Ever wondered about the “Chant des partisans” and its lyrics?

Ever wondered about the “Chant des partisans” and its lyrics?

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated November 7, 2022

From its infancy halfway through World War II, the “Chant des partisans” has become a symbol of an indomitable spirit against evil. It was first and foremost a political song on a mission. Just like “La Marseillaise”, the official national anthem written during the French Revolution, the “Chant des partisansplayed its part by being an inspiring call to arms meant to spur on the French resistance during World War II. But how did it come about and fulfill its purpose? That’s what you are about to learn…

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What’s the story behind this chanson de la résistance?

To talk about the “Chant des partisans and its lyrics, you first need to set the scene: Following the capitulation in 1940 against the German army, France found some fighting spirit in the French resistance. To this day, the rebellious movement often symbolizes bravery against all odds. De Gaulle, the leader of Free France, the government-in-exile based in London at the time, continues to be a hero and model to French politicians and their parties. In fact, for some French people, he’s not so dissimilar from Winston Churchill in Great Britain. Now that you have this historical context, let’s discover when and how the “Chant des partisanswas born.

How did the “Chant des partisans come to be?

The “Chant des partisans was created in two stages. While in London, Anna Marly first composed the music in 1941, to accompany Russian lyrics of her own. The French text was written a couple of years later in May 1943, by two famous French writers, Joseph Kessel and his nephew Maurice Druon. The same month, the song was broadcast for the first time on Radio-Londres, the French Resistance radio station based in London. It quickly gained in popularity and became the unofficial anthem of the resistance, at a time when “La Marseillaise”, the actual national anthem, was banned by the German occupier. The two songs were sung together in honor of French resistance fighters killed in action.

What’s the legacy of the “Chant des partisans”?

The “Marseillaise of the Resistance”, as it is sometimes known, was played at key moments in recent French history, such as after de Gaulle announced the D-Day landings on the BBC on the 6th June 1944 or in the midst of the Battle of Paris on the 19th August 1944. Even after the end of the war, the song continued to symbolize the fight against the Nazis during France’s darkest hour. André Malraux referred to the song in his speech when Jean Moulin’s ashes were transferred to the Pantheon of Paris in 1964. In a tragic twist of fate, the resistance hero had been arrested in June 1943, about a month after the song was first broadcast.

On 17th July 2000, on the eve of the 60th anniversary of the appel du 18 juin, the speech de Gaulle made on 18th June 1940 on the BBC radio to call for French resistance, Anna Marly famously sang the “Chant des partisans” alongside the Choir of the French army. She is one of many who have performed the song over the decades.

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Who sang the “Chant des partisansover the years?

Unsurprisingly, Anna Marly (or Anna Betulinskaya as per her real name) was the first singer to sing the “Chant des partisans, which seems only fitting considering her own life story. The cabaret performer and guitar player was born in Saint-Petersburg in October 1917, at the time of the Russian Revolution, during which her own father was tragically killed. She fled to France with her mother and her sister in the early 1920s. After the French surrender in May 1940, she fled again, this time to London. This is where she met Joseph Kessel and Maurice Druon. After the end of the war, the singer continued to travel through Africa and South America, before settling down in the United States. She passed away in 2006 in Alaska.

While it is Anna Marly’s interpretation of the “Chant des partisans” that tends to be remembered the most, other famous French singers have performed the song over the decades, such as Germaine Sablon, Joséphine Baker, Yves Montand, Johnny Hallyday, Mireille Mathieu and Benjamin Biolay. More recently, in February 2021, Luc Laversanne performed the song on The Voice, a reality television singing competition in France, wowing both the audience and the judges.

What are the lyrics of the so-called partisan song?

Now that you know the most important facts about this famous song of the French resistance, it’s time to dive into the lyrics. To help you, we are giving you both the original French text, in all its beautiful rhymes, and the English translation.

Lyrics in FrenchEnglish translation
Ami, entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines ? Ami, entends-tu les cris sourds du pays qu’on enchaîne? Ohé ! partisans, ouvriers et paysans, c’est l’alarme ! Ce soir l’ennemi connaîtra le prix du sang et des larmes ! 
Montez de la mine, Descendez des collines, Camarades ! Sortez de la paille Les fusils, la mitraille, Les grenades… Ohé ! les tueurs, à la balle et au couteau, tuez vite! Ohé ! saboteur, attention à ton fardeau : Dynamite ! 
C’est nous qui brisons Les barreaux des prisons Pour nos frères ! La haine à nos trousses Et la faim qui nous pousse, La misère… Il y a des pays Où les gens au creux des lits Font des rêves. Ici, nous, vois-tu, Nous, on marche et nous, on tue, Nous, on crève. 
Ici chacun sait Ce qu’il veut, ce qu’il fait Quand il passe… Ami, si tu tombes Un ami sort de l’ombre À ta place. Demain du sang noir Séchera au grand soleil Sur les routes. Sifflez, compagnons, Dans la nuit, La Liberté nous écoute… 
My friend, do you hear the dark flight of the crows over our plains?My friend, do you hear the dulled cries of the country put in chains?Hey you, supporters, workers and farmers, this is the alarm bell!Tonight the enemy will know the price of blood and tears!
Climb up from the mine, Walk down the hills, Comrades!Take out from the hay The guns, the munitions,The grenades…Hey you, killers, with bullets and knives, kill quickly!Hey you, saboteurs, be careful with your burden: Dynamite!
We are the ones who break The jail bars For our brothers!Hate on our heels, And hunger driving us, Misery…There are countries Where people, deep in beds, Are dreaming.Here, do you see, We march on, we kill on, We kick the bucket.
But here, everyone knowsWhat they want, what they do When they walk by…My friend, if you fall, A friend stems from the shadowsInto your place.Tomorrow, black blood Shall dry out in the sunlight On the roads.Let’s whistle, companions, In the night,Freedom hears us…

What should you remember about this famous French resistance song?

Along with French revolution of 1789 and the less-violent demonstrations of May 1968, the occupation of France during World War II is remembered as one of the most turbulent episodes of French history. It was a time when the country was split into two. In this context, the “Chant des partisans” quickly became the unofficial anthem of the French resistance against the Nazis, and ultimately the cri du cœur in the fight against evil.   

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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

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