La Marseillaise - other translations

My translation of La Marseillaise isn't the only one floating around out there. It seems that the French Presidency have paid some professionals big bucks (or big francs) to come up with a translation of their own. Furthermore, there are now translation bots such as the one at AltaVista which can knock up translations of just about anything you care to throw at them. Read about the bot's translation here.

Bot technology has really come on and it's to the programmers' and linguists' credit that, while the bots rarely produce anything like idiomatic prose and often make appalling blunders, their work can usually be understood enough for a native speaker to be able to rework it into something approaching actual language. Of course, Bots have (and in my opinion always will have) no chance of accurately rendering anything as arty as a national anthem.

I also consider the translation which appears in my bible, National Anthems of the World, 7th ed., carried out by Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Elizabeth Shaw. Read about that here.

First up, however, is a new addition to site (March 2002). I have Jean Migrenne, official translator at the Caen Memorial for Peace Museum, to thank for this excellent translation which he carried out in conjunction with Sylvère Monod. The Memorial's authorities kindly granted permission to to publish Jean's version, subject to the copyright notice appearing below.

By Jean Migrenne and Sylvère Monod

The Marseillaise
'The War Song of the Rhine Army' was originally written in Strasbourg by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle, a French officer, in 1792. Sung by volunteers from Marseilles and soon known as 'La Marseillaise', it was first adopted as national anthem in 1795 and officially reinstated in 1879.

Copyright laws apply in all countries to reproduction of parts or totality of this version of La Marseillaise in English, in any possible way and for whatever purpose, commercial or not.

For permission, contact the Mémorial at

Sons of the fatherland, let's stand,
The day of glory has arrived!
Of Tyranny now against us
The blood-stained standard has been raised! (repeat)
O hear across our countryside
Those raging cut-throat soldiers come
To slaughter our children, our wives,
Whom they wrench from our loving arms!

Rise up, brave citizens! In battle order march!
Let's march! Let's march! May our land with tainted blood be soaked!

What do they seek, this horde of slaves,
This gang of traitors and of kings?
Who do they mean to keep in chains,
Clap in irons so long-prepared? (repeat)
Frenchmen, the outrage is for us,
And our wrath it shall stir up,
For we are those they would reduce
To bondage abject and long gone!

Rise up, etc...

What! shall such barbarian swarms
Impose their rule upon our homes?
What! shall hirelings of foreign powers
Bring down our proud warlike sons? (repeat)
Great God! Why should their shackled hands
Our foreheads bend beneath their yoke,
For these vile despots to become
The masters of our destiny?

Rise up, etc...

Tremble, ye tyrants, traitors all,
Who would bring shame to every side!
Now may your parricidal schemes
At last receive their just reward! (repeat)
Everyone to fight you will rise,
And if our young heroes should fall,
France shall beget more combatants,
Just as eager to take up arms!

Rise up, etc...

French fighters, be magnanimous,
Strike hard but let your blows be fair!
Spare the lives of those sad victims
Reluctantly opposing us! (repeat)
But those despots who shed our blood,
Those accomplices of Bouillé (an émigré general)
Tigers all, who, so pitiless,
Leap up to tear their mother's breast!?

Rise up, etc...

Sacred love of our fatherland,
Sustain and guide our vengeful arms!
O Liberty, dear Liberty,
Join us, fight with thy defenders! (repeat)
Under our colours victory
Will rally to thy manly strains!
And may thy dying enemies
See thy triumph and thy glory!

Rise up, etc...

(additional stanza, children singing)

We'll enter on the battlefield
To find our elders there no more;
On their glorious dust we'll tread
And their virtues will chart our course. (repeat)
Much less eager to outlive them
Than we will be to share their graves,
Our pride will truly be sublime
When we avenge or follow them!

Rise up, etc...

English translation of the official 1887 version, by Jean MIGRENNE and Sylvère MONOD. © 2001, Le Mémorial de Caen.

AltaVista on-line translator

This was kindly submitted by Linda Reynolds.

Let us go children of the Fatherland
The day of glory arrived!
Against us of tyranny
The bloody standard is raised
Hear you in our campaigns
Mugir these wild soldiers?
They come until in your arms.
To cut the throat of your sons, your partners!

With the weapons citizens
Form your battalions
Let us go, go
That an impure blood
Water our furrows

What wants this horde of slaves
Traitors, kings entreated?
For which these wretched obstacles
These irons as of prepared a long time?
French, for us, ah! which insult
Which transport it has to excite?
It is us whom one dares to contemplate
To return to the antique slavery!

What these foreign troops!
Would make the law in our homes!
What! these phalanges mercenaries
Would embank our warlike sons!
Large God! by connected hands
Our faces under the yoke are ploieraient
Cheap despots would become
Masters of the destinies.

