Question About The Partisan Song

General discussion about Leonard Cohen's songs and albums
Posts: 19
Joined: Fri Jul 01, 2016 6:12 pm
Location: Upper U.S.

Question About The Partisan Song

Postby Alishibaz » Sat Jul 02, 2016 11:58 am

Hello. I'd like to ask a rather trivial question about The Partisan Song and part of its translation from French to English.

It is a rather silly question because I want to ask people if they may have an opinion as to what was in Mr. Cohen's mind when he wrote the lyric, "An old woman gave us shelter, kept us hidden in the garret".

I was curious why he would have used the word "garret" (which means attic (usually a very shabby attic)) when he could have just as well used the word "attic". It wouldn't have changed the flow of the song at all and would have made it more understandable to most English speaking people.

But I would never have dreamed of asking such a silly question except for one thing. And that is that later in the song he writes, "Un vieil homme dans un grenier" (An old man, in an attic).

The French word "grenier" translates to "attic". So, I'm just curious if anyone may have an opinion why he just didn't use "attic" in the first instance.

Please understand this is a very idle question. I love this man's work and I love The Partisan Song very much. So, I'm not trying to nitpick. I'm just curious and idle.
Last edited by Alishibaz on Sat Jul 02, 2016 5:29 pm, edited 1 time in total.
User avatar
Posts: 1241
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 6:08 pm

Re: Question About The Partisan Song

Postby Hartmut » Sat Jul 02, 2016 3:30 pm

Let's see:

- A garret is smaller than an attic. And, as you said, shabbier. Maybe that's important for the atmosphere of that verse.

- More importantly: The writer needed a word that kind of rhymes with "shelter".

- Mr. Cohen didn't write the English version of the lyrics; Hy Zales did. Neither did LC write the French lyrics, by the way.
Posts: 138
Joined: Sun Aug 24, 2008 3:52 pm

Re: Question About The Partisan Song

Postby 199Dan » Sat Jul 02, 2016 4:02 pm

Thanks for the question and thanks for the answer.........
As we in the USA celebrate the 4th of July let me thank Leonard Cohen for his song "Democracy" .
Play it loud and often. And hope the ideas come to pass.
Posts: 2140
Joined: Tue May 03, 2005 12:32 am

Re: Question About The Partisan Song

Postby Steven » Sat Jul 02, 2016 4:22 pm

Hi Alishibaz,

Welcome to the forum. Great question. To add to Hartmut's response, "garret" derives from an old French
word "garite." That word, I've just read, includes "watchtower" among its meanings. There are multiple
places in the Leonard Cohen song catalog where towers are found. Towers allow for observation and
distance. When both are in an appropriate and beneficial range, they're invaluable to artists (literary
and otherwise). The word would have resonated with Leonard Cohen. The "writer's garret" is a classic
location for creation.

As an aside, "The Partisan" has wonderful lyricism. The lyricism might not be diminished much, if at all,
in the hands of a skilled conveyer presenting the lyrics as a recitation.
Posts: 19
Joined: Fri Jul 01, 2016 6:12 pm
Location: Upper U.S.

Re: Question About The Partisan Song

Postby Alishibaz » Sat Jul 02, 2016 5:23 pm

Thank you all very much for taking the time to answer. I was very impressed with your depth of knowledge.

Hartmut, I had no idea LC did not write the lyrics to this song (both English & French). Of course the lyrics could have come from any number of other sources who wanted to pay tribute to the French partisans (as well as all other partisans) who defied the Nazis at huge personal and global costs. Of course, that also includes people who have made the ultimate sacrifice for freedom throughout our history. I never forgot what Nathan Hale said about that. But finding the courage to live that way is an entirely different matter - far more difficult - almost impossible.

It makes perfect sense that many other writers of all kinds of work would have wanted to pay tribute to all the partisans from history. This song almost brings me to tears whenever I hear it. I sometimes imagine myself in the role of a French citizen in 1939 and 1940 and try to imagine how I would behave. It wounds me to realize that I would never be able to summon the great courage that all those people found. Not just the partisans, but also all the other men and women who may have been too old to engage in many physical acts but who chose selfless acts like hiding partisans in their attics.

There are a few of LC's songs that I think of as my favorites. But I am recently new to experiencing his music and I just can't find the words to express how profoundly his music moves me. I just wish I had explored his music in depth long ago. Like many of you, I expect I first heard his music in 1967 with the release of his first album. But I never really seriously explored his music until recently. It so so amazingly wonderful. What a fabulous talent!

In 1967 I was a student at McGill University in Montreal. There was a young girl who was the lover of my roomate and I was in love with her. But it was unrequited love and I had to remain silent since she was the lover of my roomate and he was also my best friend. Every morning we all woke up by playing one side of The Songs of Leonard Cohen. The 20 minutes (or so) was all the time we had to eat breakfast, brush our teeth and leave for class. Now I listen to some of LC's music most every day and it brings back some of the most joyful as well as the most painful memories of my life. I recently read a quote from LC in which he said words to the effect that a life lived with a loving partner is terribly painful but a life lived without one is so much worse. I really should try to find his exact words because it seems very wrong to paraphrase his quote when I could find the exact quote.

