Ça Ira

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Demons in the sky sing "Ça ira" as the blade of the guillotine severs the head of Louis XVI in this British print published just four days after the king's execution on 21 January 1793.
"Ça ira" is written on the hat of this musician

"Ça ira" (French: "it'll be fine") is an emblematic song of the French Revolution, first heard in May 1790. It underwent several changes in wording, all of which used the title words as part of the refrain.

Original version[edit]

The author of the original words "Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira" was a former soldier by the name of Ladré who made a living as a street singer.

The music is a popular contredanse air called le Carillon national, and was composed by Bécourt, a violinist (according to other sources: side drum player) of the théâtre Beaujolais. The queen Marie Antoinette herself is said to have often played the music on her harpsichord.

The title and theme of the refrain were inspired by Benjamin Franklin, in France as a representative of the Continental Congress, who was very popular among the French people. When asked about the American Revolutionary War, he would reportedly reply, in somewhat broken French, "Ça ira, ça ira" ("It'll be fine, it'll be fine").

The song first became popular as a worksong during the preparation for the Fête de la Fédération of 1790 and eventually became recognized as an unofficial anthem of revolutionaries.[1]

Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Le peuple en ce jour sans cesse répète,
Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Malgré les mutins tout réussira !

Nos ennemis confus en restent là
Et nous allons chanter « Alléluia ! »
Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Quand Boileau jadis du clergé parla
Comme un prophète il a prédit cela.
En chantant ma chansonnette
Avec plaisir on dira :
Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira

Suivant les maximes de l’évangile
Du législateur tout s’accomplira.
Celui qui s’élève on l’abaissera
Celui qui s’abaisse on l’élèvera.
Le vrai catéchisme nous instruira
Et l’affreux fanatisme s’éteindra.
Pour être à la loi docile
Tout Français s’exercera.
Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira

Pierrette et Margot chantent la guinguette
Réjouissons-nous, le bon temps viendra !
Le peuple français jadis à quia,
L’aristocrate dit : « Mea culpa ! »
Le clergé regrette le bien qu'il a,
Par justice, la nation l’aura.
Par le prudent Lafayette,
Tout le monde s'apaisera.

Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Par les flambeaux de l’auguste assemblée,
Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Le peuple armé toujours se gardera.
Le vrai d'avec le faux l’on connaîtra,
Le citoyen pour le bien soutiendra.

Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Quand l’aristocrate protestera,
Le bon citoyen au nez lui rira,
Sans avoir l’âme troublée,
Toujours le plus fort sera.

Petits comme grands sont soldats dans l’âme,
Pendant la guerre aucun ne trahira.
Avec cœur tout bon Français combattra,
S’il voit du louche, hardiment parlera.
Lafayette dit : « Vienne qui voudra ! »
Sans craindre ni feu, ni flamme,
Le Français toujours vaincra !

Ah ! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
The people on this day repeat over and over,
Ah ! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
In spite of the mutineers everything shall succeed.

Our enemies, confounded, stay petrified
And we shall sing Alleluia
Ah ! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
When Boileau used to speak about the clergy
Like a prophet he predicted this.
By singing my little song
With pleasure, people shall say,
Ah ! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine.

According to the precepts of the Gospel
Of the lawmaker everything shall be accomplished
The one who puts on airs shall be brought down
The one who is humble shall be elevated
The true catechism shall instruct us
And the awful fanaticism shall be snuffed out.
At being obedient to Law
Every Frenchman shall train
Ah ! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine.

Pierrette and Margot sing the guinguette
Let us rejoice, good times will come !
The French people used to keep silent,
The aristocrat says, "Mea culpa!"
The clergy regrets its wealth,
The state, with justice, will get it.
Thanks to the careful Lafayette,
Everyone will calm down.

Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
By the torches of the august assembly,
Ah ! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
An armed people will always take care of themselves.
We'll know right from wrong,
The citizen will support the Good.

Ah ! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
When the aristocrat shall protest,
The good citizen will laugh in his face,
Without troubling his soul,
And will always be the stronger.

