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Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Gory "La Marseillaise" -- Why ?

Americans, in their national anthem, seem to worry most of all whether their flag is "yet" to be seen. The English hope that their Queen will be "happy" (and, of course, glorious). But the French, the French, they sing about bloody banners, about throats being slit, and, most dramatically, they hope that the "impure" blood of (unnamed) enemies will fertilize their countryside.

This is what I find puzzling: the French, judged in any other way, have as humane, as liberal, as tolerant a public life as any country on earth. But how did these bloody, anachronistic, sadistic sentiments remain in their official national anthem over the centuries ?

It isn't that the gore has been unnoticed. More than a hundred years ago, Jean Jaurès, father of the French Left, protested against it. But now in 2009 the text is still with us, an official monument to ancient hatreds and ancient rancor. Why ?
Allons enfants de la Patrie, Come, children of the Fatherland,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé ! The day of glory has arrived!
Contre nous de la tyrannie, Against us, tyranny's
L'étendard sanglant est levé, (bis) Bloody banner is raised, (repeat)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes Do you hear in the countryside
Mugir ces féroces soldats ? Those ferocious soldiers roaring?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras They come up to your arms
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes ! To slit the throats of your sons and wives!

Aux armes, citoyens, To arms, citizens,
Formez vos bataillons, Form your battalions,
Marchons, marchons ! Let's march, let's march!
Qu'un sang impur May an impure blood
Abreuve nos sillons ! Water our furrows!