Carla Bruni, Quelqu’un ma dit

I read today – OK, I’m slow on the uptake – that the French singer Carla Bruni has finally married President Sarkozy after a short romance. With this news, her public profile continues to increase. She is someone I’ve admired for several years; I went to Paris in July 2003, trying to get my head straight after the death of my dear mother, and through a friend’s recommendation discovered her first album, Quelqu’un ma dit. It’s an album that has never been far from my mind since then, due to the lingering effects of Bruni’s wistful voice, romantic lyrics and fluid guitar. I very much enjoyed the fact that, because she sang in French, she hadn’t been through the British media circus. Until her relationship with Sarkozy began, Bruni was little known outside France, and to the best of my knowledge had played few concerts elsewhere. It was as though she didn’t much care for widespread British and American acceptance, and I loved that. Although the album was no doubt massively popular in continental Europe, I still felt like it was “my” album.

I had high hopes of the follow-up, No Promises, but sadly have been a little disappointed by it. In the first place, it’s sung in English. No doubt Bruni doesn’t need much help with her public profile any more, but I hope the decision to sing in English wasn’t made out of a desire to engage with the UK and US “markets”. And secondly, it’s not an album of original songs but a collection of settings of poems. I can’t fault the selection – Yeats, Auden, Dickinson – but still I can’t help wishing that Bruni had penned another set of lyrics to sit alongside the peerless romanticism of the first album.

Anyway, what with Valentine’s Day coming up and all, here’s a rough-and-ready English translation of Carla Bruni’s best song, the lorn and lovely “Quelqu’un ma dit”:

Someone told me our lives aren’t worth much
They pass in a moment, like a dying rose
Someone told me time is a bastard
making an overcoat of our sorrows
Someone told me
that you still loved me
Could it be true?

Someone told me destiny mocks us
it promises everything and gives us nothing
it seems that happiness is within our reach
so we hold out our hands and we find ourselves mad
Someone told me
that you still loved me
Could it be true?

But who was it that told me you still loved me?
I don’t recall, it was late at night
I can still hear the voice, but I can’t see the face
“he loves you, it’s a secret, don’t tell him I told you”
you see, someone told me
someone really did tell me
that you still loved me
Could it be true?

This translation © Richard Rees Jones 2008.

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