Hebe Tien’s latest song « It is the Hour » : 

Presenting French « chanson », and Baudelaire’s poem?!

hebe tien baudelaire serge reggiani french chanson

Taiwanese singer Hebe Tien has published her latest song « It is the Hour » in February 2022, but what is the relationship between her song and French culture?

In fact, the lyrics of Hebe Tien’s « It is the Hour » is translated from a work « Enivrez-vous » (Get Drunk) of French poet Charles Baudelaire. The poetic writing sublimates Tien’s song with a touch of illusionary and artistics.

Who is Charles Baudelaire? 

Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867) was a French poet in the mid-19th century. Despite his works focusing on lust and provocation being criticised by the public at the time, Baudelaire is considered  one of the greatest writers not only in France, but over the world! Marcel Proust praised Baudelaire as “the greatest poet in the 19th century” , as did Alfred de Vigny. (« Je le regrette d’autant plus que je tiens Baudelaire — avec Alfred de Vigny — pour le plus grand poète du XIXe siècle. »)

Read More - Comment of Baudelaire by Proust: « À propos de Baudelaire »

Baudelaire is famous for his evocative language. You may find his expressiveness in  his most notable works « Les Fleurs du mal » (“The Flowers of Evil”, 1857) and « Le Speen de Paris » (“Paris Spleen", 1869), which « Enivrez-vous » is collected in the later one. 

More about « Le Spleen de Paris » and « Enivrez-vous » 

Unlike the poem « Les Fleurs du mal », « Le Spleen de Paris » was published as “poèmes en prose” (prose-poem), where it  includes poetic  language and expressions, but in the format of prose. 

Let’s read « Enivrez-vous » as example -

Il faut être toujours ivre, tout est là ; c'est l'unique question. Pour ne pas sentir l'horrible fardeau du temps qui brise vos épaules et vous penche vers la terre, il faut vous enivrer sans trêve.

Mais de quoi? De vin, de poésie, ou de vertu à votre guise, mais enivrez-vous!

Et si quelquefois, sur les marches d’un palais, sur l’herbe verte d’un fossé, dans la solitude morne de votre chambre, vous vous réveillez, l’ivresse déjà diminuée ou disparue, demandez au vent, à la vague, à l’étoile, à l’oiseau, à l’horloge, à tout ce qui fuit, à tout ce qui gémit, à tout ce qui roule, à tout ce qui chante, à tout ce qui parle, demandez quelle heure il est ; et le vent, la vague, l’étoile, l’oiseau, l’horloge, vous répondront : « Il est l’heure de s’enivrer ! Pour n’être pas les esclaves martyrisés du Temps, enivrez-vous ; enivrez-vous sans cesse ! De vin, de poésie ou de vertu, à votre guise. »
One must always be drunk. That is the heart of the matter. So as not to feel the horrible burden of Time crushing your shoulders and bending you toward the earth, you must get drunk without rest.
But on what? On wine, on poetry, or on virtue; you choose. But get drunk.
And if, from time to time—on the steps of a palace, in the green grass of a ditch, in the doleful silence of your bedroom—you awaken to find your drunkenness has dissipated or disappeared, ask the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds, the clocks; ask all that flees, or wails, or rolls; ask all that sings or speaks; ask what time it is, and the wind, the waves, the stars, the birds, the clocks will answer you: “It is time to get drunk! So as not to be Time’s martyred slaves, get drunk, get drunk, and never rest! On wine, on poetry, or on virtue; you choose.”

Translated by Emily Leithauser

Baudelaire + Hebe Tien = « chanson » ?

Hebe Tien’s « It is the Hour » translates the last paragraph of « Enivrez-vous » to sing and read as lyrics, which, in fact, embodies the idea of French chanson! 

The word “chanson” generally means songs, but it also specially refers to the French lyric-driven vocal music. Chanson has a long history and diversifies into different sub-genres.  The chanson de geste emphasises on the poetic language or even refers to the poem as lyrics (or vice-versa), is one of the genres. 

It is not new to include Baudelaire’s works in popular songs or any types of popular culture. But not only the works of Baudelaire but other great writers. 

The Greatest Chanson Singer -  Serge Reggiani

You must not miss Serge Reggiani’s songs if we are talking about chanson. Reggiani (1922-2004) also brings French poets’ works to audiences. For example « Le Dormeur du Val » by Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891), « Le Deserteur » by Boris Vian (1920-1959), and « Le pont Mirabeau » by Guillaume Apollinaire (1880-1918). 

Let’s make a cup of coffee with a madeleine for the poetic French songs! 

Learn French with Alliance Francaise de Hong Kong

Getting drunk with the poems? Let’s learn more about French literature with Alliance Française de Hong Kong. AFHK organises a wide range of French classes and workshops on French culture, including Focus on Littérature et Culture.

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