Qui est là? Personne (bis).

Qui est là? Personne (bis).

key ay LAH? pair-SUN (BEESS). Click below to hear the entire poem.

Who’s there? Nobody (again).

Bis means twice, or again. You may have seen it on sheet music, where you are supposed to sing or play something twice. It’s at the top of this post because we are repeating yesterday’s topic.

On Frappe (someone’s knocking)

Qui est là (Who’s there)
Personne (Nobody)
C’est simplement mon cœur qui bat (It’s just my heart beating)
Qui bat très fort
(Beating very hard)
A cause de toi (Because of you)
Mais dehors (But outside)
La petite main de bronze sur la porte de bois (The little bronze hand on the wooden door)
Ne bouge pas (Isn’t budging)
Ne remue pas (Isn’t stirring)
Ne remue pas seulement le petit bout du doigt (Isn’t stirring, just the little tip of the finger)

Notice that both bouger and remuer mean to move, but there’s a difference. Bouger (boo-ZHAY) is to budge (in fact that’s where the English word comes from), often implying moving from one place to another. Remuer means to stir, more like moving in place. In fact, when you stir a pot in the kitchen, remuer is the verb you use.

Don’t you love the last line? Instead of saying le bout du petit doigt, the end of the little finger, the poem says le petit bout du doigt, the little end of the finger. Simply by displacing the adjective, the poet calls attention to the immobility of the hand, and paints a much more evocative picture. Which finger? Why is the tip of the finger moving? Why only the tip? Is there really someone at the door? Why tap so lightly? Who is knocking? The meaning may be cryptic and mystifying, but it is certainly memorable.

The title of the poem suggests that someone is indeed knocking, but gives us no clue who that might be. On is a pronoun that officially means one, someone, somebody, they, people, but is frequently used in colloquial French to mean we as well.

And notice also the construction of this phrase: c’est mon coeur qui bat. In English, we normally say it’s my heart beating. But in French, you have to add the clause that is missing but understood–it’s my heart, which is beating: c’est mon coeur qui bat.

There’s no such thing in French as the present progressive–the is…-ing form in English (is beating). Mon coeur qui bat could mean my heart which is beating, which beats, or which does beat, reducing three choices to one simple choice: the ordinary, plain-vanilla present tense.


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