On joue au couteau

I have a few songs by Coeur de pirate, a female French Canadian singer-songwriter, and recently, a few lines of “Corbeau” (Raven — an omnivorous bird considered an ill omen due to its propensity to feed on flesh, also regaled as an intelligent trickster) caught my ear. C’est dur d’être libre comme toi? Is this song about libertines? Or, rather, the girls who fail at the attempt? The ability to share a warm, cozy bed with anyone else, with impunity, is so ingrained in francophone culture that this actually took me by surprise. Not that the French are necessarily more promiscuous than Americans — but somehow, it’s different. In America, there’s at least the idea that this might be a bad idea, socially, morally, whatever; there is something, after all, to rebel against. In France, the rebellion is over. Reason is king, and Reason can find no logic truly objecting, given the state of nature. Every single French girl I talked to on the subject seemed to think there was something wrong with her if she couldn’t just keep it casual if need be.

And yet she can’t help it. She wants more. Even if she’s convinced the guy is all wrong and makes her life more chaotic. It’s not a rebellion so much as a confusion, a secret, best left unexpressed. And yet, when it is expressed, it garners many female responses along the lines of: “j’avoue j’ai pleuré en ecoutant cette chanson” (I swear, I cried listening to this song).

I decided to look up the lyrics, but had trouble with some of them, and nobody seems to have translated them except with extreme clumsiness. Here’s my stab at it, which was actually an interesting challenge:

Et deux par deux, sans compter nos morts,
Qu’on laisse derrière des ébauches fanées, des secrets de carrière
Et trois par trois, dans nos cœurs essoufflés,
Des secousses se forment, on réfléchit plus tard, maintenant il faut rêver

And two by two, without counting our casualties,
That we abandon behind faded outlines and career secrecies —
And three by three, in our wheezy hearts,
Shock absorbers form… We’ll reflect on that later. For now, a new start.

Et je ne sais plus à quoi penser, c’est dur d’être libre comme toi
Et je ne sais plus à qui penser, c’est fini, rhabille toi.

And I don’t know what to think anymore — it’s hard to be free, like yourself.
And I don’t know who to consider anymore — it’s finished, so dress yourself.

Et deux par deux, on avale nos mots.
C’est dur d’oublier ce que l’on connait et ce qui imprègne nos peaux.
Et trois par trois, nos coeurs d’la partie.
On joue au couteau et on peut partager le même lit.

And two by two, we swallow our words.
It’s hard to forget what we’ve known, what passed into our very skin.
And three by three, our hearts disjoined,
We play like knives and split the same bed.

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