Thursday 15 January 2009

Il est bel et bon (Pierre Passereau)

A jolly 16th-century chanson in archaic language.

Il est bel et bon, commère, mon mari.He is handsome and good, dear, my husband.
Il estoit deux femmes toutes d'ung pays,There were two women, both from the same area,
disanst l'une à l'aultre – “Avez bon mary.”saying one to the other, “got a good husband?”
Il ne me courrousse, ne me bat aussy.He doesn't abuse me, or beat me either.
Il faict le mesnaige,He does the housework,
il donne aux poulailles,he gives (food) to the poultry
et je prens mes plaisirs.and I take my pleasure.
Commère, c'est pour rireDear, it’ll make you laugh
Quand les poulailles crient:to hear the cries of the poultry:
Petite coquette, (co co co co da), qu'esse-cy?You little charmer, what’s this?

Commère was used by a woman to (or about) a female friend who she liked chatting with. Now it means more of a gossip. I’ve used dear as a placeholder; a restrained englishwoman probably wouldn't feel the need to say anything at all, and an ebullient american might well say girlfriend. Unfairly, as ever, the male equivalent compère is still quite a positive word for a friend.

Co co co co da is great fun to sing. It picks up the first syllable of coquette, and when the altos and basses sing it under the sopranos’ and tenors’ petite coquette then it sounds as if the poultry are clucking away. But perhaps there's also an echo of cocu or cuckold – maybe je prens mes plaisirs (I take my pleasure) means more than just sitting around chatting.