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Recently, my house has been afflicted by un ver d’oreille. The literally definition of this term is an “earworm.” But, don’t worry—this post isn’t about those nasty little insects. Rather, in French, un ver d’oreille is a catchy tune that you just can’t get out of your head.
It began with my mother-in-law (ma belle mère) singing a song to my son to put him to sleep. She said it was one of her mother’s favorite songs, and that she would sing it to her as a child. It has the melody of a child’s lullaby, but it is a really lovely and simple tune that was written by Guy Béart in 1958 for a French film of the same name—L’Eau vive. Every time my mother-in-law would finish singing, my son would shout “Encore! Encore!” (Again! Again!). And, now, my house is filled with the tune—we hum it, sing it outright, and translate the lyrics into English.
Guy Béart is one of the best-known French auteurs-compositeurs-interprètes (singer-songwriters). “L’Eau vive” might be one of his most famous songs, and it is considered a classic of the French chanson style, but he had many more successes including “L’Agent double” (“The Double Agent”) and “L’Ane” (“The Donkey”). The shy Béart famously disagreed with Serge Gainsbourg over the status of songwriting in the arts—with Gainsbourg calling it un art mineur (“a minor art”), while Béart believed in the power and artistic integrity of songwriting. As Le Figaro wrote for his obituary in 2015, “Il était certainement le grand chanteur français le plus sous-estimé de tous.” (“He was certainly the greatest underestimated French singer.”) Today, Béart is known for his most famous song L’Eau vive, as well as for being the father of French actress Emmanuelle Béart.
You can listen to the song and read the French lyrics (and their translation) below. Maybe it will become your ver d’oreille, too!
Ma petite est comme l’eau, elle est comme l’eau vive
Elle court comme un ruisseau, que les enfants poursuivent
Courez, courez vite si vous le pouvez
Jamais, jamais vous ne la rattraperez
Lorsque chantent les pipeaux, lorsque danse l’eau vive
Elle mène mes troupeaux, au pays des olives
Venez, venez, mes chevreaux, mes agnelets
Dans le laurier, le thym et le serpolet
Un jour que, sous les roseaux, sommeillait mon eau vive
Vinrent les gars du hameau pour l’emmener captive
Fermez, fermez votre cage à double clé
Entre vos doigts, l’eau vive s’envolera
Comme les petits bateaux, emportes par l’eau vive
Dans ses yeux les jouvenceaux voguent à la dérive
Voguez, voguez demain vous accosterez
L’eau vive n’est pas encore à marier
Pourtant un matin nouveau à l’aube, mon eau vive
Viendra battre son trousseau, aux cailloux de la rive
Pleurez, pleurez, si je demeure esseulé
Le ruisselet, au large, s’en est allé.
Running Water (English translation courtesy of mayasurya)
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