December 13, 2016

"That infamous line about impure blood is my favorite... That’s why I love the 'Marseillaise.'"

"In a moment in history where purity is used as a horrible goal by jihadists and right-wing fear mongers alike, I think it’s a cool line to keep in mind, reminding us that impurity is our own, and our strength."

From a NYT article about "La Marseillaise." This is, in France, The Year of the Marseillaise,  and there was a big conference about it, which much cogitation about the meaning of the words, which were written in 1792, during the French Revolution.

You can read the lyrics in French and English here. The "impure blood" part is:
To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let's march, let's march!
Let an impure blood
Soak our fields!
Also at that link (to Wikipedia), we see:
The English philosopher and reformer Jeremy Bentham, who was declared an honorary citizen of France in 1791 in acknowledgement of his sympathies for the ideals of the French Revolution, was not enamoured of La Marseillaise. Contrasting its qualities with the "beauty" and "simplicity" of "God Save the King", he wrote in 1796:
The War whoop of anarchy, the Marseillais Hymn, is to my ear, I must confess, independently of all moral association, a most dismal, flat, and unpleasing ditty: and to any ear it is at any rate a long winded and complicated one. In the instance of a melody so mischievous in its application, it is a fortunate incident, if, in itself, it should be doomed neither in point of universality, nor permanence, to gain equal hold on the affections of the people.

46 comments:

mccullough said...

Rick gave the nod to play it in Casablanca. Good scene.

Bay Area Guy said...

I love the La Marseillaise too -- singing it in Humphrey Bogart's bar in Casablanca made a nice impression on my teenage mind.

But.

Look what happened after the French Revolution -- chaos, instability, the rise of Napoleon and decades of war in Europe.

Look what happened in WW2 - Europe's largest army, the French, allowed the Nazis to conquer it in 30 days (May to June, 1940).

Something went dreadfully wrong with France, after its revolution.

n.n said...

To paraphrase MLK:

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by their colorful clump of cells but by the content of their character/principles.

The left-wing class diversitists, anti-nativists, and "peace"-mongers that forced emigration crises which left a trail of blood from Benghazi to Cairo to Damascus to Kiev to Paris in order to exploit democratic leverage are projecting their sins on the People.

Hagar said...

The Marseillaise is a great tune, but the text is something best not thought about.

Balfegor said...

"In a moment in history where purity is used as a horrible goal by jihadists and right-wing fear mongers alike, I think it’s a cool line to keep in mind, reminding us that impurity is our own, and our strength."

I . . . that seems like a really forced interpretation here, particularly given how the zealots of the Revolution aimed at creating a pure French nationality, including active suppression of minority languages (e.g. Occitan and Breton) and so on. I suppose it's possible it's a rallying cry along the lines of Attaturk's famous words at Gallipoli:

Men, I am not ordering you to fight. I am ordering you to die. In the time that it takes us to die, other forces and commanders can come and take our place.

But I think the natural interpretation is probably the correct one, particularly given that they were fighting the Austrian Empire when those words were written. In stark contrast to French ethnic and linguistic "purity," the Austrian army was a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual hodgepodge: Slavs and Germans and Magyars and all. The "impure" blood is the blood of the foreign mongrels.

Qwerty Smith said...

Wait--aren't they seeking to soak their fields with *other people's* impure blood? I read this as French nationalism against foreigners and multi-national aristocrats, not an ode to diversity!

Balfegor said...

That said, the best French anthem is obviously the Henri IV March.

Left Bank of the Charles said...

We should always thank the French for opportunities to look down in them. And who can forget the time that young French girl sang it to those Nazi officers in Casablanca, impure blood and all.

mockturtle said...

While the French Revolution was one of the most vivid examples of destructive Progressive fanaticism, La Marseillaise is one of the better national anthems to me. Bastille Day falls on my mother's birthday so we sometimes sing it together. And, as others have observed, it provided on the best scenes from Casablanca. I often wonder how the Vichy viewed this anthem?

tcrosse said...

For a good revolutionary anthem, it's hard to beat Le Ca Ira, here sung by Piaf. Off with their heads!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L9VoRmjxvPs

LA woman said...

Like the Star Spangled Banner, Marseillaise (Mar-say-ezz) is un-singable by 99% of citizens, but everyone likes to hear it.

