A Historical “Objick-Lesson”: La Marseillaise

8 09 2020

La Marseillaise, the French national anthem, has had connotations of revolution and progress around the world. With its lyrics calling to avenge tyranny, it’s made for a fitting theme song for dozens of political movements throughout history. One of them, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) of the UK, adopted it in the early 20th century as the “Women’s Marseillaise” with new lyrics to rally women around the cause of suffrage. You can hear some of the women in How the Vote Was Won sing this tune as they prepare to fight for their cause.

The original lyrics in French and English:

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

Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

Aux armes, citoyens

Formez vos bataillons

Marchons, marchons!

Qu’un sang impur

Abreuve nos sillons!

Arise, children of the Fatherland,

The day of glory has arrived!

Against us, tyranny’s

Bloody standard is raised

The bloody standard is raised

Do you hear, in the countryside,

The roar of those ferocious soldiers?

They’re coming right into your arms

To cut the throats of your sons, your women!

To arms, citizens,

Form your battalions,

Let’s march, let’s march!

Let an impure blood

Water our furrows!

Lyrics to The Women’s Marseillaise (with other suffrage tunes):

You can hear the melody in the video below. It features the Paris Commune Anthem, which has different lyrics that also fit with the progressive theme. The folk feel, as I (the dramaturg) have felt, might make it more suitable for a women’s anthem rather than a national one.



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