L’Age Idiot By Jacques Brel: English Translation

Below is my poetic translation of ‘L’Age Idiot’ by Jacques Brel. Particular attention has been paid to keeping the rhyme and flow of the piece while retaining the poetic origins of the French lyric.

L’Age Idiot is a phrase which translates into English as ‘Coming Of Age’. Originally, the refrain concerns dreaming of barracks, and the song can be interpreted (like many Brel songs) as anti-military in the sense that the narrator believes that the army has robbed their youth.

I removed this dated meaning for the updated poetic version in order to make the lyric more relevant to modern youth.

Coming Of Age (Poetic Translation)

You come of age at 20 years
When you think you’re gonna starve
But when your one and only fear
Is that you’ll never clean your heart.
When you bite off more than you can chew
And think you’re getting a head start
But you’re only just a fool
Whose greed is bigger than his heart.
But the sweet smell of Lucerne
On your body clings to you
It’s the smell of lovers spurned
For the beds of little virtue.

But when you drink you tell the truth,
You’ve still got your youth.

You come of age at 30 years
When your stomach starts to grow
When your belly starts to show
As it nibbles at your fears.
When your eyes grow heavier
And your wrinkles start to frown
Since they know that 30 years
Is the start of the great countdown.
So you send the old ones to the cave
And put a dunce’s cap on God
But it’s in the evenings that you crave a little
A little fire to warm your heart.

But when you drink you tell the truth,
You regret your youth.

You come of age at 60 years
When your belly rolls around
When your belly bloats around
Since it’s eaten all your fears.
When your eyes begin to fail
When your eyes are out of tears
When your sight is growing dim
Because you’ve burned up all your years.
All of the pains of love will show
With every woman that you see
As they fall away like snow
And you realise love’s not free.

But when you drink you tell the truth,
You miss your youth.

The golden age is when you’re dead
And when they put you in the ground
And when they all huddle around
The stone they’ve placed above your head.
When your hands protect your chest
And you’re laying, facing the clouds
And you’re finally put to rest
Just to appease the crying crowd.
The age of gold comes after hell
It comes after the age of wealth
When your bones are turning to dirt
In the belly of the earth.

The golden age is just the truth,
You’ve lost your youth.

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