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Edith Piaf

Édith Piaf as featured in a weblog named Love happens blog, by Koket (Photo credit: Love happens blog, by Koket)

Let us first return to Guillaume Apollinaire’s poem “Marie,” set to music by Léo Ferré in order to introduce Édith Piaf’s Les trois cloches.

1. Vous y dansiez petite fille (This is where you dance as a little girl)/ 2. Y danserez-vous mère-grand (Will you dance there as a grandmother or Is this where you’ll dance as a grandmother)/ 3. C’est la maclotte qui sautille (maclotte is a old dance) (This is maclotte [an old dance] hopping about)/ 4. Toutes les cloches sonneront (All the bells will ring)/ 5. Quand donc reviendrez-vous Marie  (So when will you come back Marie or When will you be back Marie)

Marie: the bells

As indicated in Marie, the Words to a Love Song, Guillaume Apollinaire‘s imagery is extremely rich. It evokes the masques, as in a masquerade or the commedia dell’arte. There are also references to other poems, such as François Villon‘s Ballade des dames du temps jadis (neige d’antan or snows of yesteryear) and Pierre de Ronsard‘s famous Sonnet pour Hélène (carpe diem or seize the day). Marie is a fine example of intertextualité, texts referring to other texts. Love is compared to a disease and life, to a rose, etc.

However, we are now emphasizing the fourth line of the first stanza of Guillaume Apollinaire’s “All the bells will ring” (octosyllabic [8]) poem: Toutes les cloches sonneront (Tou-tes-les-clo-ches-son-ne-ront): All the bells will ring.

I have singled out this particular line because of the role bells play in the life of many human beings, Christians in particular. Traditionally, in the Western and Eastern Church, bells rang on three of the most important events in life: birth (baptism), marriage and death. Marriage is a legitimate substitute to life, both brief and eternal, because human beings can have children. This allusion is confirmed by the words “petite fille (little girl) and “mère-grand” (grandmother) (lines 1 & 2). As a child, Marie could dance, but will she dance as a grandmother?

The Three Bells

Édith Piaf and les Compagnons de la chanson sang “Les trois cloches,” a Swiss song written in French by Jean Villard Gilles. Piaf and les Compagnons de la chanson performed The Three Bells, at the beginning of their American tour, 1945-1946.


In Les trois cloches, a child is born in a village deep within the valley, on a starry night (nuit étoilée). He has chubby cheeks (joufflu) and is tender and pink. He will be baptized the following day (demain: tomorrow) and will be named Jean-François Nicot.

Bells are ringing and, from echo to echo, they announce the birth of Jean-François and welcome this new soul. He is a flower yet to bloom under the light (day). He is like a flame freshly lit, fragile. He will require protection, care and love.

When he marries la douce Élise, before God in the old church, Jean-François Nicot is only 19 years old. Élise, whom he is marrying, is as white as the blossoming flowers of an apple tree.

Bells are ringing. It is Jean-François’ wedding day. “One heart, one soul, and forever,” says the priest. “Be a pure flame rising and proclaiming the greatness of your love.”

In a village, deep within the valley, many days and many nights have passed. Time has fled. On a starry night, a heart falls asleep, François has died… For all flesh is like the grass. It is like a wildflower, corn, ripe fruit, bouquets and wreaths. Alas, everything dries up…

A bell is tolling. Jean-François’ allotted days on earth are over. His life is our life. We are born, we have a family and we return to eternal life.

The following link takes you to the French poem and its English translation.  This performance is difficult to access.


Les Trois Cloches

Village au fond de la vallée
Comme égaré, presqu’ignoré (lost)
Voici qu’en la nuit étoilée (the starry night)
Un nouveau-né nous est donné (A newborn)
Jean-François Nicot il se nomme (he is named)
Il est joufflu, tendre et rosé (chubby cheeks)
À l’église, beau petit homme, (At church, little man [pronounced pe-ti-thom])
Demain tu seras baptisé…

Une cloche sonne, sonne (A bell rings)
Sa voix d’écho en écho (Its voice)
Dit au monde qui s’étonne: (people are astonished)
C’est pour Jean-François Nicot” (It’s)
C’est pour accueillir une âme (to welcome a soul)
Une fleur qui s’ouvre au jour (opens)
A peine, à peine une flamme (Barely)
Encore faible qui réclame (weak, asks for)
Protection, tendresse, amour…

Village au fond de la vallée
Loin des chemins, loin des humains (Far from roads)
Voici qu’après dix-neuf années (after nineteen years)
Coeur en émoi, le Jean-François (His heart fluttering)
Prend pour femme la douce Élise (Marries Élise)
Blanche comme fleur de pommier (apple tree)
Devant Dieu, dans la vieille église (Before God, in the old church)
Ce jour ils se sont mariés… (On that day they married)

Toutes les cloches sonnent, sonnent
Leurs voix d’écho en écho (Their voices)
Merveilleusement couronnent (Marvelously crown)
La noce à François Nicot (François’ wedding)
“Un seul coeur, une seule âme”, (Only one heart, only one soul)
Dit le prêtre, “et pour toujours (Says the priest, forever)
Soyez une pure flamme (Be a pure flame)
Qui s’élève et qui proclame (That rises)
La grandeur de votre amour.”

Village au fond de la vallée
Des jours, des nuits, le temps a fui (time has fled)
Voici qu’en la nuit étoilée
Un cœur s’endort, François est mort… (A heart falls asleep, François has died)
Car toute chair est comme l’herbe (For all flesh is like the grass)
Elle est comme la fleur des champs (the wildflower)
Épis, fruits mûrs, bouquets et gerbes, (Corn, ripe fruit, bouquets, wreaths)
Hélas tout va se desséchant…  (all dries up)

Une cloche sonne, sonne (A bell tolls)
Elle chante dans le vent (Sa voix d’écho en écho)
Obsédante et monotone (Dit au monde qui s’étonne)
Elle redit aux vivants(It tells the living again) (La mort de…) (The death of…)
“Ne tremblez pas coeurs fidèles
Dieu vous fera signe un jour! (God will call you one day) 
Vous trouverez sous son aile (You will find under His wing)
Avec la vie éternelle
L’éternité de l’amour…” (Eternal love)

I send all of you my kindest regards.

Marie Laurencin, 1924

Marie Laurencin, 1924

© Micheline Walker
14 July 2015