I wonder if anyone who reads this post may know where I can find that quote?

But the point I'm trying to make is that his music and his words move me like almost nothing else every has. Oh Darn! I was almost certain the original quote t was on his Wikipedia page. But I can't seem to find it now.

In conclusion, I want to say that my favorite LC songs seem to be either about the love between a man and woman or about freedom and the price that must be paid over and over again to keep it. It's like Dan said about LC's song, "Democracy".

Thank you all again.

Edited to add: I have seen that quote again in the signature of one of the members here. Unfortunately, I was not in any position to write it down when I last saw it or remember it. I suppose I figured it would be easy to find again. But I figured wrong. However, it was indeed a magnificent quote from LC and I'm quite certain that I will find it again - especially if anyone reading this post recalls that signature or the name of the member who uses it as their signature. It is a most beautiful quote and I would be so very happy if anyone happens to know just what it is and can point us to it somehow. Thank you so much for your attention.
Last edited by Alishibaz on Tue Jul 19, 2016 11:09 pm, edited 6 times in total.
Posts: 830
Joined: Mon Jun 22, 2009 1:49 am
Location: Saint Malo Bretagne

Re: Question About The Partisan Song

Postby Vicomte » Sun Jul 03, 2016 1:23 am

Too much read in to the word hidden in the "garret" in this instance it is simply hidden in the loft

"La complainte du partisan", written in London during 1943, by Emmanuel D'Astier de la Vigerie (called "Bernard" in the French Resistance) and Anna Marly.

Original : La complainte du Partisan
paroles: Emmanuel d'Astier de la Vigerie also undernamed "Bernard"
musique: Anna Marly

Leonard 's cover : The (song of the French) Partisan
paroles : E. d'Astier de la Vigerie, adaptation Hy Zaret
musique : Anna Marly
Ed. Raoul Breton.
I guess it all started for me sometime around Christmas 1967 and now, goodness me, it's.........2017 and fifty years later.
No one ever listens to me. I might as well be a Leonard Cohen record.
Neil from The Young Ones
Posts: 138
Joined: Sun Aug 24, 2008 3:52 pm

Re: Question About The Partisan Song

Postby 199Dan » Sun Jul 03, 2016 6:45 am

So. may I say once again...thanks for the insight ( :) )
User avatar
Jean Fournell
Posts: 222
Joined: Thu Jun 20, 2013 4:09 pm
Location: Provence

Re: Question About The Partisan Song

Postby Jean Fournell » Sun Jul 03, 2016 5:59 pm

Alishibaz, thanks a lot for asking that question it is one of these eye-openers indeed!

For a long time I've been unable to understand Hy Zaret's "adaptation" of the song. I was close to interpreting the term "adaptation" in the sense of "poor rendering", like "Joan Baez 'adapted' Suzanne", or, for that matter, "Joan Baez 'adapted' the forth line of The Partisan".

(Original: "J'ai repris mon arme" I picked up my weapon
Hy Zaret: "I took my gun and vanished"
Joan Baez: "Into the hills I vanished"
Please don't misunderstand me, I deeply respect Joan Baez and her pacifism. But although I'm a Conscientious Objector myself, I don't know what I would have done in the 1940s, if I had been born some time between 1890 and 1920. And I don't care to find out...
What I dislike is the "adaptation" of other people's work to our own idiosyncrasies.)

Hy Zaret's version seemed a haphazard collection of strange renderings to me, and I got blinded (by "vieil homme old woman", and especially by the last stanza) to the key that you are offering with your "grenier garret" question.

(The last stanza goes:

"Le vent souffle sur les tombes
La liberté reviendra
On nous oubliera
Nous rentrerons dans l'ombre."

The wind is blowing through the graves
Liberty once will come back
They'll forget us then
We'll return to the shadows.

This stanza must be understood along with a line from the "Chant des Partisans", music also by Anna Marly:
"Ami, si tu tombes, un ami sort de l'ombre à ta place."
Friend, if you fall, a friend comes from the shadows in your place.)

Now Hartmut gives a clue:
Hartmut wrote:Maybe that's important for the atmosphere of that verse.
What I had not seen, up to now, might become clearer if we remember that "grenier" basically means "granary", "grenier à blé" being wheat-loft, and "grenier à foin" hay-loft.

"La Complainte du partisan" is a song as seen from rural France of the 1930s-1940s (no tractors grain and hay were essentials).
And as I see it now, Hy Zaret (born in New York City) is not on a line of "traduttore-traditore" (translator-traitor), but he is adapting, transposing, this rural picture to a townspeople worldview.
That's why a loft, vast enough for the Résistance fighters to hide in and escape from, becomes a garret.
That explains the other differences, too.

To put it in a nutshell:
Your question showed me that the original picture, resembling Ernest Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls", is being adapted by Hy Zaret so as to somewhat resemble "The diary of Anne Frank".
And coherently so.
(Maybe I'm learning some English after all...)

Thanks again!
Therefore know that you must become one with the bow, and with the arrow, and with the target
to say nothing of the horse.

... for a while
... for a little while...

(Just a filthy beggar blessing / What happens to the heart)

Return to “Leonard Cohen's music”

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 2 guests