Tremble, perfidious tyrants and you
Opprobrium of all the parties
Tremble! your parricidal projects
Finally will receive their prices!
All is soldier to fight you
If they fall, our young heroes
France in product the new ones,
Against you any loans to be fought

French, as warriors magnanimes
Carry or retain your blows!
Save these sad victims
With regret being armed against us
But these sanguinary despots
But these accomplices of Bouillé
All these tigers which, without pity
Tear the centre of their mother!

We will enter the career
When our elder is not there any more
We will find their dust there
And traces it their virtues
Well less jealous to survive to them
To share their coffin
We will have sublimates it pride
To avenge them or to follow them!

Crowned love of the Fatherland
Lead, supports our arms avengers
Freedom, Most cherished liberty
Engagements with your defenders!
Under our flags, that victory
Runs to your males accents
That your expiring enemies
See your triumph and our glory!

As I said earlier, it's to the programmers of this bot's credit that this makes some kind of sense. Technically I could have a field day pointing out some of the errors it's committed but that defeats the object of the exercise. Nonetheless certain mistakes reveal a lack of vocabulary on behalf of the bot, which is unacceptable really since unlike humans it can't use the excuse that it forgot some words.

mugir - to howl
ployer - to yield
mâles accents - manly tone

These are all words which should perhaps be known to the bot, although the last is correct when translated literally.

Apart from that I could mention the fact that the bot seems to be ignorant of the extremely common French practice of forming questions by inverting statements. Thus entendez-vous? becomes can you hear? and not hear you? In fairness to the bot, its translation is technically correct if the original text omits the hyphen. Since I didn't submit the text I don't know...

Even so I can't bring myself to forgive the bot for not knowing tous les partis, here meaning all good men and that la campagne means the country or fields. Hear you in our campaigns indeed!

Equally inexcusable, if not more so, is the translation of Grand Dieu (Good God or similar) by Large God. However the worst enormity is surely the rendition of Contre vous tous prêts à se battre by Against you any loans to be fought. OK, so un prêt (noun) is a loan but prêt (adjective) means ready and the line should read All ready to fight against you.

There are other quirks of which probably the most notable is that Fatherland as a proper noun means Germany, and I'm not sure how many Frenchmen would like to be mistaken for Germans!

Still, I'd like to re-emphasise my opinion that for a computer to come up with this translation is damn fine. For the most part it's understandable, and what isn't is at least worth a laugh.

Someone should teach the bot the subjunctive nevertheless...

La Marseillaise as translated for

The French presidency's web site has commissioned someone to translate La Marseillaise for them, and to good effect. This translation is very good indeed, clearly the work of several skilled professionals, and even manages to go in time with the music. Nonetheless if you thought I was taking a few liberties with my translation, you ain't seen nothin' yet. Note that these three verses also appear on the French Embassy in Fiji's site but they are incorrectly numbered. The site presents them as verses 1, 3 and 4, not 1, 6 and 7 as here.

Verse 1

Arise you children of our motherland
Oh now is here our glorious day!
Over us the bloodstained banner
Of tyranny holds sway!
Oh, do you hear there in our fields
The roar of those fierce fighting men ?
Who came right here into our midst
To slaughter sons, wives and kin.

To arms, oh citizens!
Form up in serried ranks!
March on, march on!
And drench our fields
With their tainted blood!

Verse 6

Into the fight we too shall enter
When our fathers are dead and gone
We shall find their bones laid down to rest
With the fame of their glories won!
Oh, to survive them care we not
Glad are we to share their grave
Great honor is to be our lot
To follow or to venge our brave.

Verse 7

Supreme devotion to our Motherland
Guides and sustains avenging hands.
Liberty, oh dearest Liberty
Come fight with your shielding bands!
Beneath our banner come, oh Victory
Run at your soul-stirring cry.
Oh come, come see your foes now die
Witness your pride and our glory.

Consider the lines

Nous entrerons dans la carrière
Quand nos aînés n'y seront plus
Nous y trouverons leur poussière
Et la trace de leurs vertus

which the official site translates by

Into the fight we too shall enter
When our fathers are dead and gone
We shall find their bones laid down to rest
With the fame of their glories won

Leaving aside a slight difference of opinion - I think carrière should be translated as pit and not fight, as the image is clearly one of returning to the site of a former battle, or even to a mass grave, and laying plans for the next war - since I'm not a professional and maybe they're right, let's take a look at the English structure of the lines. It rhymes, it's dynamic, it goes with the music and it translates the idea behind the words, not the words themselves - the first rule of translation. Yet it's as far from the original text as you can get without talking about sheep shearing on a remote Australian farm. The whole translation is like that.

It's up to you to decide whether or not this is a good thing. Personally I admire them for doing it, although I think they're wrong. Indeed because I think they're wrong. Such extreme liberties shouldn't be taken with translations of official documents etcetera, but I believe they're just right for a national anthem.

