We’re not here for you to upbraid

Boris VianA very loose translation of a once better known Boris Vian lyric

Reblogged from Zeteo: The Journal of Interdisciplinary Writing


One nice morning in July, the alarm
At dawn it breaks the calm
“My doll,” I said, “better shake a leg”
Today’s the today, not to be missed
Get to the boulevard without delay
To see parading the Zanzibar King
But suddenly the police — we’re turned away

And I replied

We’re not here for you to upbraid
We’re just here to see the parade
We’re not here to be waylaid
We’re just here to see the parade
Supposing everyone stayed at home
How’d that look, do you think
Let us watch the show in peace
Or, next time, it’ll be the Queen
And, believe you me, we won’t be seen.


To prop’ly enjoy the national day
My best friend and a comfy dive
Wine that’s cheap, wine that’s good
Heavenly nectar from vine to hood
Hardly was the drinking done
At home, I thought, continue the fun
Only to be threatened by a rolling pin

And I replied

We’re not here for you to upbraid
We’re just here to play some games
We’re not here for you to dissuade
We’re just here to be friends again
Supposing everyone kept to themselves
Where’s the fun to be had in that
Step aside, get down the glasses
Don’t be an ass or the next good day
I’ll find somewhere else to play.


My wife’s fury was of such extent
That we were no longer exis-tent
Midnight at the heavenly gates
Where Saint Peter held all the dice
A few of the elect he lets go by
But when we approach—nary a sigh
Again the critique, the turning away

And I replied

We’re not here for you to upbraid
We’re here for a taste o’ paradise
We’re not here to be sent away
We’re stone dead; it’s time to play
Supposing you chased all the fools away
Might be kind of an empty place
God be with you, but since we’re scorned
We’re checkin’ out Satan and his horns
And down there—what a nice surprise!


Speak up for yourself while there’s still time
Could that be the moral of these lines?
Speak up for yourself while there’s still time
And then everything’ll be just fine!


Notes & Links

French native Boris Vian (1920 – 1959) was, among other things, a writer, poet, musician, and singer. Under the pseudonym Vernon Sullivan he wrote popular/controversial parodies of crime fiction. Under his own name, he wrote fiction noted for its neologisms, wordplay, and surrealistic plots. A leading jazz musician (trumpeter) and critic, he contributed to the popularity of jazz and of American jazz musicians in Paris, and wrote a number of popular songs, including  “Le Déserteur” (The Deserter), an anti-war song, and “On n’est pas là pour se faire engueuler,” the song translated above. The photograph above is of Vian.

YouTube has a recording of Vian singing and playing “On n’est pas là . . . .” I read the text and prepared my translation before ever hearing the song, and I must say that on the page the words have a harder edge which is either belied or made more cynical by the jollity of the music hall arrangement.

Link to a copy of the original lyrics, in French.

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