Song Of The French Partisan

Français Version française
Here is a page devoted to a historical song covered by Leonard Cohen in his album "Songs from a Room": "The Partisan", sometimes called "The song of the French partisan".

This song is actually an adaptation from "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.

I suggest our French visitors click on the following RA to hear Claude Dauphin give his historical comments about this song's story.

Intro by Claude Dauphin, Real-Audio G2

From LP "L'encyclopédie sonore : Les chants  de la Résistance et de la Libération"; Librairie Hachette 320 E 847.

This song was really a survivor of the German bombing, and became a popular tune in the 50's in French-speaking countries.

It is now less famous than its almost homonymous "Chant des partisans" by J. Kessel and M. Druon. This last one was notably made "re-fashionable" by the André Malraux's speech during the transfer of Jean Moulin' ashes in the Panthéon of Paris.

Finally, Leonard Cohen gave the "complainte" a new life in 1969 with his "Partisan". Hy Zaret was the first to apply for a copyright (via the editor Raoul Breton) for the d'Astier-Marly song.

He heard the song on the BBC waves; maybe the radio broadcast didn't give him the name of the lyric writer, but only Marly's name, who wrote the music and gave the original performance. It's probably for this reason that only Zaret (for the English adaptation) and Marly (for music and French lyrics) were credited.
Finally, and as it can be read in Anna Prucnal 's LP "Avec Amour", the actual credit is:

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.

Chants de la Résistance

Original song by Anna Marly, Real Audio G2
More about Anna Marly here.
(thanks to Philip Buchanan)

We can also note that a stanza is missing in Zaret's version compared to the original (see the bottom of this page for the complete lyrics of the two versions).
Here is the missing stanza:

Personne ne m'a demandé
D'où je viens et où je vais
Vous qui le savez
Effacez mon passage.

Joan Baez sings it in her performances:

        No one ever asks me
        Who I am or where I'm going
        But those of you who know
        You cover up my footprints.

Leonard said that the song was often sung during the youthcamps he participated in.
We learn in some biographies that Leonard knew this song by reading The People's Songbook. in 1950 at Sunshine Camp.
Later, Leonard said "Une idée curieuse s'est un jour formée en moi, je me suis dit que les nazis ont été renversés par la musique ".

Leonard's cover was a great success in the 70's and, as far as I know, two other singers followed in the rebirth of this song: Isabelle Aubret (see section "Reprises") and Esther Ofarim, winners of the "Eurovision contest".

Aubret's record claimed this strange legacy, forgetting history: "Isabelle Aubret sings the international successful song of Leonard Cohen."

Esther Ofarim's version is the most beautiful I've heard, especially with regard to the musical arrangements, which gave us back the "wind blowing through the graves" and wartime sirens.

Joan Baez gave us her version in 1972 ("Come From the Shadows", A&M records AMLH 64339). The album title was picked from the last stanza of our song.
Joan's version is greatly modified, especially by reintroducing the missing stanza

No one ever asks me
Who i am or where i'm going
But those of you who know
You cover up my footprints.

Leonard sung it during his Warsaw gig in 1985, the last verse in French ("effacez mon passage").

Joan also changed one verse, changing "I took my gun and vanished" to "Into the hills I vanished"; it is not surprising that our "Peace struggle passionnaria"  threw that "gun" away.

A stanza is added at the end of the song, in Greek, a hommage to Greek democrates, and especially Mélina Mercouri. The song is in fact dedicated to her.
Real Audio G2 : Joan Baez

Copyright : 1974

Real Audio G2 : Leonard Cohen, Varsovie

Unrecorded album

Buffy Sainte-Marie's version  (LP 30 cm Vanguard 519 034, "She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina") is more "native", wilder than Joan's. As in Marly's original performance, listeners feel as if they are sitting in front a firecamp, with a lonely partisan and her guitar. Buffy brings the whistle back to the beginning and the end of the song, and also makes some changes in the

J'ai changé cent fois de nom
J'ai perdu femme et enfants
Mais j'ai tant d'amis
J'ai le ciel entier
instead of "La France entière".
This is a mighty mystic vision of the partisan; thus, Buffy envisioned the whole of humanity in the fight of the partisan's struggle, whether male or female.
I've changed my name so often
I've lost my man and children...
instead of "my wife"....
Real Audio G2 : Esther O'Farim
Real Audio G2 : Buffy Ste-Marie
Real Audio G2 : Anna Prucnal
Real Audio G2 : Mouloudji

45 tours "The Partisan"

"Partisan" as a name has no gender, neither in French nor English. After all this "complaint" is more a human song than a warrior song; and indeed, in all countries oppressed, resistance is not a matter of sex, but includes both men and women. And a woman was chosen to be the historical singer.

So, "The Partisan", in an humbler way than "Le chant des partisans", finally comes to us via a road full of the stuff legendary songs are made of. After surviving the fate of an oral tradition tune (thanks to RAF agility), the song then had to survive an orphanage, recovering its first authors, not always credited and still obscured.

