Qui est là? Personne.

Qui est là? Personne.

key ay LAH? pair-SUN. Click below to hear this:

Who’s there? Nobody.

Could be a simple question-and-answer, but it’s also the first line of a French song. Here are the words:

On Frappe (someone’s knocking)

Qui est là
C’est simplement mon cœur qui bat
Qui bat très fort
A cause de toi
Mais dehors
La petite main de bronze sur la porte de bois
Ne bouge pas
Ne remue pas
Ne remue pas seulement le petit bout du doigt

The great French singer Yves Montand (who was actually born in Italy) included this little song in an album called Yves Montand Chante Prévert. Many of Jacques Prévert’s poems lend themselves admirably to the style of French chanson (shah-SAW, song) that was popular between the two World Wars and through the 1950s, even into the 1960s.

When Montand sings this, he pronounces personne as pair-SUN-uh. That’s because the melody requires an extra syllable. You can hear a sample at this link.

And what about la petite main de bronze sur la porte de bois? That’s the little bronze hand on the wooden door. Door knockers in France often take very artistic forms, including that of a hand holding a ball. In this case, the ball is an apple.

Tomorrow: the translation of this song, a few more comments, and an audio file of the whole poem!


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