3 Songs From Les Mis That Should Have Stayed In French

3 Songs From Les Mis That Should Have Stayed In French

3 Songs From Les Mis That Should Have Stayed In French

les mis songs in french

Translating between languages is never easy, and translators would often find quirks. Translating poetry and songs is even more difficult because the translator has to take into account the rhymes and the poetic structure while preserving the message of the piece. Also, there are some things in a language that only native and proficient speakers will be able to express and understand.

In this regard, we could have a translated piece inferior to the original. Today, we will explore such phenomenon by analyzing the songs of Les Misérables, particularly from the 2012 movie, and the original versions of those songs in French. Our list below will take note of the songs that are better when in French.

3. Who Am I?

This is the song Jean Valjean sang upon knowing someone was arrested instead of him because the (arrested) man looked like him. The French version is titled Comment faire? (How do I?)

Comment faire? has more poetical strength than its English counterpart. In the English version, Valjean sang that he wondered how his workers would live if he would be back in prison. However, the French Valjean sang with the answer, instead of a question, “It is to nothingness, where I will send them back.”

Another example was, “This innocent who bears my face…” The French song was more impactful and direct with the line, “This innocent man’s only sin is to look like me.”

The part about facing his fellow men and himself? Comment faire? had better metaphors using mirrors with the line, “How do I face the mirror once again if the only thing I’ll see is someone ashamed of his face?”

les mis songs in french

2. I Dreamed a Dream

I Dreamed a Dream came from the French song J’avais rêvé (I had dreamed), sung by Fantine, describing her life’s misery. In the song, she recalled how she dreamed that life would improve, but she realized that the truth was so far from “the hell she was living.”

However, I Dreamed of Dream would sometimes sound like someone tried to force the notes within a set number of syllables. In the crescendo part, compare the word “shame” to the French “passe.” The English song continued to raise the notes on the only pronounced vowel, and then it gradually slowed and toned down because the note could not go any higher.

However, the French word has this “optional silent -e.” Usually, when a French word ends with “e,” the said letter is not pronounced. It’s optional. One can pronounce it if one wishes, and it is pronounced with a schwa.

With this linguistic advantage, J’avais rêvé raised the tone as high as possible and abruptly dropped it without any “fade out.” The word “passe” became bi-syllabic to catch that “abrupt fall”. And then the “se” syllable rose the song back to its average pitches.

The English version has a few more instances of forcing tones in syllables, which made the song sound a bit off, like “unsung” in “no song unsung, no wine untasted.

les mis songs in french

1. On My Own

When you think On My Own already stings the heart, wait until you hear the French version, Mon Histoire. Once you’ve listened to Mon Histoire, you wouldn’t go back to On My Own again.

Mon Histoire had a background theme. It was writing a story wherein Éponine thought of having her “prince” embrace her and change her life. On My Own, on the other hand, did not. Although it kept the idea of having Éponine having the life, she would have preferred with her beloved.

More lines would sink into the heart of the listeners of the French version as the Éponine in the song was singing about her feelings, with less of metaphorical descriptions of the things around her. To name a few lines, the English “all my life, I’ve only been pretending” is “all my life, I’ve been waiting for a shadow” in French.

Another instance of the English Éponine over-describing is the line, “I love him, but when the night is over, he is gone, the river is just a river,” in French, “I love him, but how short the nights are! In the morning, he continues like nothing!

All in all, Mon Histoire is superior to On My Own because the former had a structure in the song’s plot, and it’s more about Éponine describing how she felt and not writing a poem about how she felt.

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