Small ones and great ones all have the soul of a soldier,
During war none shall betray.
With heart all good French people will fight,
If he sees something fishy he shall speak with courage.
Lafayette says "come if you will!"
Without fear for fire or flame,
The French always shall win!

Sans-culotte version[edit]

At later stages of the revolution, many sans-culottes used several much more aggressive stanzas, calling for the lynching of the nobility and the clergy.

Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
les aristocrates à la lanterne!
Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
les aristocrates on les pendra!
Si on n’ les pend pas
On les rompra
Si on n’ les rompt pas
On les brûlera.
Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
les aristocrates à la lanterne!
Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
les aristocrates on les pendra!
Nous n’avions plus ni nobles, ni prêtres,
Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira,
L’égalité partout régnera.
L’esclave autrichien le suivra,
Ah ! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira,
Et leur infernale clique
Au diable s’envolera.
Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
les aristocrates à la lanterne!
Ah! ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
les aristocrates on les pendra!
Et quand on les aura tous pendus
On leur fichera la pelle au cul

Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
aristocrats to the lamp-post
Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
the aristocrats, we'll hang them!
If we don't hang them
We'll break them
If we don't break them
We'll burn them
Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
aristocrats to the lamp-post
Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
the aristocrats, we'll hang them!
We shall have no more nobles nor priests
Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
Equality will reign everywhere
The Austrian slave shall follow him
Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
And their infernal clique
Shall go to hell
Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
aristocrats to the lamp-post
Ah! It'll be fine, It'll be fine, It'll be fine
the aristocrats, we'll hang them!
And when we'll have hung them all
We'll stick a shovel up their arse

Post-revolutionary use[edit]

The song survived past the Reign of Terror, and, during the Directory, it became mandatory to sing it before shows. It was forbidden under the Consulate.

The ship of the line La Couronne was renamed Ça Ira in 1792 in reference to this song.

At the 1793 Battle of Famars, the 14th Regiment of Foot, The West Yorkshire Regiment, attacked the French to the music of "Ça ira" (the colonel commenting that he would "beat the French to their own damned tune"). The regiment was later awarded the tune as a battle honour and regimental quick march. It has since been adopted by the Yorkshire Regiment.[2]

Carl Schurz, in volume 1, chapter 14, of his Reminiscences, reported from exile in England that upon Napoleon III's coup d'état of 2 December 1851, "Our French friends shouted and shrieked and gesticulated and hurled opprobrious names at Louis Napoleon and cursed his helpers, and danced the Carmagnole and sang 'Ça ira.'"

Modern adaptations[edit]

An alternative "sans-culotte"-like version was sung by Édith Piaf for the soundtrack of the film Royal Affairs in Versailles (Si Versailles m'était conté) by Sacha Guitry.

The song is featured in the 1999 television series The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Richard E. Grant. There the lyrics are sung in English as follows:

Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Over in France there's a revolution
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Watch what you say or you'll lose your head
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Pass some time, see an execution!
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Une deux trois and you fall down dead
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
Hear the tale of Marie Antoinette-a!
Ah ça ira, ça ira, ça ira
A bloodier sight you have never seen!

In an opening scene of the novel What Is To Be Done? by Nikolay Chernyshevsky, the protagonist Vera Pavlovna is shown singing a song with ça ira in the refrain, accompanied by a paraphrase outlining the struggle for a socialist utopian future. The 1875 French translator "A.T." produced a four-stanza version on the basis of the paraphrase, which was reproduced in full by Benjamin Tucker in his translation.[3]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Hanson, Paul R. (2004). Historical Dictionary of the French Revolution. Scarecrow Press. p. 53. ISBN 978-0-8108-5052-1. Retrieved 23 November 2011. 
  2. ^ "The Band of The Yorkshire Regiment". British Army. Ministry of Defence. Retrieved 19 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Nikolay Chernyshevsky, Que faire, translated by A.T. (1875), page 5. Nikolay Chernyshevsky, What's to be done? A romance, translated by Benjamin R. Tucker (1884–86, 4th edition 1909), page 8. Nikolay Chernyshevsky, A vital question; or, What is to be done?, translated by Nathan Haskell Dole and Simon S. Skidelsky (1886), page 4 gives an English translation of the original paraphrase.

External links[edit]