Georges Brassens – Les copains d’abord

There is no easy translation of this song’s title, so I offer two: if ‘Friends First’ is the most plausible ship’s name, the expression doesn’t quite carry the familiar intimacy of copains – translated as ‘pals’, ‘chums’, ‘buddies’ or ‘mates’ in various contexts (not to mention ‘guys’ and ‘dawgs’ on the other side of the pond). ‘Mates’ has my preference, but ‘chums’ is a close second. ‘Mates first’, then, but to respect the original cadence, make that ‘Mates first of all’, although this may sound like a paltry excuse: in much of the song, the cadence takes a beating, starting with line 1.
All this to say I’m not too happy about this particular translation. The génie de la langue knows no foreign twin.

Cela s’écoute sur YouTube.

Les copains d’abord – 1964
Mates first of all

Non, ce n’était pas le Radeau
De la Méduse ce bateau
Qu’on se le dise au fond des ports
Dise au fond des ports
Il naviguait en pèr’ peinard
Sur la grand-mare des canards
Et s’app’lait Les Copains d’Abord
Les Copains d’Abord

Ses fluctuat nec mergitur
C’était pas d’la littérature
N’en déplaise aux jeteurs de sort
Aux jeteurs de sort
Son capitaine et ses mat’lots
N’étaient pas des enfants d’salauds
Mais des amis franco de port
Des copains d’abord

C’étaient pas des amis de luxe
Des petits Castor et Pollux
Des gens de Sodome et Gomorrhe
Sodome et Gomorrhe
C’étaient pas des amis choisis
Par Montaigne et La Boétie
Sur le ventre ils se tapaient fort
Les copains d’abord

C’étaient pas des anges non plus
L’Évangile, ils l’avaient pas lu
Mais ils s’aimaient tout’ voil’ dehors
Toutes voil’ dehors
Jean, Pierre, Paul et compagnie
C’était leur seule litanie
Leur credo, leur confiteor
Aux copains d’abord

Au moindre coup de Trafalgar
C’est l’amitié qui prenait l’quart
C’est ell’ qui leur montrait le nord
Leur montrait le nord
Et quand ils étaient en détresse
Qu’leurs bras lançaient des S.O.S.
On aurait dit des sémaphores
Les copains d’abord

Au rendez-vous des bons copains
Y’avait pas souvent de lapins
Quand l’un d’entre eux manquait à bord
C’est qu’il était mort
Oui, mais jamais, au grand jamais
Son trou dans l’eau n’se refermait
Cent ans après, coquin de sort !
Il manquait encore

Des bateaux j’en ai pris beaucoup
Mais le seul qui ait tenu le coup
Qui n’ait jamais viré de bord
Mais viré de bord
Naviguait en père peinard
Sur la grand’ mare des canards
Et s’app’lait Les Copains d’Abord
Les Copains d’Abord

No it wasn’t the Raft
Of the Medusa, that boat
Let it be said in harbours everywhere
In harbours everywhere
It sailed along indolently
On the great duck pond
And was named Friends First
Friends First

Its fluctuat nec mergitur
Didn’t make it as literature
With all due respect to sorcerers
To sorcerers
Its captain and its sailors
Weren’t ruddy bastards
But FOB friends
Mates first of all

They weren’t upmarket friends
Little Castors and Polluxes
Sodom and Gomorrah men
Sodom and Gomorrah men
They weren’t the sort of chaps
Montaigne or La Boétie would befriend
Thick as thieves they were
Mates first of all

They weren’t angels either
The Gospel they hadn’t read
But they liked their mates full sail ahead
Full sail ahead
John, Peter, Paul and company
That was their only litany
Their creed, their Confiteor
Mates first of all

At the least inkling of disaster
It was friendship that went on watch
Friendship it was showed them true North
Showed them true North
And when they were in distress
When their arms waved SOSs
They looked like semaphores
Mates first of all

Whenever those good mates gathered
Few ever failed to make it
When one of them was missing on board
It was because he was dead
Yes, but never, never ever
Did death close its waters over him
One hundred years later, what the devil!
He was still missed

Boats I’ve been aboard many

But the only one that lasted out
The one that never did U-turns
Never did U-turns
Sailed along indolently
On the great duck pond
And was named Friends First
Friends First


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