Sydney said...

Something went dreadfully wrong with France, after its revolution.

They killed all of their best citizens.

Curious George said...

It's no "O, Canada"

traditionalguy said...

In 1940, Hans Guderian and Erwin Rommel happened to the French. The German tankers just kept going around the French. They never slept by taking Dexedrine pills.

The French National Anthem was about the victory of the non class called Citizens. They were a classless bourgeoisie that did the work , but were carefully being regulated by crony Monopolies of the King and taxes resulting in poverty and early deaths. The uprising was to kill the Bourbon Kings, their Aristocracy, and the supporting Church Aristocracy. These bloody massacres were the unclean priests. The citizens well remembered 80 years before when the aforesaid three ruling classes had together massacred and liquidated a million good Frenchmen on the grounds they were Protestant believers in Calvin's teachings.

The Citizens then turned and followed a super intelligent leader named Bonaparte to conquer the world, almost. Hmmm.Sounds familiar.

tcrosse said...

It's no "O, Canada"
Fascinating that the French lyrics are not about the same things as the English lyrics, For instance, the arm carrying the sword and the cross.

Curious George said...

"LA woman said...
Like the Star Spangled Banner, Marseillaise (Mar-say-ezz) is un-singable by 99% of citizens, but everyone likes to hear it."

Have you ever been to a ballgame. I know Dodger fans usually arrive long after the Anthem but surely once...

buwaya puti said...

It is most certainly a war-whoop, and nearly the definition of populism. This was a song for the proletariat, not the elite of any sort, as the spirit of the words refers to combat en masse, "vos bataillons", the common rank and file, expected to do their bit in the mass, shoulder to shoulder. And this propaganda line, in many forms and implications, is in there over and over.

Its also a very urban thing because the France of the day was ethnically "French" mainly in the cities. France still had quite a struggle to turn all the peasants in its regions into Frenchmen.

Not anarchy though. Its not a song for the individualist. Its no accident that it was the 19th century Communist/Social Democrat anthem of choice, even in Russia, prior to the "Internationale".

As for the "impure blood", it wasn't just the mixed nature of the Austrian forces, but that of all militaries of the day, the profession from top to bottom was, in most cases, truly a profession, a business for mercenaries. Every army had a very high proportion of foreigners, including, not least and very significantly, the old French royal army, with its many Swiss (line regiments as well as the Guard) , German, Irish, Hungarian and Italian regiments. These were all politically suspect in the heat of the Revolution, not just the unfortunates of the Swiss Guard, as all were mercenaries.

The French were inventing modern nationalism at the time, and this song was propaganda in that direction, for an explicitly French army. Reality soon changed policy and the French very quickly reverted to hiring or levying every sort of foreigner after 1792. But nationalism and the Marseillaise lived on.

Michael said...

The lyrics became a big issue in the Albertville Olympics when the opening ceremony had a lovely young girl singing them in French with English subtitles. I thought at the time that all they needed was a new English translation:

March on! March on!
Feed our farmlands
With organic nutrients.

Didn't catch on.

buwaya puti said...

The definitive modern rendition I think is that of Mireille Mathieu.

rhhardin said...

Velveeta soaks our toast

rhhardin said...

Mireille Mathieu looks like Barbara Feldon, in the right photos.

Feldon and Mathieu

buwaya puti said...

"Mireille Mathieu looks like Barbara Feldon"

And this is not a bad thing, of course. Both were beautiful women.

They were similar in profile but much different from the front.

mockturtle said...

Balfegor suggests: That said, the best French anthem is obviously the Henri IV March.

Too plodding.

chuck said...

ISTR that the original "class" idea, so popular on the left, was originally conceived along racist lines because of the Frankish (German) origins of the French nobility. I think Asterix reflects the same general theme.

Curious George said...

"tcrosse said...
It's no "O, Canada"
Fascinating that the French lyrics are not about the same things as the English lyrics, For instance, the arm carrying the sword and the cross"

Well, it was written in English first. So who cares about the French version.

Quaestor said...

Qu'un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

Impure is a bit too literal a translation. The meaning here is more at corrupt.

Many among the officer class of the Austrian army were émigré French aristocrats, undoubtedly of "pure" French blood, however corrupted by their treason against le Peuple.

