Les Singes by Jacques Brel: English Translation

Here’s my poetic translation of the song ‘Les Singes’ from 1961…


Before the hairless asses there was liberty,

Even the flower and the bird were free.

But now they’ve arrived all the plants have been put in pots

And the birds are all in cages if they’re not already shot.

Because they invented prison and the condemned,

Criminal records and innocent men.

They cut their own tongues to protect the nobility

Even though they claim to act with civility,

The apes, the apes, the apes of our society.

 

Oh, before them there were no problems:

Bananas could be eaten any time, including Lent.

But the they arrived with their intolerance

And the God-given will to stop other people’s intolerance.

For they’re the ones that started the Templar crusades,

The hunt for infidels and the purchasing of slaves.

And then those who don’t want to hunt are treated with hostility.

Because that’s what they call civilised society,

The apes, the apes, the apes of our society.

 

Before them man was a prince,

Woman was a princess and love was a province

But since they’ve arrived the province is in drought,

The prince is a tramp and the princess sells herself.

They invented love which is a sin.

Love which is a business, the business of virgins

Where a man’s worth is valued by his virility

And then they claim to act with civility!

The apes, the apes, the apes of our society.

 

Before them there was peace on Earth

For every ten elephants there was only one soldier

But then they arrived and the elephants have all been beaten

And the reason of the state chased away the real reasons.

They invented all the instruments of torture,

The electric chair, the Nazi gas chambers,

Bombs full of napalm and all other atrocities

And that’s since they’ve had that ‘civility’!

The apes, the apes, the apes of our society.

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