Georges Brassens - Les Funérailles d'antan (English translation)

Proofreading requested
English translation

The funerals of times gone by

Some time ago the relatives of newly dead people kept you up to speed,
they kindly let their friends profit from it:
“we have a corpse at home, and if you would like to,
please do come and mourn him with us at the stroke of noon...”
But the living today are no longer so generous,
when they possess a corpse they keep it for themselves.
That’s the reason for which, since a few years ago,
you’ve missed lots of burials. (twice)
Chorus :
But where are the funerals of times gone by?
The small hearses, hearses, hearses, hearses
of our grandfathers,
that followed the road bouncing along,
the little stiffs, stiffs, stiffs, stiffs
plump and affluent...
when the heirs were happy,
for the grave-digger, for the undertaker, for the priest, even for the horses
they would buy drinks.
They are past and gone,
they have had their day,
the lovely funeral par, par, par, par, par parlours
We’ll never see them again,
and that’s really sad,
the lovely funeral parlours of when we were young
Now the hearses, at great speed and risk of accidents1,
carry the dead right up to the hellish middle of nowhere,
the unfortunates no longer have even the infantile pleasure
of seeing their duped2 heirs walking through the horseshit.
The other week some bastards, at a hundred an fourty per hour3,
were carrying one of theirs to a third-class cemetery...
When they’d flattened themselves on a hard-wood tree
you could see that the deceased had made some new ones. (twice)
Rather than having a funeral without flourishes,
I would prefer, all things considered, to do without a grave,
I’d prefer to die in water, in fire, doesn’t matter where,
and even, if it were absolutely necessary, not to die at all.
O, let the time of the deceased bloated with pride be reborn,
the show-off days of have-you-seen-me-in-my-superb-casket,
when, even if it meant spending every last penny,
people really wanted to die at a higher level than they had lived4. (twice)
  • 1. There are two possible meanings for this. The phrase “à tombeau ouvert” has been used at least since 1894 to mean “À une vitesse telle que l'on risque la mort “ (in 1894 it was referring to riding a horse at insane speed) and TLF cites its use for “très vite, au risque d'un grave accident” in 1949; the addition of “grand” makes it fit the metre as well as suggesting an an even crazier speed. The other possible meaning is “to a wide open grave”. Both make sense in context. Probably Brassens intended both meanings to be seen so as to have a neat pun.
  • 2. the expense of a very posh casket and lots of flourishes meant the heirs didn't get as mush money as they had expected
  • 3. about 88 mph
  • 4. literally: “to die higher up than their arse”- - this is an adaptation of the ordinary French “to fart higher up than their arse” to fit the funereal context
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Submitted by michealt on Mon, 22/01/2018 - 01:24
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The author of translation requested proofreading.
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Les Funérailles d'antan

Idioms from "Les Funérailles ..."
See also
petit élève    Mon, 22/01/2018 - 01:41

Hi Tom. Another fine job. I must say I didn't know this one. A pleasant surprise!

That’s teh reason -> typo

The mall hearses -> typo

à tombeau grand ouvert -> "à tombeau ouvert" is still quite common for "pedal to the metal" or "at breakneck speed".
As you said, "grand" is just an extra emphasis, conveniently completing the verse Regular smile
I think it's just a nice simple pun on the literal meaning.

diable vauvert -> it would be nice to render the pun on "devil" but I can't think of anything good. "a hellish place" or something?

marron -> I rather think "marron" is used in the sense of "taken in", "duped" (plus the evident link with manure, of course Regular smile )

fioritures -> or maybe "flourish" if that sounds ok in English ?

m'as-tu-vu -> that also means "a show-off", maybe you could render that with a bit of exaggeration?

mourir plus haut qu'leur cul -> your footnote is correct. The link with the idiom is obvious to a native.

michealt    Mon, 22/01/2018 - 02:49

Thanks Pierre, I've taken that all on board. Not sure how to get the showing off clear enough, but adding "show-off" as a qualifier for "days" in that line is perhaps a step in the right direction. Maybe I should translate "joli" as "superb" in that line?

petit élève    Mon, 22/01/2018 - 09:02

Don't know which version is the funniest. That bodes well for your translation :)