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Last week, we went over Serge Gainsbourg’s beloved song “Le poinçonneur des Lilas.” Now, let’s take a look at the lyrics and the word play the famous chanteur/compositeur wrote.
The catchy réfrain of this song begins: “J’fais des trous, des p’tits trous, encore des p’tits trous.” (“I make holes, little holes, and more little holes.”) This refers, of course, to le boulot du poinçonneur (the job of the ticket puncher). The word trou (hole) is repeated over and over again, which mimics the tediousness of the man’s job, punching holes in tickets over and over again. But Gainsbourg couldn’t resist some covert social commentary with the following two lines: “Des trous d’seconde classe / Des trous d’première classe.” It doesn’t matter whether the hole is punched in a first- or second-class ticket; after all, they are just holes!
The first stanza also features some word play: “J’suis l’poinçonneur des Lilas / Le gars qu’on croise et qu’on n’ regarde pas / Y a pas d’soleil sous la terre / Drôle de croisière / Pour tuer l’ennui j’ai dans ma veste / Les extraits du Reader Digest / Et dans c’bouquin y a écrit / Que des gars s’la coulent douce à Miami.” (I’m the ticket puncher at Lilas station / The guy you pass in front of and don’t look at / There isn’t any sun underground / What a funny little trip / To kill the boredom I keep in my vest / Some excerpts from Reader’s Digest / And in the book is written / a story about these guys who have it good in Miami.) Already, Gainsbourg begins some word play here, using the word croise from croiser (to cross) to show how many people pass in front of him without ever looking at him. Several lines later, he uses the same root word in croisiére, which literally means “a cruise,” although listeners will take it to mean a “trip.” Of course, there is another level of irony/wittiness/play here. Le poinçonneur himself never goes on trips, although he encounters people who probably are. His “trip” is the one that leads underground, where y a pas d’soleil (there is no soleil), and upon which he encounters all of these various people.
This theme is repeated in a later stanza: “Parfois je rêve je divague / Je vois des vagues / Et dans la brume au bout du quai / J’vois un bateau qui vient m’chercher” (Sometimes I dream, I rave / I see waves / And from the mist at the end of the quay / I see a boat that’s come to find me.) Once again, Gainsbourg plays off the root word for vague here. But he is also completing an image of a voyage that he fantasizes of, which will take him away from the tedium of his life.
The last stanza ends a bit more morbidly: “Y a d’quoi d’venir dingue / De quoi prendre un flingue / S’faire un trou, / un p’tit trou, un dernier p’tit trou / … / Et on m’mettra dans un grand trou / Où j’n’entendrai plus parler
d’trou plus jamais d’trou / De petits trous de petits trous de petits trous.” (It’s enough to drive me crazy / To take a gun / And to make a hole / A little hole, the last little hole / and they will put me in a big hole / Where I’ll never again have to hear anyone speak of holes / little holes, little holes, little holes.) Of course, le trou in this last stanza becomes plus sinistre, and the imagery switches from one of fantasy and escapism, to the final voyage of death.
This might make you think of this catchy, little song in quite a different way. Until next time!
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