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“A friend will come out of the shadows”: French partisan songs

“Friend, do you hear the crows’ dark flight over our plains?…


“Le Chant des Partisans” (“Song of the Partisans” or “Liberation song”) is the anthem of the French Resistance, still played today during official commemorations. The author is Anna Marly (1917-2006), a French artist of Russian origin who fled to London after the German occupation of France in 1940. Marly composed and wrote the song at the end of 1941, in Russian, a mobilizing song entitled “Guerilla song” or “Partisan March”, in response to the advance of the Nazi army in her country of origin. When Emmanuel d’Astier, one of the French resistance leaders, heard her perform the song, he immediately said: “This is the song we need for France.” Joseph Kessel, himself of Russian origin, wrote a French version with his nephew and writer Maurice Druon, and “Le Chant des Partisans” was born. Germaine Sablon, then Joseph Kessel’s companion, recorded a first version in spring 1943 ; the melody became the musical theme of a BBC-broadcast of the Free France, and the song was also printed in underground newspapers in occupied France. It became particularly popular after the liberation, known as the “Marseillaise of the Resistance“.


Anna Marly composed another song during the war, “La Complainte du Partisan” (The Complaint of the Partisan), on lyrics written by Emmanuel d’Astier. Both songs are sometimes confused, as they are both dedicated to the life-or-death fight of the Partisans against the German occupier, but in different ways. “Le chant des partisans” has the rhythm of a military march, it is a call to arms, with the perspective of the final victory to come, whatever the losses: “Friend, if you fall, a friend will come out of the shadows in your place.” “La Complainte du Partisan” also evokes the final victory. But it is a more introspective song, a melancholic ballad, a tribute to the sufferings and sacrifices of the resisters who are not fighting out of heroism but because it is their duty, and when “Freedom will return / We will be forgotten / We will return to the shadows”.


“La complainte du partisan” became later internationally known under the title “The Partisan”, in particular in the version sung by Leonhard Cohen. The English version follows the French original text, with one crucial difference: in the last strophe, the resistor is not forgotten, on the contrary: “Freedom soon will come / Then we’ll come from the shadows.”


Yvan Gastaut and Nicolas Moll


“Le chant des partisans” (Song of the Partisans), sung by Anna Marly:

Another video-version,  with footage from the liberation of Paris in August 1944:

Ami, entends-tu le vol noir des corbeaux sur nos plaines

Ami, entends-tu le chant lourd du pays qu’on enchaîne

Ohé, partisans, ouvriers et paysans, à vos armes

Ce soir l’ennemi connaîtra le prix du sang et des larmes

Montez de la mine, descendez des collines, camarades

Sortez de la paille les fusils, la mitraille, les grenades

Ohé, les tueurs à la balle ou au couteau, tuez vite

Ohé, saboteur, attention à ton fardeau, dynamite

C’est nous qui brisons les barreaux des prisons pour nos frères

La haine à nos trousses et la faim qui nous pousse, la misère

Il y a des pays où les gens au creux du lit font des rêves

Ici, nous, vois-tu, nous on marche et nous on tue, nous on crève

Ici chacun sait ce qu’il veut, ce qu’il fait quand il passe

Ami, si tu tombes un ami sort de l’ombre à ta place

Demain du sang noir sèchera au grand soleil sur les routes

Les compagnons, dans la nuit la Liberté vous écoute.

Video “La complainte du partisan(The complaint of the partisan), version sung by Anna Marly in 1963:

Les Allemands étaient chez moi

On m’a dit résigne-toi

Mais je n’ai pas pu

Et j’ai repris mon arme

Personne ne m’a demandé

D’où je viens et où je vais

Vous qui le savez

Effacez mon passage

J’ai changé cent fois de nom

J’ai perdu femme et enfants

Mais j’ai tant d’amis

Et j’ai la France entière

Un vieil homme dans un grenier

Pour la nuit nous a cachés

Les Allemands l’ont pris

Il est mort sans surprise

Hier encore nous étions trois

Il ne reste plus que moi

Et je tourne en rond

Dans la prison des frontières

Le vent passe sur les tombes

La liberté reviendra

On nous oubliera

Nous rentrerons dans l’ombre.

Video: “The Partisan”, sung by Leonard Cohen in 1969:

When they poured across the border

I was cautioned to surrender

This I could not do;

I took my gun and vanished


I have changed my name so often

I’ve lost my wife and children

But I have many friends

And some of them are with me


An old woman gave us shelter

Kept us hidden in the garret

Then the soldiers came;

She died without a whisper


There were three of us this morning

I’m the only one this evening

But I must go on;

The frontiers are my prison


Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing

Through the graves the wind is blowing

Freedom soon will come;

Then we’ll come from the shadows


Les Allemands étaient chez moi

Ils me dirent, “Signe toi,”

Mais je n’ai pas peur;

J’ai repris mon arme


J’ai changé cent fois de nom

J’ai perdu femme et enfants

Mais j’ai tant d’amis;

J’ai la France entière


Un vieil homme dans un grenier

Pour la nuit nous a caché

Les Allemands l’ont pris;

Il est mort sans surprise


Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing

Through the graves the wind is blowing

Freedom soon will come;

Then we’ll come from the shadows.

Souces / further readings

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