Il y a un très beau poème appartenant à Louis Aragon, « Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux », adapté à une belle chanson. La deuxième strophe va disant :

Sa vie, elle ressemble à ces soldats sans armes
Qu'on avait habillés pour un autre destin.
A quoi peut leur servir de ce lever matin,
Eux qu'on retrouve au soir désarmés, incertains…
Dites ces mots “ma vie” et retenez vos larmes.

Qu'est-ce que la partie marquée signifie ? « Quand vous dites ces mots, “ ma vie ”, ils vous feront vous souvenir de toutes les larmes que vous avez versées en vivant. » ? Ou bien « Quand vous dites ces mots, “ ma vie ”, ils vous feront pleurer ; puis, souvenez-vous de cettes larmes que vous aurez versées ! » ?

Update. Based on the comments, I would add a third interpretation to the list, “Say these words, «my life», and hold back your tears”. Naturally, there is also the interpretation where «my life» refers to the wife of the poet; but to me it sounds doubtful because the poet uses «vous», I believe he would not refer like that to his wife (?). Question: I would like to know how likely each of these interpretations is… I mean, based just on the properties of the French language; let us leave poetry aside for now. :)

Update #2. Just to explain the background of my question… And as an answer to a question in the comments section…

On parle de l'incertitude de la vie humaine, comme celle de la vie des soldats lors de la Deuxième en France, comme de la nôtre ?

Oui, c'est aussi mon interprétation. L'incertitude fatale + la qualité des relations de l'homme vers sa vie. Les vers principaux, pour moi, sont « la vie est un étrange et douloureux divorce » et « le temps d'apprendre à vivre il est déjà trop tard ». On a besoin de « divorcer » ses rêves, continuellement ; l'amour n'est pas ce qu'on rêve d'acquérir ; il est, au contraire, la vie même, toujours imparfaite, incertaine. C'est pourquoi il est difficile pour moi d'abandonner la répétition de « ma vie » comme un nom de la vie humaine en général qui est le sujet central du poème : ce nom se rencontre dans le première strophe et deux fois dans la deuxième. J'ai entendu la chanson dans le filme « 8 femmes », où cette interpretation est très naturelle.

Ma question est seulement linguistique, comme j'ai dit ; si j'ai bien compris, toutes les interprétations décrites sont possibles en ce qui concerne la langue strictement dite…

  • 2
    I've nothing to back it up, but I've always taken "ces mots" to mean "Il n'y a pas d'amour heureux" and "Ma vie" as a reference to the love of his (Aragon's) life (his wife, Elsa)=== "Say these (the following sad) words, my love, and hold back your tears: 'There's no happy/perfect love'."
    – Papa Poule
    Oct 9, 2017 at 23:22
  • @PapaPoule Thanks a lot, that makes sense! Is it true that neither interpretation of mine makes sense or is in the slightest probable?
    – Evgeniy
    Oct 10, 2017 at 6:37
  • 1
    @PapaPoule Ce qui m'inquiète, c'est la question : pourquoi Aragon a-t-il vouvoyé sa femme ? On lit ici : « le couple se marie en 1939 » … Cela me paraît invraisemblable…
    – Evgeniy
    Oct 10, 2017 at 6:56
  • “Vouvoying” Elsa in Stanza 2 is strange, especially since he jumps to “tutoying” in St. 3, but perhaps the “…toi l’amour de la patrie” in St. 5 (omitted by Brassens) could be a clue that the object of his love (& of his “tut-ing”) in St. 3 (& maybe throughout the entire poem) is really “[occupied/déchue] France,” which leaves open the possibility that he is “vou-ing” Elsa in St 2. Although strange, “vou-ing” one’s spouse is not unheard of, especially if he wanted to make a distinction between 2 different people/entities (?Elsa=vous & [occupied] France=tu?) being addressed w/“you” in the poem.
    – Papa Poule
    Oct 10, 2017 at 18:28
  • Re the words he wants someone [Elsa or who/whatever] to say, I don’t think "ces mots" means the 2 words ”Ma vie,” but rather the poem's refrain, which comes right after his command to “Dites ces mots” (or maybe even the entire poem in light of “les mots que j’ai tressés” in St. 3, which could be referring back to “ces mots” & taken to mean “this poem that I wrote”). I do, however, think you could be right that "retenir" as used here has the "garder en memoire" & NOT the "hold back" sense: “Say these words/Recite this poem and [when you do,]//remember the tears you['ve] shed//try not to cry.”
    – Papa Poule
    Oct 10, 2017 at 18:32

1 Answer 1


I would add a third interpretation to the list, “Say these words, «my life», and hold back your tears”

This is clearly the good interpretation for me. It cannot be your first interpretation Quand vous dites ces mots, “ ma vie ” because the tense used is imperative in the text. Also, you're introducing a notion of "past" or repetition that is not here.

Same for your second interpretation: you're introducing a notion of future that doesn't have its place here.

If we had to think of the sense of this sentence now (I believe this is more subjective), fI would say something like:

When you say "my life", you think about your life and the sadness, despair and boredom it contains, and you have to hold back back the tears that comes.

  • :) By the way, I later learnt that the word « divorce » in application to broken dreams was reused by Camus when he defined his all-important notion of “absurd”. « Quel est donc cet incalculable sentiment qui prive l'esprit du sommeil nécessaire à sa vie ? Un monde qu'on peut expliquer même avec de mauvaises raisons est un monde familier. Mais au contraire, dans un univers soudain privé d'illusions et de lumières, l'homme se sent un étranger. < … > Ce divorce entre l'homme et sa vie, l'acteur et son décor, c'est proprement le sentiment de l'absurdité. » (Le mythe de Sisyphe)
    – Evgeniy
    Oct 28, 2017 at 7:41
  • @Evgeniy Yeah, "divorce" is a word representing the separation of two things that once formed an union. But I don't think this can be used in the context of this poem (Aragon's), as he's not detaching himself from his life, he's scrutinizing it.
    – Turtle
    Oct 28, 2017 at 17:15
  • Life itself is a divorce: « la vie est un étrange et douloureux divorce ». Apparently, between a human and his dream (his image of an ideal life, like e. g. in marriage). The line is too remarkable for Camus not to have taken a note of it… So, while there's no grammatical link, I believe there must be a logical one. Just a side-note, of course.
    – Evgeniy
    Oct 28, 2017 at 18:37
  • By the way, I think that the addressees of the suggestion to hold back the tears are «eux qu'on retrouve au soir désœvrés, incertains». I put an ellipsis there by mistake; in the original text there was no punctuation.
    – Evgeniy
    Jan 19, 2018 at 16:33

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