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It has occurred to your devoted servant that many if not all of the pomes he has translated, from Spanish, Welsh, Russian or whatever foreign tongues, have been on the subject of love and its close companion, sex.

This has led to the idea of working towards a presentation, show or set with the brilliantly witty title (I’d be a fool to deny it) of Lust in Translation. Yes, take a while to admire the clevertude.

And this brought to the foggy plains of memory a project, equally doomed to the back burner, of translating, perhaps even performing (if learning a few guitar chords were not beyond him), some of the works of the great French troubadour, George Brassens. Interpreters of his Belgian counterpart Jacques Brel, far too histrionic and mannered for the present writer, are cinque cents a douze, but poor Georgie boy seems terribly underappreciated.

The song that had presented the greatest challenge was his Complainte Des Filles De Joie (as embedded above), which was adopted by French working girls as an unofficial anthem. It is built round the idea that the euphemistic terms (parole, parole — words, words, or maybe ‘it’s true, it’s true’) are ironically less than apt — the ‘girls of joy’ don’t laugh all that often.

Now, many of his lyrics rely on street slang, and no two languages have quite the same set of evasive names for ‘indelicate’ subjects, so the original idea was to completely rewrite it, in a more anglicised style, abandoning all those repetitions for a start. But then, drawing on the excellent example of Jake Thackray, perhaps the only Englishman to make a success of coming close to the French style of song, and a frequent translator of Brassens (and Brel), an attempt has been made (taking so long this blog entry is already nearly three hours late) to render something close to the original style and even, in a few places, a translation of the actual content.

No doubt it still needs a lot of work, and it will be interesting to see how it fits into the overall scheme of things. It does sit alongside Sor Juana’s Hombres Necios (see Hastag Yo Tambien on May 1 ’19), from 300 years earlier, as another scathing attack on male hypocrisy, as long as we sandwich it with hilarious Welsh poems about failing to get laid, and a few more romantic pieces.

So this is the first draft. See what you think (warning: fucking explicit lyrics)

The Complaint of the Ladies of Pleasure

Behold the ‘ladies of the night’ [x2]
The ‘working girls’ who sell delight [x2]
And all of the other nice names you’ve heard
It’s only words, it’s only words
Like all of the other twee names you’ve heard

The French, they call them filles de joie
With typical je ne sais quoi
Yet joy is so rarely their reward
It’s only words, it’s only words
No, joy is so rarely their reward

Night and day they walk the street
It really buggers up their feet
The cost of their shoes is quite absurd
It’s only words, it’s only words
There’s no tax rebate for the costs incurred

Not making love, just joyless fucks
Giving blowjobs really sucks
With unwashed gonks who smell like turds
It’s only words, it’s only words
With unwashed gonks who smell like turds

At least they never feel rejected
If you can’t keep your mast erected
It’s only an income stream deferred
With soothing words, with soothing words
It’s why payment up front is still preferred

The fallen women of the town
But who the fuck has dragged them down?
The moral picture’s far from blurred
It’s only words, it’s only words
To me the morality’s far from blurred

The bourgeoisie, they call them ‘whores’
The coppers chase them out of doors
And always that constant risk of ‘sterds’
It’s only words, it’s only words
Like ‘pox’ and ‘clap’ and other sterds

Oh, every day they’re there to ride
So many times they play the bride
|But for them the chimes are rarely heard
It’s only words, it’s only words
Those wedding bells are rarely heard

Come all you punters, johns and tricks —
With all your poxy, oozing pricks
Never enjoyed but just endured
It’s only words, it’s only words
You’re never enjoyed you are just endured

Oh but for fortune, my dear brother
That tart could well have been your mother
So think before you laugh or curse
“It’s only words, it’s only words”
Just think before you just make things worse

25/7/2019

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