Translation appearing in National Anthems of the World

Percy Bysshe Shelley and Mary Elizabeth Shaw's work appears in National Anthems of the World, seventh edition. I don't know if Shelley, who died in 1822 at the age of 30, or Shaw, of whom no details are given, translated the whole song or not. The book credits Shelley for the first verse and Shaw for the second, adding that Shelley originally wrote See their tears... in the first first and that Shaw suggested Behold... I've written Behold as I think it better fits the melody.

Verse 1 Percy Bysshe Shelley

Ye sons of France, awake to glory
Hark, hark, what myriads bid you rise!
Your children, wives and grandsires hoary
Behold their tears and hear their cries!
Shall hateful tyrants mischief breeding
With hireling hosts, a ruffian band
Affright and desolate the land
While peace and liberty lie bleeding?

To arms, to arms, ye brave!
Th'avenging sword unsheathe!
March on! march on!
All hearts resolved
On victory or death.

Verse 7 Mary Elizabeth Shaw

O sacred love of France undying
Th'avenging arm uphold and guide
Thy defenders, death defying
Fight with Freedom at their side.
Soon thy sons shall be victorious
When the banner high is raised;
And thy dying enemies, amazed
Shall behold thy triumph, great and glorious.

Wow. What a stirring text. Full of all the blood and thunder and never-say-die spirit that the Marseillaise epitomises. There can be no doubt of the song's meaning. As far as the linguistic quality is concerned, all I can say is excellent. Like the Élysée's professional translation, the English is dynamic, vibrant and stirring. The words also go in time with the music and rhyme nicely, as do those from the Presidency's site. It's inspiring stuff. It's good stuff. But is it a translation?

Well, no. Not really.

I've already said that you shouldn't translate texts on a word-for-word basis. Depending on the situation, you could argue for and against translating on a line-by-line basis. But, hell, this doesn't even agree paragraph for paragraph. Let's take the chorus, for example. Where in the "translation" does formez vos battaillons occur? Where in the original can you find anything bearing even the slightest resemblance to th'avenging sword unsheathe? The answer is nowhere.

Make no mistake, Shaw and Shelley's prose makes for a fine literary work. I haven't got a bad word to say about it. Yet it shouldn't pretend to be a translation. Let it call itself an original work inspired by La Marseillaise or whatever. Just don't let it call itself a translation because it isn't one.

Disclaimer: yes, yes, I know. I myself did once say that when doing translations I take the texts to translation as inspiration for an original piece. Hey, everyone's allowed to be hypocritical... And besides, I didn't say it to you.

Translation appearing at

This site carries a brief comment on the anthem and the same two verses as appear in National Anthems of the World. The translation is there as well but the second of the verses presented in English is definitely not a translation of the second French verse. Either that or they're really taking the word liberal to extremes. Unfortunately they give no credit for the translation. I'd guess it was either Shelley or Shaw and that whoever it was decided to do a sort of "metatranslation," rolling up all the ideas of the whole song to create this original work.

Ye sons of France, awake to glory
Oh liberty can man resign thee,
Once having felt thy gen'rous flame?
Can dungeons, bolts and bar confie thee?
Or whips they noble spirit tame?
Too long the world has wept bewailing
That falshood's dagger tyrants wield,
But freedom is our sword and shield
And all their arts are unavailing.

This is very good. But, like the previous work, it isn't a translation. The style is similar so I'd be very surprised if Shaw or Shelley hadn't written it but I don't know. Perhaps someone could shed some light on who the author is?

I'll be adding more to this section shortly...

PS the site linked above seems to break Linux versions of Netscape. After visiting it I found Netscape unable to render anything at all and had to kill -9 it. Whether this bug is Linux-specific, X11-specific or Netscape-specific remains to be seen.

As remembered by Jim Jessop

Here's a translation sent to me by a gentleman named Jim Jessop. Jim tells me he came to this site looking for the words to the Marseillaise because he'd learnt them at school but had since forgotten all except the first few lines. He was disappointed because my translation was different from the one he'd been taught all those years ago. I told Jim that if he ever did come across the version he knew, I'd love to hear it.

Only a few days later Jim turned up this.

Soldiers of France the day is breaking
The day of glory dawns at last
See the tyrants' banner shaking
As it basely streams in the blast
As it basely streams in the blast
The field of battle lies before you
Fierce fowmen advance on their prey
It matters little how you die
Whether on the battle field or the scaffold high
To arms and hence away
To arms this glorious day
March on march on
Brave sons of France
To fame and victory

I think you can see why I was hoping so much that Jim would find this for me. This is great; another interpretation that really captures the spirit of the revolutionaries marching to victory, and it fits the tune very well.

Of course (and you must be getting tired of my saying it by now) it isn't a translation any more than the others are but it's a rip-roaring war song if ever there was one.

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