from David Vincent in Shrewsbury, UK: Le temps des cerises

July 10 Following my piece on ‘Cherry Ripe’ last week, my friend Marie contacted me about the French national song on the same topic.  She writes:

‘I was interested to see your post on cherries and the popularity of the song “cherry ripe”.  In France too we have a very popular song about cherries. “Le temps des cerisesA sweet and wistful song about the fickleness of girls and the transient nature of the cherry season. It’s a lament for lost love and maybe the lost ideals of the Revolution as well. It was composed by Jean Baptiste Clément in 1866 and was popular during the time of the Commune rebellion. In fact, Clement who supported the Commune, later dedicated it to a nurse helping the wounded on the barricades during the “semaine sanglante” in 1871 when the French government pitilessly overthrew the Commune.

The red colour of the cherries became a symbol for the shed blood of the Commune martyrs and the nostalgic longing for the cherry season was equated with a yearning for social change. It is well known even now and was often sung by left leaning singers and  heard at socialist meetings. Barbara Hendricks sang it at François Mitterrand’s memorial ceremony in 1996 in front of the Opera Bastille. I imagine a large part of the crowd would have sung along and been sad.

People of my age think of their grandparents when they hear it and feel a lump in their throat.’

These are the verses:

Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises (Quand nous en serons au temps des cerises)
Et gai rossignol et merle moqueur
Seront tous en fête
Les belles auront la folie en tête
Et les amoureux du soleil au cœur
Quand nous chanterons le temps des cerises
Sifflera bien mieux le merle moqueur

Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises
Où l’on s’en va deux cueillir en rêvant
Des pendants d’oreille…
Cerises d’amour aux robes pareilles (vermeilles)
Tombant sous la feuille (mousse) en gouttes de sang…
Mais il est bien court le temps des cerises
Pendants de corail qu’on cueille en rêvant !

Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises
Si vous avez peur des chagrins d’amour
Évitez les belles!
Moi qui ne crains pas les peines cruelles
Je ne vivrai pas (point) sans souffrir un jour…
Quand vous en serez au temps des cerises
Vous aurez aussi des chagrins (peines) d’amour !

J’aimerai toujours le temps des cerises
C’est de ce temps-là que je garde au cœur
Une plaie ouverte !
Et Dame Fortune, en m’étant offerte
Ne pourra jamais calmer (fermer) ma douleur…
J’aimerai toujours le temps des cerises
Et le souvenir que je garde au cœur !

And here is Le temps des cerises sung by Yves Montand in all its lovely melancholy.  Do listen: