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Although Jacques Brel is seen as an iconic figure in French popular culture, his origins were more complex. He was a (defiantly]) francophone Belgian brought up in Brussels, a city which was transforming itself from a Dutch-speaking city to a French-speaking one, but his family hailed from West Flanders, not Wallonia, and he spent much time as a child with grandparents in a small village "tegen Menen", as he described it in a much shown TV interview. Several of his best known songs are evocations of the polders and dikes, including this paean to the north wind which whips across the flat land in a Flemish winter.

Mon père disait
C'est l'vent du nord
Qui fait craquer les digues
À Scheveningen
À Scheveningen, petit
Tellement fort
Qu'on ne sait plus qui navigue
La mer du nord
Ou bien les digues
C'est le vent du nord
Qui transperce les yeux
Des hommes du nord
Jeunes ou vieux
Pour faire chanter
Des carillons de bleus
Venus du nord
Au fond de leurs yeux

My dad used to say it's the north wind that bursts the dikes at Scheveningen. So strong that you don't know if you're sailing over the North Sea or over the dikes. It's the north wind that cuts through the eyes of the men of the north, young or old, and sounds the peals of northern blue in the depths of their eyes

Mon père disait
C'est le vent du nord
Qui fait tourner la tête
Autour de Bruges
Autour de bruges, petit
C'est le vent du nord
Qu'a raboté la terre
Autour des tours
Des tours de Bruges
Et qui fait qu'nos filles
Ont l'regard tranquille
Des vieilles villes
Des vieilles villes
Qui fait qu'nos belles
Ont le cheveu fragile
De nos dentelles
De nos dentelles

My dad used to say that it's the north wind that turns heads around Bruges. It's the north wind that scours the land around the spires of Bruges and gives our girls the peaceful look of the old towns, that gives our beauties hair as fragile as our lace.

Mon père disait
C'est le vent du nord
Qu'a fait craquer la terre
Entre Zeebruges
Entre Zeebruges, petit
C'est le vent du Nord
Qu'a fait craquer la terre
Entre Zeebruges et l'Angleterre
Et Londres n'est plus
Comme avant le déluge
Le poing de Bruges
Narguant la mer
Londres n'est plus
Que le faubourg de Bruges
Perdu en mer
Perdu en mer

My dad used to say that it's the north wind that split the earth between Zeebrugge and England - London is no longer as it was before the flood, the fist of Bruges taunting the sea - London is now just a suburb of Bruges lost at sea, lost at sea.

Mais mon père disait
C'est le vent du nord
Qui portera en terre
Mon corps sans âme
Et sans colère
C'est le vent du nord
Qui portera en terre
Mon corps sans âme
Face à la mer
C'est le vent du nord
Qui me fera capitaine
D'un brise-lames
Ou d'une baleine
C'est le vent du nord
Qui me fera capitaine
D'un brise-larmes
Pour ceux que j'aime

But my dad used to say, it was the north wind that would bring his corpse back to the shore, lifeless and without anger - it was the north wind that would bring his corpse back to the shore, lifeless and face down in the sea - it was the north wind that would promote him to captain, of a breakwater or of a whale - it was the north wind that would make him captain of something to cut through the tears of those he loved.


Crude prose translation, which misses quite a lot of wordplay, by Albert Herring

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