On n’a rien appris/We didn’t learn anything

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Je ne comprends rien jamais

Rien jamais, rien jamais

On me dit toutes sortes de choses

Que j’oublierai aussitôt.

Je ne comprends que la vie

n’est qu’un téléroman sur les murs

où les ombres se moquent des êtres ensoleillés

dans une danse tout pour le miroir.

Non, je ne comprends jamais rien,

Jamais rien, jamais rien

On m’apprend des secrets à plumes à vol

dont je coupe les ailes en singes.

Je ne comprends que la mort

ce n’est qu’une fille à mettre bas

qui grandira en l’étoile dans cette pièce,

qui volera ma glace ombrageuse.

Non, je ne comprends que ce qui suit

et après ça ne m’écoutez plus:

Le sol et la Lune sont tous les amoureux en guerre

dont le sang pleut doucement sur nous.

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Rough English Translation and Notes:

I never understand anything,

nothing never, nothing never

They tell me all sorts of things

That I’ll forget soon enough.

I don’t understand that life

is nothing but a melodrama on the walls

where shadow-dancers make fun of sunlit beings

in a dance all for the mirror.

No, I never understand anything,

Never nothing, never nothing,

They tell me secrets feathered for flight

Whose wings I clip into monkeys.

I don’t understand that death

is nothing more than a daughter to bear

Who will grow into the star of this show

and will steal my mirror full of shadows.

No, I understand nothing save the following

And after this don’t listen to me anymore:

The sun and moon are all the lovers at war

whose blood rains softly upon us.

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Image credits in order of appearance:

By Laura Theresa Alma-Tadema – Art Renewal Center, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=38907937

By Mawie49 – Own work, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=5835580

By Saga70 – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=43908337

(BENEATH) By Edmond Louis Dupain (1847-1933) – Hampel Kunstauktionen, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20772569

Notes: (For those curious or suspicious about grammar and stuff)

1.The title of this poem, “On n’a rien appris,” can technically translate either as “we didn’t learn anything” or “we didn’t teach anything.” The pronoun “on” is also very vague: it could refer to “us,” “people,” “society,” “it,” or any other unnamed group or individual. The possible meanings of this title, therefore, include “You didn’t teach me anything” and “the world learned nothing,” among others.

2. “Comprendre” is the French verb for “understand” or “include,” the way a book includes chapters on different topics.

3. In French, there are many grammatical situations where the double negative is used to equal a negative (a familiar example is the fact that there are two words to the basic French negation, “ne”+”pas”.) Some other examples include ne…personne (no one), “ne…rien” (nothing), “n’aller nulle part” (to not go no place, literally). “Rien” and “jamais” are words that need ne as well, but they aren’t commonly used together, with no explanatory words interspersed, as they are in this poem. For example, “Je ne comprends jamais aucune chose” would be more clear, as it presents a double and not a triple negative, which in French is good. Yep. (However, jamais rien can just be a very emphatic NO). What I meant to convey is, “I never understand anything” or “I never understand nothing” (meaning I always understand something) can both be derived here.

4. The phrase “ne…(verb)…que” means “not/none with the exception of.”Que” by itself is used to separate and emphasize parts of a sentence or phrase the way “that” or “which” does in English. As you can see I used “ne” and “que” in deliberately confusing ways here.

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5. “Mettre bas” is used to refer to mammals giving birth, like “calving” in English. It can also refer to “bringing down” the quality, etc. of an entity.

6. “Étoile” is the French word for stars in space, but can also be used to refer to the “star” of a movie, etc. “Pièce” has many meanings; notably a piece of theater and a room in a house.

7. The verb “voler” can mean “to fly away” (literally or figuratively), as well as “to steal,” its more direct meaning here.

8. The verbs for “to cry” and “to rain” in French are remarkably similar: “pleurer” and “pleuvoir” respectively. I used to get them mixed up, and still do as some of the conjugations sound similar. Here pleuvoir is used, although I automatically typed pleurer at first.

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2 thoughts on “On n’a rien appris/We didn’t learn anything

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