signal you some piece of translation that doesn't sounds right for me:

"On saura jamais c'qu'on a vraiment dans nos ventres
Caché derrière nos apparences"
The idea is more (and you will correct my English grammar yourself):
"We never know how gutsy we really are
Hidden behind our masks"

and at the very end of the song:
"Et qu'on nous épargne à toi et moi, si possible très longtemps
D'avoir à choisir un camp."
The idea is more (same):
"May we be spared, you and me, for a long time if possible
To have to choose a side"
But I must said that I love your conclusion too ;-)

Thanks again for posting this on line and happy New Year!!!

Verlane