Saturday, 18 April 2009

Forêts Paisibles (Jean-Philippe Rameau)

Louis Fuzelier wrote the lyrics for Rameau's ballet-opera Les Indes Galantes. In 1736 they added a fourth part Les Sauvages; in North America, a Spaniard and a Frenchman compete for the love of Zima, daughter of a native chief. She prefers one of her own people, so everybody joins in the Dance of the Peace Pipe to music which Rameau was recycling for at least the third time. And then they sing this song to the same music. Hey, it's a great tune.

Forêts paisibles,Peaceful forests
Jamais un vain désir ne trouble ici nos coeurs.Never (may) a vain desire trouble here our hearts.
S'ils sont sensibles,If they are sensitive,
Fortune, ce n'est pas au prix de tes faveurs.Fortune, it is not at the price of your favours.
Dans nos retraites,In our retreats,
Grandeur, ne viens jamais offrir tes faux attraits!Greatness, never come to offer your false attractions!
Ciel, tu les as faitesHeaven, you have made them
Pour l'innocence et pour la paix.For innocence and for peace.
Jouissons dans nos asiles,Let’s enjoy our refuges,
Jouissons des biens tranquilles!Let’s enjoy peaceful things.
Ah! peut-on être heureux,Ah! Can one be happy
Quand on forme d'autres voeux?When one has other wishes?

Jamais actually means always, but when it's associated with a ne then the two together mean never.

This short extract is a sort of rondeau. Two soloists sing the first verse as a duet, and the same material is then expanded to four parts by the chorus. The soloists sing the second and third verses to variations on the original music, but after each verse the chorus repeats its treatment of the first verse.

I mention all this because I am/was one of the soloists when Gay Abandon sing/sang this in London (4 May 2009) and Leeds (13 June).


  1. Someone borrowed your translation on YouTube, apparently. I blogged the video clip here. Thanks for the translation, and for the background on the libretto. It really is a great tune, and I love the effect of S’ils sont sensibles.

  2. This is great! I'm showing the wonderful film "the Triumph of Love" to my students next week: will be fun to have the lyrics (and then to be able to tell them what, in English, they say)--thanks so much.
    (If by any chance you have missed this film: rush out, as it is a total joy, and this song fills the entire conclusion.)

  3. Correction, jamais does mean never (unless perhaps you are making French overtures, in which case you may hope it doesn't) and the double negative always become single in English.

    1. No, « jamais » means « ever », as in « à jamais » (for ever).

      It is « ne ... jamais » which means « n...ever ».

      Now, in daily speech, today, many people simply drop the « ne ».

    2. No, « jamais » means « ever », as in « à jamais » (for ever).

      It is « ne ... jamais » which means « n...ever ».

      Now, in daily speech, today, many people simply drop the « ne ».

    3. I suspect that in English "never" is a contraction of "not ever", and therefore analogous to ne..... jamais. Which supports the equivalence jamais = ever. However I would be more convinced if someone could give a colloquial speech example of "jamais" used to mean "ever". The example of "a jamais" meaning for ever is not conclusive.
      I suspect that the general meaning of jamais in modern colloquial french is "never" and that "a jamais" is a relic of past usage. Of course it's disconcerting (almost Orwellian) when a word changes its meaning to the exact opposite but it does happen. In the US "tabling" a motion means taking it up for consideration, while in the UK it means the exact opposite.

    4. "Without negation, [the word "jamais"] indicates any time, be it in the past or future." [= ever]

      The above is from Larousse's online dictionary,* which gives the following example:
      "Si jamais je te revois[...]" [= If I ever see you again...]

      When accompanied by the negative particle "ne" (the adverb "not" in English), and in some other cases, it means never.
      Note that "ne" can be, and usually is, attached to the verb or another word in the sentence, not to the word "jamais" itself, as in the following example, also by Larousse:
      "Elle n'en a jamais rien su." [She never knew anything.]


  4. I use Your Text as "..." hier:
    Thanks for Your Translation, with best regards, Marina Forthofer-Safiullina.

  5. "it's a great tune"... Are you kidding? This is gorgeous music!

  6. Can someone help me interpret the lyrics? If who is sensitive?

  7. I think the translation is mistaken. The second sentence means: "If they (our hearts) are sensitive (receptive), Fortune (Success, Riches, Glories), it is not TO the VALUE of your favours.