Composed by a noted writer of operas, Etienne Méhul, with words by poet Joseph Chénier, “Le Chant du Départ (Song of Departure)” became an instant hit when first performed on the fifth anniversary of the Revolution (14 July 1794). Originally titled “Anthem to Liberty” it was renamed by no less a personage than Maximilien Robespierre, who leant his enthusiastic approval despite the fact that Chénier had been a supporter of the since-discredited Girondin faction. Within two weeks of its emergence, Robespierre would be toppled and sent to the guillotine in the Thermidorian Reaction of 27 July, but the song’s popularity would live on, remaining a standard French military theme to the present day. Much of its fame is attributable to the multiple “voices” assigned to its various verses, three of which are included below.
Le Chant du Départ
Un député du Peuple
Une mère de famille
|A Deputy of the People
Opens for us the gates.
Liberty guides our steps.
And from the North to the South
The war trumpet
Signals the hour of the fight.
Tremble, enemies of France,
Kings drunk on blood and pride.
The sovereign People comes forth,
Tyrants go down to your graves.
The Republic is calling us.
Let us know how to vanquish or to perish.
A Frenchman must live for her;
For her a Frenchman must die.
A mother to her family
Fear not that our motherly eyes should weep.
From us begone, cowardly grief!
We must triumph when you bear arms.
It is kings who have to weep.
We gave you life,
Warriors, it is no longer yours;
All your days belong to the Motherland
It is your mother above all. [Chorus]
Leave, valiant husbands! Battles are your feasts.
Leave, models for warriors.
We shall pick flowers to crown your heads.
Our hands shall braid laurels.
And if the temple of memory (death)
Should open for your victorious manes,
Our voices shall sing your glory,
Our wombs shall bear your avengers. [Chorus]