The Marseillaise

The French National Day on the 14th got me thinking about national anthems- the Marseillaise for instance. It’s a rousing tune with a strong history. But it’s not exactly for children. And should one’s hope for one’s nation be quite so bloody? Some anthems are difficult to sing well (The Star-spangled Banner), some are short (Japan’s 1100 year old anthem has 31 syllables, the Ugandan anthem is only 9 bars) and some are very long (the Uruguayan anthem is 105 bars). Australia’s national anthem is ordinary by comparison.

r-de-lOriginally Le Chant de Guerre de l’Armée du Rhin, it is believed to have been written in Strasbourg on the night of 24 April, 1792 by Claude-Joseph Rouget de Lisle (1760-1836), captain in the engineers, at the request of the Mayor of Strasbourg who had in turn been asked by General Kellermann, commander of the Rhine Army, to commission a patriotic revolutionary battle-hymn.

It was later taken up by militia battalions led by General François Mireur for his newly formed militia battalions in Marseilles and called Chant de Guerre aux Armées aux Frontières. They sung it on entry to Paris on 30 July 1792, where the crowds dubbed it the Marseillaise.

The song was taken up by the revolutionary militias that stormed the Tuilleries on 10 August 1792 and adopted by decree as national song of the republic on 14 July, 1795″to be banned as restored as empire, monarchy and republic replaced each other in succession.

Of the seven verses, the first and sixth are most commonly used:

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé!
Contre nous de la tyrannie,
L’étendard sanglant est levé.
L’étendard sanglant est levé!
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Egorger vos fils et vos compagnes!

Come, children of the homeland
The glorious day has come!
Against us tyranny’s
Bloody standard is raised,
Bloody standard is raised!
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The howl of these savage soldiers?
They come right into our midst
To cut the throats of our sons and wives.

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!


To arms, citizens!
Form your battalions
Let us march, Let us march!
Let impure blood
Water our fields.

Amour sacré de la Patrie,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs
Liberté, Liberté chérie,
Combats avec tes défenseurs!
Combats avec tes défenseurs!
Sous nos drapeaux que la victoire
Accoure à tes mâles accents,
Que tes ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire !

Sacred love of the homeland
Guide and support our vengeful arms.
Liberty, beloved liberty,
Fight with your defenders;
Fight with your defenders.
Under our flags, may victory
Rush to your manly strains;
So that as your enemies are dying
They might see your triumph and our glory!