In 1974, Terry Jacks came out with Seasons in the Sun, a sentimental farewell from a dying man to his friends and family. The song was popular in its day, and most readers born before the 80’s or 90’s will remember the infectious chorus of “We had joy, we had fun, we had seasons in the sun,” whether they want to or not. In fact, Seasons in the Sun was so popular that in the week of March 2, 1974, it topped the charts, beating out The Way We Were, by Barbara Streisand, Boogie Down, by Eddie Kendricks, and the always-popular Jungle Boogie, by Kool and the Gang.

What many people don’t know is that the song was not originally written in English at all. It was first written in French in 1961, by Jacques Brel, a Belgian composer and singer who rose to fame in the early 1960’s with songs like Ne Me Quitte Pas and Quand On n’a Que L’Amour.

Brel’s version of the song, entitled “Le Moribond” (The Dying Man) was much, much darker, and when it was originally translated by Rod McKuen into English in 1964, the words were significantly changed in order to “lighten up” the song. Originally recorded in English by Bob Shane, of the Kingston Trio, the song languished for years. Only after it had been passed over by the Beach Boys did Terry Jacks decide to record it for himself, and the rest is history.

In the interests of full and complete disclosure, however, I’m putting the original lyrics from “Le Moribond,” together with my own (somewhat loose) translation, below. Before anyone gets concerned about copyright issues, only the interest in the English version was ever sold in the United States. As near as I can tell, the 40-odd year old French lyrics, written by Jacques Brel, are public domain, both in the United States and elsewhere. So, without further adieu:

Le Moribond

Adieu l'Émile je t'aimais bien
Adieu l'Émile je t'aimais bien tu sais
On a chanté les mêmes vins
On a chanté les mêmes filles
On a chanté les mêmes chagrins
Adieu l'Émile je vais mourir
C'est dur de mourir au printemps tu sais
Mais je pars aux fleurs la paix dans l'ame
Car vu que tu es bon comme du pain blanc
Je sais que tu prendras soin de ma femme

(Chorus)
Je veux qu'on rie
Je veux qu'on danse
Je veux qu'on s'amuse comme des fous
Je veux qu'on rie
Je veux qu'on danse
Quand c'est qu'on me mettra dans le trou

Adieu Curé je t'aimais bien
Adieu Curé je t'aimais bien tu sais
On n'était pas du même bord
On n'était pas du même chemin
Mais on cherchait le même port
Adieu Curé je vais mourir
C'est dur de mourir au printemps tu sais
Mais je pars aux fleurs la paix dans l'ame
Car vu que tu étais son confident
Je sais que tu prendras soin de ma femme
(Chorus)

Adieu l'Antoine je t'aimais pas bien
Adieu l'Antoine je t'aimais pas bien tu sais
J'en crève de crever aujourd'hui
Alors que toi tu es bien vivant
Et même plus solide que l'ennui
Adieu l'Antoine je vais mourir
C'est dur de mourir au printemps tu sais
Mais je pars aux fleurs la paix dans l'ame
Car vu que tu étais son amant
Je sais que tu prendras soin de ma femme
(Chorus)

Adieu ma femme je t'aimais bien
Adieu ma femme je t'aimais bien tu sais
Mais je prends le train pour le Bon Dieu
Je prends le train qui est avant le tien
Mais on prend tous le train qu'on peut
Adieu ma femme je vais mourir
C'est dur de mourir au printemps tu sais
Mais je pars aux fleurs les yeux fermés ma femme
Car vu que je les ai fermés souvent
Je sais que tu prendras soin de mon ame
(Chorus)

If you know French, then you already know that Brel’s version is much darker, more cynical, and more ironic than the English version. If you don’t know French, then here is a (fairly close) translation:

The Dying Man

Goodbye, Emile, you were my good friend
Goodbye, Emile, you were my good friend, you know
We sang together of the same great wines
We sang together of the same great women
We sang together of our shared sorrows
Goodbye, Emile, I’m going to die
It’s difficult to die in the Spring, you know
But I’m going to the flowers with peace in my heart
Because I know that you are a good man, good as white bread
You’ll take care of my wife after I’m gone

(Chorus)
I want everyone to laugh
I want everyone to dance
I want everyone to party like a bunch of fools
I want everyone to laugh
I want everyone to dance
When they come to put me in my grave

Goodbye, Father Priest, I liked you well enough
Goodbye, Father Priest, I liked you well enough, you know
We weren’t always on the same side
We didn’t always take the same path
But we were both looking for Heaven just the same
Goodbye, Father Priest, I’m going to die
It’s hard to die in the Spring, you know
But I’m going to the flowers with peace in my heart
Because you were her Confessor
I know you’ll take care of my wife when I’m gone
(Chorus)

Goodbye, Tony, I didn’t like you too much
Goodbye, Tony, I didn’t like you too much, you know
It’s killing me to be dying today
While you are so vigorous and full of life
And stronger even than boredom itself
Goodbye, Tony, I’m going to die
It’s hard to die in the Spring, you know
But I’m going to the flowers with peace in my heart
Because you were her Lover
I know you’ll take care of my wife when I’m gone
(Chorus)

Goodbye, my wife, I love you still
Goodbye, my wife, I love you still, you know
But I’m taking that trip to see the Good Lord today
I’m taking the trip before you do
But we all take that trip when we must
Goodbye, my wife, I’m going to die
It’s hard to die in the Spring, you know
But I’m going to the flowers with my eyes closed, once more
And because I closed them so many times before
I know you’ll take good care of my heart
(Chorus)

That’s about it. When I was taking high school French, lo, these many years ago, I learned an awful lot from my Dad’s Jacques Brel and Edith Piaf records. It was a great way to internalize the way French really sounds, and the way it feels in the heart. I strongly recommend it.

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