‘If You Go Away’ by Jacques Brel: the pleasure of melancholy

The song ‘Ne me quitte pas’ was written by the Belgian singer and songwriter Jacques Brel in 1958. This was before even my time, but I grew to appreciate this very opposite of a matinee idol with a compelling voice. His songs are perfect for tragic heroes and tragic heroines everywhere, even if the tragedy is ‘only’ that of young love. Wikipedia describes him as:

Belgian singer-songwriter who composed and performed literate, thoughtful, and theatrical songs that generated a large, devoted following in France initially, and later throughout the world. He was widely considered a master of the modern chanson. Although he recorded most of his songs in French, he became a major influence on English-speaking songwriters and performers such as David BowieLeonard CohenMarc Almond and Rod McKuen. English translations of his songs were recorded by many top performers in the United States, including Ray CharlesJudy CollinsJohn Denver, the Kingston TrioNina SimoneFrank SinatraScott Walker, and Andy Williams. In French-speaking countries, Brel was also a successful actor, appearing in ten films. He also directed two films, one of which,Le Far West, was nominated for the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1973. Jacques Brel has sold over 25 million records worldwide, and is the third best-selling Belgian recording artist of all time.

‘Ne me quitte pas’ was translated by Rod McKuen for an anglophone audience:

If you go away on this summer day
Then you might as well take the sun away
All the birds that flew in the summer sky
When our love was new and our hearts were high
When the day was young and the night was long
And the moon stood still for the night bird’s song

If you go away, if you go away, if you go away

But if you stay, I’ll make you a day
Like no day has been or will be again
We’ll sail on the sun, we’ll ride on the rain
We’ll talk to the trees and worship the wind
Then if you go, I’ll understand
Leave me just enough love to hold in my hand

If you go away, If you go away, If you go away

Ne me quitte pas
Il faut oublier
Tout peut s’oublier
Qui s’enfuit déjà
Oublier le temps
Des malentendus
Et le temps perdu
A savoir comment
Oublier ces heures
Qui tuaient parfois
A coups de pourquoi
Le coeur du bonheur

Ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas, ne me quitte pas

But if you stay, I’ll make you a night
Like no night has been or will be again
I’ll sail on your smile, I’ll ride on your touch
I’ll talk to your eyes, that I love so much
Then if you go, I’ll understand
Leave me just enough love to hold in my hand

If you go away, if you go away, if you go away

If you go away, as I know you must
There’ll be nothing left in this world to trust
Just an empty room, full of empty space
Like the empty look I see on your face
Oh, I’d have been the shadow of your shadow
If it might have kept me by your side

If you go away, if you go away, if you go away

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About layanglicana

Author of books on Calcutta, Delhi and Dar es Salaam, I am now blogging as a lay person about the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. I am also blogging about the effects of World War One on the village of St Mary Bourne, Hampshire.
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