It has a nature less martial, less  bloody than "Le chant des partisans". The title itself shows the difference: "Le chant des partisans" is a song for a corpse, an army, a song of emulation (a  remix song based on it had great success in 1998 in France "Motivés,Motivés") which was created to help in the unification of the many French Resistance networks (explaining the choice of this song as a hommage to Jean Moulin, the leading of National Council of Resistance).
"La Complainte du Partisan" is on the contrary a song of a human being confronted with his own pain, hope and certitudes; it's a song that poets and singers want to appropriate for they find in it a breathe that might in a way justify their work. And they don't miss this opportunity, you read and heard it! Joan, Buffy, and many other folksingers, got out of it what they put in it in the first place.

Daiano, the Italian coverist, used in the same way the song, singing "The whole Italy is beside me" instead of "The whole France is beside me".

Real Audio G2 : Daiano (the whole song)
Real Audio G2 : Daiano (this stanza only)
I'm quite disturbed by this fact: the last verse of the original version ("Nous rentrerons dans l'ombre" which means "We'll get into the shadow") has been translated to "Then we'll come from the shadows", which is exactly the opposite of the original sense. If we assimilate the resistant people's situation as fighting in the shadow, it's true that the original version is strange: one awaits more the end of the shadow, when victory is theirs as suggested in Zaret's translation.

In fact, I believe there is some degree of resignation in fighting in the "Complainte", resignation in being chosen for a cyclic struggle. When the liberation is obtained, the fighters will be drowned in the advancing joy, and these same fighters freely chose to return to the shadow, the anonymity, to polish their weapons for the next liberation struggle. The Partisan lives in the shadow and is a part of it.
He has become there a vigilante man, accepting his anonymity to be part of the people ready to fight.

Real Audio : Leny Escudero

We can also understand this duel return to victory and to shadow as the result of an unbearable amount of suffering for the fighters: who can hear their suffering now when eveyone wants to feast, and for what purpose anyway?
Fights remembered, physical sequels, death visions...will surely be maintained in "the shadow" for those who were subjected to these sufferings because they are now too aware of what mankind can do.

Somehow a warrior's syndrome is to lose his fighting spirit when everyone around revives his feasting spirit. Peacetime allows sad records to invade interior life, and returning to the shadow is a protection, a way to give one's suffering some space to dilute there.

I really don't understand Zaret's choice of this unfaithful translation for this last verse.

Marc Gaffié.


Les Allemands étaient chez moi     
On m'a dit résigne toi                    
Mais je n'ai pas pu                         
Et j'ai repris mon arme.
Personne ne m'a demandé
D'où je viens et où je vais
Vous qui le savez
Effacez mon passage.

J'ai changé cent fois de nom         
J'ai perdu femme et enfants         
Mais j'ai tant d'amis                   
Et j'ai la France entière.  
Un vieil homme dans un grenier
Pour la nuit nous a cachés
L¹ennemi l'a su (Les Allemands l'ont pris)
Il est mort sans surprise.

Hier encore nous étions trois         
Il ne reste plus que moi                 
Et je tourne en rond                      
Dans la prison des frontières.
Le vent souffle sur les tombes
La liberté reviendra
On nous oubliera
Nous rentrerons dans l'ombre

Paroles : Emmanuel d'Astier de La Vigerie  dit "Bernard".
Musique : Anna Marly
écrit en 1943, à Londres.


When they poured across the border           
I was cautioned to surrender                      
This I could not do                                    
I took my gun and vanished.
I have changed my name so often
I've lost my wife and children
But I have many friends
And some of them are with me                        

An old woman gave us shelter                   
Kept us hidden in the garret                      
Then the soldiers came                            
She died without a whisper.
There were three of us this morning
I'm the only one this evening
But I must go on
The frontiers are my prison.                     

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing              
Through the graves the wind is blowing  
Freedom soon will come                         
Then we'll come from the shadows.
Les Allemands étaient chez moi
Ils me dirent "résigne toi"  
Mais je n'ai pas pu
J'ai repris mon arme.

J'ai changé cent fois de nom                      
J'ai perdu femme et enfants                     
Mais j'ai tant d'amis                             
J'ai la France entiere.
Un vieil homme dans un grenier
Pour la nuit nous a cachés
Les Allemands l'ont pris
Il est mort sans surprise.

Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing
Through the graves the wind is blowing
Freedom soon will come
Then we'll come from the shadows.

Paroles : Hy Zaret, adapté d¹Emmanuel d¹Astier de la Vigerie (a.k.a. "Bernard").
Musique : Anna Marly

Esther OFarim Buffy Sainte-Marie

Anna Prucnal Joan Baez

Copyright : Marc Gaffié, France, 1999.
Translation : Marc Gaffié and Marie Mazur.
Any other use prohibited

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