Le Déserteur (The Deserter)

par (by) Boris Vian et (and) Harold Berg

Monsieur le Président,
je vous fais une lettre,
que vous lirez peut-être,
si vous avez le temps.

Je viens de recevoir
mes papiers militaires
pour partir à la guerre
avant mercredi soir.

Monsieur le Président
je ne veux pas le faire,
je ne suis pas sur terre
pour tuer de pauvres gens.

C'est pas pour vous fâcher,
il faut que je vous dise,
ma décision est prise,
je m'en vais déserter.

Depuis que je suis né,
j'ai vu mourir mon père,
j'ai vu partir mes frères,
et pleurer mes enfants.

Ma mère a tant souffert,
qu'elle est dedans sa tombe,
et se moque des bombes,
et se moque des vers.

Quand j'étais prisonnier
on m'a volé ma femme,
on m'a volé mon âme,
et tout mon cher passé.

Demain de bon matin,
je fermerai ma porte
au nez des années mortes
j'irai sur les chemins.

Je mendierai ma vie,
sur les routes de France,
de Bretagne en Provence,
et je crierai aux gens:

refusez d'obéir,
refusez de la faire,
n'allez pas à la guerre,
refusez de partir.

S'il faut donner son sang,
allez donner le vôtre,
vous êtes bon apôtre,
monsieur le Président.

Si vous me poursuivez
prévenez vos gendarmes
que je n'aurai pas d'armes
et qu'ils pourront tirer.
Mr. President
I'm writing you a letter
that perhaps you will read
If you have the time.

I've just received
my call-up papers
to leave for the front
Before Wednesday night.

Mr. President
I do not want to go
I am not on this earth
to kill wretched people.

It's not to make you mad
I must tell you
my decision is made
I am going to desert.

Since I was born
I have seen my father die
I have seen my brothers leave
and my children cry.

My mother has suffered so,
that she is in her grave
and she laughs at the bombs
and she laughs at the worms.

When I was a prisoner
they stole my wife
they stole my soul
and all my dear past.

Early tomorrow morning
I will shut my door
on these dead years
I will take to the road.

I will beg my way along
on the roads of France
from Brittany to Provence
and I will cry out to the people:

Refuse to obey
refuse to do it
don't go to war
refuse to go.

If blood must be given
go give your own
you are a good apostle
Mr. President.

If you go after me
warn your police
that I'll be unarmed
and that they can shoot.
Boris Vian (1920-1959), a French engineer by education, gifted with amazing talents, was at any one time a poet, a novelist, a musician, a jazz trumpeter, a singer, an actor; he also was a pacifist, an anti-power genius with une sensibilité à fleur de peau. He is remembered for tantalizing finesse, sensitivity, creativity, and originality. From L'Ecume des Jours and L'Arrache-cœur, to L'Automne à Pékin, Boris Vian exemplifies humaneness and solidarity. To listen to a beautiful rendition of Le Déserteur, try Serge Reggiani or Mouloudji, two famous anti-militarist singers.

To find more about Boris Vian, please visit:
http://messel.emse.fr/~pedelon/ (in French)
Fond'action Boris Vian (in French)

For the purists and other aficionados, Peter, Paul and Mary have had a slightly modified version of the song in their repertoire, that was originally interpreted by Mouloudji (1922-1994) in 1954. Peter sang it in solo and in French. The song was censored/banned in France during the Indochina War. It is also said that the last two verses of the song originally read, "que je serai en arme/et que je sais tirer" (that I'll be armed/and I know how to shoot) but that it was changed to reflect the pacifist and anti-militarist character of the song.

Swans' English translation of Le Déserteur: Gilles d'Aymery & Jan Baughman.

(Added on February 19, 2007) -- Ed. Jim Rothschild of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, sent us this interesting and helpful information: "The song was actually co-written by Boris Vian and Harold Berg. (The story of how that happened is pretty interesting too.) Harold Berg was a good friend of mine. He died this past January. He left me his music royalties regarding this song. In addition, I have the original hand-written sheet music, written in his own hand with the lyrics from 1954. The last line of the song is indeed et qu'ils pourront tirer. So... I have also heard of the possible alternative ending, but the evidence seems to indicate that it was much more pacifistic all along."

(Added on May 21, 2007) -- Have a look at the original music sheet of the song.

Published December 10, 2001
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