Ambrose said...

Do "right wing fear mongers" really have a thing about purity of blood"?

Scott said...

"Impure blood" references the notion that the French, unlike the Germanic or Italian or Celtic people, are not a distinct race. They are mutts and are proud of it.

mockturtle said...

Do "right wing fear mongers" really have a thing about purity of blood"?

I was wondering the same thing. Who are these supposed white race purists, outside of the KKK and maybe the Aryan Nation [does it still exist?]? I know a lot of right-wingers and not one of them thinks like that. In fact, quite a few of them are of non-white heritage.

tcrosse said...

Well, it was written in English first. So who cares about the French version.

Not so. The French version was written in the 1880's, the English version 20 years later. You could look it up.

Quaestor said...

Here is a more authentic rendition of Vive Henri IV, suitably baroque and not plodding, rather stately.

buwaya puti said...

There is such a strain. Go to Vox Day's site and you will find some. It's a popular place. I find it interesting but evcentric.
It takes all kinds.

Roughcoat said...

The French more than any other Allied power are responsible for the victory over Wilhelmine Germany and its allies in the First World War. In 1914 in the Battle of the Marne the French went head-to-head with what knowledgeable military historians have characterized as the best army in history to that date and defeated it decisively, winning what was incontestably one of the five or ten most consequential battles in the long history of warfare. In the Battle of Verdun, 21 February to 18 December 1916, the longest field battle in history, they fought and won another decisive victory over an unimaginably powerful German field army in some of the most prolonged and ferocious combat the world has ever seen.

Not incidentally to this discussion, the efforts and actions of a French field army proved absolutely key to our winning the Revolutionary War; and on 5 September 1781 a French fleet fought and defeated the vaunted British navy in the Battle of the Capes, thus sealing the fate of British forces besieged at Yorktown.

Lest we forget. Tread lightly when you think to denigrate France and the French.

David said...

"In a moment in history where purity is used as a horrible goal by jihadists and right-wing fear mongers alike . . . "

Gotta love the equivalence.

mockturtle said...

La Marseillaise was written in 1792. En français.

tcrosse said...

La Marseillaise was written in 1792. En français.

Of course it was. We were referring to O Canada.

mockturtle said...

Of course it was. We were referring to O Canada.

O[h]. Canada. ;-)

Sebastian said...

"“That infamous line about impure blood is my favorite,” he said, sharing an unusual interpretation from his high school history teacher: Rouget de Lisle was calling on people to shed their own impure blood in defense of the French Revolution — purity having been something previously associated with the aristocracy." Wow. Talk about the decline of civilization. French high schools used to be good.

Gahrie said...

Something went dreadfully wrong with France, after its revolution.

Well the French Revolution and the Reign of Terror killed off most of a generation of men, concentrating on the educated and the successful. Then Napoleon's wars killed off most of a generation, then W.W.I and W.W. II did the same. The creme of France's population has been culled rather thoroughly.

eddie willers said...

No mention of The Beatles?

whswhs said...

The Marseillaise explicitly invites those singing it to rejoice in the shedding of "impure blood": The impure blood of the French aristocracy ("contre nous, de la tyrannie, l'étandard sanglant est levée"). Alex Marshall's saying that it invites being proud of impurity is a total misreading. It's akin to the imagery of the seldom sung third verse of "The Star-Spangled Banner", which says of British soldiers, "Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution."

Big Mike said...

La Marseillaise is the core of the best scene of the best war movie ever made

Fen said...

"and right-wing fear mongers alike"

Odd. All the fear-mongering is coming from the Left. I read DU just for the laughs. Yesterday they were all working each other into a frenzy over the coming Trump Death Camps.

It's the people on the Right all saying "get ahold of yourselves, its not the End of Days"

Comanche Voter said...

Let's just say that aside from any "impure" German blood shed on French soil in WW I and WW II, there were thousands of gallons of American and British blood shed there as well. Not that our French friends are inclined to be grateful for that. It's all 'impure" to them.

Josephbleau said...

We saved their nation, and thus could never be forgiven.

mikee said...

When people speak of the French, I like to remember that the main streets of Paris were made wide, to make it easier for the military to shoot down massed protesters.