La Noyée

This song came to me as a surprise.  Normally Carla Bruni’s songs are the personal statement of a young woman, but here the person speaking is male -the man on the riverbank. 
The mood is different as well.  Carla Bruni’s songs can be very sad, but the depth of despair of this song is of a different order.  She often talks of the fading of memories, but here we read of the grotesque decay  of memories, with time turning the love he lost into the shocking image of the flotsam of a dead dog.  Yet it is a love which retains its hold on him still, as he pursues the girl he loves ever after. Finally he plunges after her into the ocean of eternity for them both to be reunited but in mutual oblivion.
We have seen in her other songs that Carla longs for love of true constancy but her poetry is gentle and wistful, not bleak and cruel. 
The important fact that I lacked, when I first heard this song, was that this is a cover version of a song by Serge Gainsbourg, the famous French singer, song writer and poet.  Gainsbourg was a Jew who had lived throughout the Second World War in Vichy France.  The Jewish community there lived under the constant threat of the Nazi programme of ethnic purification, suffering the harrowing wait to share the fate of family and friends who had already disappeared.  The experience had deeply marked his soul and his art is underscored by this torment
Carla Bruni probably heard the song “La Noyée” in the soundtrack of the film “Romance of a Horsethief”, which appeared in 1971, starring Yul Brynner and Eli Wallach.  The cast included Serge Gainsbourg and his partner, Jane Birkin, the beautiful young English actress who was with him for ten years.  Jane Birkin played a major role in his passionate and tumultuous love-life, but ultimately left him.   We can only guess who, of numerous candidates, was la Noyee, the love of his life.
Gainsbourg died in 1991 and his massive funeral brought central Paris to a halt. The French President, François Mitterand said of him: “He elevated the song to the level of art."

YouTube Video


Tu t'en vas à la dérive

Sur la rivière du souvenir

Et moi, courant sur la rive,

Je te crie de revenir

Mais, lentement, tu t'éloignes

Et dans ta course éperdue

Peu à peu, je te regagne

Un peu de terrain perdu


De temps en temps, tu t'enfonces

Dans le liquide mouvant

Ou bien, frôlant quelques ronces,

Tu hésites et tu m'attends

En te cachant la figure

Dans ta robe retroussée,

De peur que ne te défigurent

Et la honte et les regrets.


Tu n'es plus qu'une pauvre épave,

Chienne crevée au fil de l'eau

Mais je reste ton esclave

Et plonge dans le ruisseau

Quand le souvenir s'arrête

Et l'océan de l'oubli,

Brisant nos coeurs et nos têtes,

A jamais, nous réunit.


You drift off with the current

Upon the river of memory

And I running along the bank

I shout at you to come back

But slowly you move away

And in your desperate race

I make up on you bit by bit

Some of the distance I’d lost.


From time to time you go under

The moving liquid mass

Or else snagging a few brambles

Hesitate and await me

Hiding your face from me

Behind your hoisted dress

Lest you should be discountenanced

Both by shame and by regrets.


You’re no more now than mere flotsam

Dog’s carcase carried by the flow

But I remain your slave

And I‘m diving in the stream

When the memory stops short

And seas of obliviousness,

Breaking our hearts and our heads

Reunite us for ever






Serge Gainsbourg sings his own song:


YouTube Video

Below Serge Gainsbourgh and Jane Birkin