14 juillet 2003
the Bastille...it's July 14!
Aux armes, citoyens!
The taking of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789 was the spark that
ignited the French Revolution, leading to the birth of democracy in
France. This holiday is celebrated all across France and its
territories...and by Francophiles around the world. Much to their
dismay, some tourists coming
to Paris to see the Bastille are disappointed to find no prison, rather
just a traffic
circle with a monument in the middle. The place was burned to the ground
as part of
the revolutionary activities.
Traditional Parisian Bastille Day events
include an impressive military parade down the Champs Elysées, with
fireworks, street dances, and of course good eating. From Marseille to
la Manche, all across France, the holiday is celebrated in much the same
way, including the annual nationwide traffic jam as everyone takes off
La Marseillaise, one of the world’s most rousing tunes, is
inextricably linked to France’s Bastille Day heritage. At sporting events,
military parades, at all ceremonial events (and in great movies --
Casablanca?), one can’t help jumping to one’s feet to
join in when those opening notes ring out. Do you know the words to the
song? Do you know how they translate? We thought you might want a little
background and to see what's really being sung.
This gorily glorious French national anthem was written in April 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget
de Lisle. The French army at
Strasbourg had just gotten the news that war had been
declared against the Prussians, so a song was needed to stir the troops;
the original title was “Battle Song for the Army of the
Rhine.” Rouget de Lisle stepped in.
The Bastille is only a
but Bastille Day celebrations live on!
du Ministère des Affaires étrangères - Service photographique
"March of the Marseillais"
| Stories vary on how the battle
song evolved to la Marseillaise and the French Revolution, but
according to one, a student from Marseille brought the song back home with him,
where it was sung at a banquet with much gusto.
A few weeks later it came back to
with the volunteer revolutionaries from Marseilles bellowing its refrain as they stormed the
Tuileries. It was declared the French national anthem on July
As with many populist songs, several versions floated around over the
decades. In 1830, during another of the French revolutions, Hector Berlioz
wrote an opera of that name, including a stirring arrangement of the anthem
as a tribute to Rouget de Lisle, who had been disgraced as a royalist.
Finally in 1887, a group of musicians and
politicians got together and were able to agree on today’s
If you’d like to see the entire seven verses
and hear a rousing version of this inspiring tune, visit the French
diplomatic website. A translation of the first few verses are shown
below in two versions, one liberal, the other direct.
Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L'étendard sanglant est levé,
L'étendard sanglant est levé.
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Egorger vos fils et vos compagnes !
Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons !
Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons !
Ye sons of freedom wake to glory
Hark! Hark! What myriads bid you rise!
Your children, wives and grandsons hoary
Behold their tears and hear their cries.
Behold their tears and hear their cries.
Shall hateful tyrants mischief breeding
With hireling hosts a ruffian band
Of fright and desolate the land
When peace and liberty are bleeding.
To arms, to arms, ye brave!
Th’avenging sword unsheath!
March on, march on
All hearts resolved
On liberty or death.
translation to English
Forward, children of the Fatherland!
The day of glory has arrived
Tyranny’s bloody standard has been raised against us.
Tyranny’s bloody standard has been raised against us
Do you hear those ferocious soldiers bellowing in the
They’re coming right intoy our embrace
To slaughter your sons and daughters.
Form up your battalions
Come on, let’s march!
To water our furrows
With tainted blood.
Yes, Americans are different
Oui, les américains sont aussi particuliers...
Remember last month’s discussion about Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong: Why We Love France but not the French?
Well, we've discovered a few items recently released in France
that attempt to tackle the subject from a French perspective. This past
spring, Pascal Baudry, a Frenchman from Berkeley CA, published Français & Américains:
L'Autre Rive. In this
book, Baudry, who has lived in the
since 1985, interprets Americans, their culture and how they respond to
and differ from the French, reportedly from a French perspective. This
was written for a French audience in French, the online reviews are
enthusiastic, so we’re
waiting for our copy to arrive to get a closer look.
different note but equally anticipated for our library is the June 2003
re-issued version of “112 Gripes About the French” which has been
translated and retitled Nos
Amis les Francais. The original booklet was put out by the U.S.
Department of the Army in 1945 as a Q&A explanation of quirky French
ways for American GIs. This French version’s publicity material calls
it a “véritable et véridique
joyau” -- a true and authentic gem. The content, according to a
recent piece in the International Herald Tribune, attempts to answer
such questions as “Why are the French so mercenary? Why do they eat
frogs? Why do they drink so much?” etc. Hmmm…can’t wait to read
the rest of the questions, never mind the answers.
The gap between
the French and Americans will always be a subject of much discussion,
and now we can examine its depth and breadth from both sides of the
that divides. Encore, vivent les
Happy Bastille Day!
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