It rained incessantly on Brest that day
And you walked smiling
Radiant delighted streaming wet
In the rain
It rained incessantly on Brest
And I came across you on Siam Street
You were smiling
And I smiled too
You whom I did not know
You who did not know me
Still remember that day
Do not forget
A man was sheltering under a porch
And he called out your name
And you ran to him in the rain
Dripping enchanted blossoming,
And you flung yourself into his arms
Remember that Barbara
And do not be mad if I address you as tu
I say tu to all those I love
Even if I have seen them only once
I say tu to all who love each other
Even if I do not know them.
Do not forget
This rain wise and happy
On your happy face
On this happy city
This rain on the sea
On the arsenal
On the boat Ushant
What a bloody farce this war.
What has become of you now
Under this rain of iron
Of fire of steel of blood
And the one who enclosed you in his arms
Is he dead or disappeared or indeed still living
It rains constantly in Brest
As it was raining before
But this is not the same and everything is ruined
This is a rain of mourning terrible and desolate
Now it is not even the storm
Of iron of steel of blood
But merely of clouds
That simply die like dogs
Dogs that disappear
In the water flowing over Brest
And will rot away
In the distance far from Brest
Of which nothing remains.
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest ce jour-là
Et tu marchais souriante
É panouie ravie ruisselante
Sous la pluie
Il pleuvait sans cesse sur Brest
Et je t’ai croisée rue de Siam
Et moi je souriais de même
Toi que je ne connaissais pas
Toi qui ne me connaissais pas
Rappelle-toi quand même ce jour-là
Un homme sous un porche s’abritait
Et il a crié ton nom
Et tu as couru vers lui sous la pluie
Ruisselante ravie épanouie
Et tu t’es jetée dans ses bras
Rappelle-toi cela Barbara
Et ne m’en veux pas si je te tutoie
Je dis tu à tous ceux que j’aime
Même si je ne les ai vus qu’une seule fois
Je dis tu à tous ceux qui s’aiment
Même si je ne les connais pas
Cette pluie sage et heureuse
Sur ton visage heureux
Sur cette ville heureuse
Cette pluie sur la mer
Sur le bateau d’Ouessant
Quelle connerie la guerre
Qu’es-tu devenue maintenant
Sous cette pluie de fer
De feu d’acier de sang
Et celui qui te serrait dans ses bras
Est-il mort disparu ou bien encore vivant
Il pleut sans cesse sur Brest
Comme il pleuvait avant
Mais ce n’est plus pareil et tout est abimé
C’est une pluie de deuil terrible et désolée
Ce n’est même plus l’orage
De fer d’acier de sang
Tout simplement des nuages
Qui crèvent comme des chiens
Des chiens qui disparaissent
Au fil de l’eau sur Brest
Et vont pourrir au loin
Au loin très loin de Brest
Dont il ne reste rien.
This translation is based on, modified and adapted from on-line sources who have not been credited. I read and rejected the widely-known translation by Lawrence Ferlinghetti because I felt that it was not sufficiently faithful to or respectful of Prévert’s pure and innocent original.
This beautiful evocative poem by the lovely poet Jacques Prévert speaks so feelingly of one swift fleeting moment, in WW2 in the midst of an extended downpour. An ordinary pedestrian glimpses a woman as she runs to meet her lover.
The woman smiles at the stranger – they do not know each other, but they do not need to – because so much can sometimes be known about a stranger without a word being exchanged.
She smiles at him – why? Probably because when one is happily in love, smiles and laughter are as irrepressible as breathing.
Prévert knows only that the woman’s name is ‘Barbara’ – because he hears her lover call out to her.
The rain that has gone on and on all day in the city of Brest cannot dampen the rapt intensity of feeling that she exudes, and which has made her so unforgettable to Prévert. When he recalls this moment, perhaps many years later, he is full of anxious questions. – What has become of this woman? What has become of the man – probably a soldier – she was racing to meet?
When Prévert asks these questions of her – but obviously to himself – he uses ‘tu’ used in French to address close friends and relatives and people with whom one is intimate, rather than the formal ‘vous’ reserved for strangers and non-intimates. He asks, touchingly, that she not be offended by his presumption, because, he says, he addresses in this intimate form all those he loves – and all those who love each other.
Prévert was gay, but he is sweeping into his inclusive nonjudgmental embrace all lovers, with whom he himself shares a deep bond. We also know how he feels, because most of us who read this poem will love Barbara too, and share Prévert’s anxiety about her fate.
This was around 1940 during WW2 when the city of Brest in the Brittany peninsula was bombed and the bridges destroyed and the city reduced to rubble by the allies in their effort to get rid of the deeply entrenched German invaders. The Germans surrendered the city to the allies in 1944.
Like Prévert, we too have to come to terms with the awful, sickening ‘not-knowing’ that comes with the aftermath of terrible and destructive events. We have to allow ourselves to wonder, without the slightest comfort of even the flimsiest assurance, about the fate of people and animals – lovers, women, soldiers, dogs – whose lives are suddenly swept away and who are never heard of again.
This feeling of intimate familiarity and concern that can flare up in us in response to catching a glimpse of the radiance of love in a passing stranger, is something that Prévert has captured with great fidelity and total simplicity.
He has wrapped up his heart in this small lucid moment and handed it to us – who are also strangers.
Though the name of Jacques Prévert is not very well know by non-Francophones, his beautiful poem ‘Autumn Leaves’ (Les Feuilles Mortes) written in 1945 and set to music by Joseph Kosma, has been made popular by dozens of singers and musicians such as Jo Stafford, Edith Piaf, Julianne Greco, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra, Andrea Bocelli, Yves Montand and Chet Baker.
The English lyrics of this song were written by Johnny Mercer.