Seasons in the Sun: Jacques Brel: La Moribond

   Seasons in the Sun is a poem by Jacques Brel, translated and popularized by Rod McKeuen, then reshaped for a popular song by Terry Jacks. It is one of only four great songs of transcendent sorrow or incredible despair of a sort that could not enter popular lyric poetry until the Sixties.

   In the popular version, the last section of the Brel poem La Moribond is changed to delete reference to his adulterous wife Francois, and include the Jacks section “Goodbye Michelle, my little one…” This is even more beautiful, and leaves the song an uninterrupted or uncomplicated tear jerker. In the Brel version, the Bohemian poet says goodbye to Emile his friend, with whom he shared wine and song, then to his Papa, for whom he was a black sheep submerged in wine and song, and Francois his unfaithful wife. This section is confusing, very sad, and even makes one laugh at its conclusion, as though he were to haunt her and her lovers. The Brel, in McKuen’s translation, reads:

“Good by Francois, my unfaithful wife.

Without you, I would have had a lonely life.

You cheated lots of times, but then

I forgave you in the end

Though your lover was my friend

And we hope not his friend Emile, but I fear that it is so.

   It is not the song of a suicide, but of one dying, moribund, or on his deathbed. The things he will miss in life are very beautiful- Springtime, birds in the sky and pretty girls, to his friend; little children, to his father, and flowers to Michelle. Brel, for Francois, has, “With your lovers everywhere, better watch out, I’ll be there.” But his forgiveness and the jesting tone indicate that he has been raised above the things of love by the perspective of mortality, and perhaps eternity.

   Here are the Terry Jacks/RodMcKuen lyrics, copied from Songmeanings.com.

Goodbye to you my trusted friend
We’ve known each other since we were nine or ten
Together we’ve climbed hills and trees
Learned of love and ABC’s
Skinned our hearts and skinned our knees
Goodbye my friend it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that spring is in the air
Pretty girls are everywhere
Think of me and I’ll be there

We had joy, we had fun
We had seasons in the sun
But the hills that we climbed
Were just seasons out of time

Goodbye Papa please pray for me
I was the black sheep of the family
You tried to teach me right from wrong
Too much wine and too much song
Wonder how I got along
Goodbye Papa it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
Little children everywhere
When you see them, I’ll be there

We had joy, we had fun
We had seasons in the sun
But the wine and the song
Like the seasons have all gone
We had joy, we had fun
We had seasons in the sun
But the wine and the song
Like the seasons have all gone

Goodbye Michelle my little one
You gave me love and helped me find the sun
And every time that I was down
You would always come around
And get my feet back on the ground
Goodbye Michelle it’s hard to die
When all the birds are singing in the sky
Now that the spring is in the air
With the flowers everywhere
I wish that we could both be there

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