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Brassens Translation Project

Translating a work of art is rarely literal. Using what I've learned of folk songwriting and storytelling (and what poor French I have shuffling around up there), here are some hot takes on English versions of some of my favorite Brassens tunes.

Full Disclosure: It helps to be married to a French woman for this one.

La Chasse aux Papillons

Georges Brassens (© W B MUSIC CORP, 1952)


Un bon petit diable à la fleur de l'âge

La jambe légère et l'oeil polisson

Et la bouche plein' de joyeux ramages

Allait à la chasse aux papillons


Comme il atteignait l'orée du village

Filant sa quenouille il vit Cendrillon

Il lui dit "Bonjour, que Dieu te ménage"

J't'emmène à la chasse aux papillons



Cendrillon ravie de quitter sa cage

Met sa robe neuve et ses botillons

Et bras d'ssus bras d'ssous vers les frais bocages

Ils vont à la chasse aux papillons


Ils ne savaient pas que sous les ombrages

Se cachaient l'amour et son aiguillon

Et qu'il transperçait les coeurs de leur âge

Les coeurs de chasseurs de papillons


Quand il se fit tendre, ell' lui dit "j'présage

Qu' c'est pas dans les plis de mon cotillon

Ni dans l'échancrure de mon corsage

Qu'on va t'à la chasse aux papillons"


Sur sa bouche en feu qui criait: "sois sage"

Il posa sa bouche en guis' de bâillon

Et c'fut l'plus charmant des remue-ménage

Qu'on ait vu d'mémoire de papillons



Un volcan dans l'âme, ils revinrent au village

En se promettant d'aller des millions,

Des milliards de fois et même davantage

Ensemble à la chasse aux papillons


Mais tant qu'ils s'aim'ront, tant que les nuages

Porteurs de chagrins, les épargneront

Il f'ra bon voler dans les frais bocages

Ils n'f'ront pas la chasse aux papillons

Pas la chasse aux papillons

The Butterfly Hunt

Georges Brassens

(translation by John Coleman Bennett)

A pleasant little devil with life in full swing

Nimble in his limbs and mischief in his eye

A mouth full of joyful, jail bound ramblings

Went on a hunt to catch butterflies.


As he reached the edge of a distant hamlet

Spinning in his sin he met Snow White

He said to her “Hello, may some god spare you

And permit you to go hunt for butterflies.



Snow White excited to leave her sleepy cage

Put on a new dress and boots thigh high

Arm and arm they skipped to the distant garden maze

They’re going on a hunt for butterflies.


Unbeknownst to them, Cupid and his arrow

hiding in the shade of the Fall tree line

Keen to make his mark on a love so narrow

Beating fast as hearts of butterflies.


When he waxed romantic, she was quick to realize

So, speaking with a grin she asked he justify

How searching in her blouse would help them edgewise

Help them on their hunt for butterflies.


Be patient, she said, with a finger to his lips

And he mimicked as she did with an impish, wry smile.

The charm to sit in silence is a momentary ellipse

A pause as brief as thoughts of butterflies.



Volcanoes in their eyes as they rejoined the village

A pledge to make the trek millions, billions more times

Enduring love’s measured meters and mileage

Until they had caught every butterfly.


As long as there’s a fifth of their fate attraction

May love like theirs fly freely in the countryside

May anyone one of use find even a fraction

Of what they found out there…on their hunt for butterflies.

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