Chant du départ

The “Chant du Départ” (French for “Song of the Departure”) is a revolutionary and war song written by Étienne Nicolas Méhul (music) and Marie-Joseph Chénier (words) in 1794. It was the official anthem of the First Empire.[1] It is also the regional anthem of French Guiana.

The song was nicknamed “the brother of the Marseillaise” by Republican soldiers. It was presented to Maximilien Robespierre, who called it “magnificent and republican poetry way beyond anything ever made by the Girondin Chénier.

The song was first performed by the orchestra and choirs of the Music academy on 14 July 1794. 17,000 copies of the music sheets were immediately printed and distributed in the 14 Armies of the Republic. Its original title was Anthem to Liberty; it was changed to its present title by Robespierre.

The song is a musical tableau: each of the seven stanzas is sung by a different character or group of characters:

  • The first stanza is the discourse of a deputy cheering his soldiers and encouraging them for the fight for the Republic
  • The second stanza is the song of a mother offering the life of her son to the fatherland.
  • The fourth stanza is sung by children exalting Joseph Agricol Viala and Joseph Bara, children aged 12 and 13, respectively, who had died for France. Surrounded by Vendeans, Bara was ordered to shout “Long live Louis XVII“; he shouted “Long live the Republic” instead and was executed on the spot. Viala was killed by a very rounded ball as he was trying to sabotage an enemy bridge. His last words were “I die, but I die for the Republic.”

The song is still in the repertoire of the French Army. Valéry Giscard d’Estaing used it as his campaign song for the presidential election of 1974. As a president, he often had it played by troops along with the Marseillaise.

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Similarities in melody to the later, less complex The Internationale are unmistakable.


Un député du Peuple A deputy of the People
La victoire en chantant
Nous ouvre la barrière.
La Liberté guide nos pas.
Et du Nord au Midi
La trompette guerrière
A sonné l’heure des combats.
Tremblez ennemis de la France
Rois ivres de sang et d’orgueil.
Le Peuple souverain s’avance,
Tyrans descendez au cercueil.
Victory sings
Opens its gate for us
Liberty guides our steps
And from North to South
The horn of war
Rang the battle hour
Tremble, enemies of France
Kings drunk on blood and pride
Sovereign People comes forth
Tyrants go down to your graves
Chant des guerriers (Refrain) Song of the Warriors (Chorus)
La République nous appelle
Sachons vaincre ou sachons périr
Un Français doit vivre pour elle
Pour elle un Français doit mourir.
The Republic is calling us
Let’s know how to vanquish or let’s know how to perish
A Frenchman must live for her [the Republic]
For her [the Republic] a Frenchman must die
Une mère de famille A mother of a family
De nos yeux maternels ne craignez pas les larmes :
Loin de nous de lâches douleurs !
Nous devons triompher quand vous prenez les armes :
C’est aux rois à verser des pleurs.
Nous vous avons donné la vie,
Guerriers, elle n’est plus à vous ;
Tous vos jours sont à la patrie :
Elle est votre mère avant nous.
Do not fear that our motherly eyes shall weep
From us begone, cowardly grief!
We shall triumph when you take up arms
It is kings who should shed a tear
We gave you life
Warriors, it is no longer yours
All your days belong to the Motherland
She is your mother more than we are
Deux vieillards Two old men
Que le fer paternel arme la main des braves ;
Songez à nous au champ de Mars ;
Consacrez dans le sang des rois et des esclaves
Le fer béni par vos vieillards ;
Et, rapportant sous la chaumière
Des blessures et des vertus,
Venez fermer notre paupière
Quand les tyrans ne seront plus.
May their fathers’ blade be placed in the hands of the brave,
Remember us on the Field of Mars (on the battlefield)
Baptise in the blood of kings and slaves
The blade thus blessed by your elders
And by bringing back home
Both wounds and virtues
Return to shut our eyes
When tyrants are no more
Un enfant A child
De Barra, de Viala le sort nous fait envie ;
Ils sont morts, mais ils ont vaincu.
Le lâche accablé d’ans n’a point connu la vie :
Qui meurt pour le peuple a vécu.
Vous êtes vaillants, nous le sommes :
Guidez-nous contre les tyrans ;
Les républicains sont des hommes,
Les esclaves sont des enfants.
The fates of Barra and Viala fill us with envy
They died, but they prevailed
Cowards crushed by the weight of years never truly knew life
He who dies for the People has lived
You are brave, so are we
Lead us against Tyrants
Republicans are men
Slaves are children
Une épouse A wife
Partez, vaillants époux ; les combats sont vos fêtes ;
Partez, modèles des guerriers ;
Nous cueillerons des fleurs pour en ceindre vos têtes :
Nos mains tresserons vos lauriers.
Et, si le temple de mémoire
S’ouvrait à vos mânes vainqueurs,
Nos voix chanterons votre gloire,
Nos flancs porteront vos vengeurs.
Leave, valiant husbands! Battles are your feasts
Leave, models for warriors
We shall pick flowers to crown your heads
Our hands shall braid laurels
And if the temple of memory (death)
Should open for your victorious manes
Our voices shall sing your glory
Our wombs shall bear your avengers
Une jeune fille A young girl
Et nous, sœurs des héros, nous qui de l’hyménée
Ignorons les aimables nœuds ;
Si, pour s’unir un jour à notre destinée,
Les citoyens forment des vœux,
Qu’ils reviennent dans nos murailles
Beaux de gloire et de liberté,
Et que leur sang, dans les batailles,
Ait coulé pour l’égalité.
And we, sisters of the heroes, we who of Hymenaios marriage’s sweet bonds
Are still ignorant
If someday to join his fate to ours
A citizen should express the wish
Let them come back within our walls
Embellished with glory and liberty
And let their blood, in battle
Have spilled for equality
Trois guerriers Three warriors
Sur le fer devant Dieu, nous jurons à nos pères,
À nos épouses, à nos sœurs,
À nos représentants, à nos fils, à nos mères,
D’anéantir les oppresseurs :
En tous lieux, dans la nuit profonde,
Plongeant l’infâme royauté,
Les Français donneront au monde
Et la paix et la liberté.
On the iron, before God, we swear to our fathers
to our wives, to our sisters
to our representatives, to our sons, to our mothers
that we shall annihilate oppressors
Everywhere, into the deep night
by sinking the infamous royalty
the French shall give to the world
peace and liberty
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