French National Anthem: All About La Marseillaise

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July 19, 2022

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Have you ever wanted to know more about the French national anthem? Well, here is a little bit of history and further information on La Marseillaise.

French National Anthem

About the French National Anthem: La Marseillaise

Like most national anthems, you will be hard pressed to find a French native who doesn’t know at least the first verse of La Marseillaise. This is because it is one of the most important songs in France.

The French national anthem is mainly used at important social and sporting events, in the same manner that other countries' national anthems are. For example, it was sung at the Bastille Day concert, the Olympics and football matches in recent years.

As with many songs, there have been controversies that surround the French national anthem, and at some points in history it has actually been banned a few times, most notably by Napoleon and Louis XVIII.

In this article you will follow the story of its conception until modern day, learning why it was originally created and the actual lyrics of the French national anthem alongside the English translation.

The History of La Marseillaise

La Marseillaise wasn’t created with the intention of becoming a national anthem, yet that is a role that it has held for over a century. Below is a brief history of how the song began its life and subsequently became the anthem of France that is recognised over the world.

The Creation of La Marseillaise

The French national anthem was actually originally known by a different name when it was originally created by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. He wrote the song in 1792 and titled it: Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin (“War Song for the Army of the Rhine”).

Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin was created as a rallying song for those who were fighting in the French war against Austria. This was at the request of the Mayor of Strasbourg who believed that they needed more encouragement.

The Revolutionary Roots of La Marseillaise

It is actually due to its role in the French revolution that Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin changed its name to la Marseillaise. This is because it was first heard in the streets of Paris by Marseilles troops coming to help the revolution. From then it was sung at several revolutionary events.

It is due to these connotations that the song was banned by Napoleon, Louis XVIII and Napoleon III. Although, it was reinstated each time.

When It Became the French National Anthem

La Marseillaise was actually the first French national anthem, being given this title in 1975 due to its rallying cry.

As mentioned before, it lost this title multiple times over the revolutions that followed. The first time this happened it was under Napoleon’s rule, the song then returned briefly in July 1830 before it was banned again by Napoleon III.

La Marseillaise was finally reinstated as the French national anthem in 1879 and has remained since.

La Marseillaise Lyrics

When it was originally written, La Marseillaise had 15 verses! However, only the first six verses that were written by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle are currently recognised, as well as a seventh that was added at a later date.

Fret not though, you don’t need to learn the song in its entirety. If you are attending a public event, like most national anthems in general,  only the first verse is sung.

It is also important to know that while our copy uses “nous,” some choose to use “vous” instead.

French Lyrics

Allons enfants de la Patrie,

Le jour de gloire est arrivé!

Contre nous de la tyrannie,

L’étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)

Entendez-vous dans les campagnes 

Mugir ces féroces soldats?

Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras

Egorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

 

Aux armes, citoyens,

Formez vos bataillons,

Marchez, marchez!

Qu’un sang impur

Abreuve nos sillons!

 

Amour sacré de la Patrie,

Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs

Liberté, Liberté chérie,

Combats avec tes défenseurs! (bis)

Sous nos drapeaux que la victoire

Accoure à tes mâles accents,

Que tes ennemis expirants

Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire!

 Aux armes, citoyens…

 

Tremblez, tyrans et vous perfides

L’opprobre de tous les partis,

Tremblez ! vos projets parricides

Vont enfin recevoir leurs prix! (bis)

Tout est soldat pour vous combattre,

S’ils tombent, nos jeunes héros,

La terre en produit de nouveaux,

Contre vous tout prêts à se battre!

 

Aux armes, citoyens…

 

Que veut cette horde d’esclaves,

De traîtres, de rois conjurés?

Pour qui ces ignobles entraves,

Ces fers dès longtemps préparés? (bis)

Français, pour nous, ah! quel outrage

Quels transports il doit exciter!

C’est nous qu’on ose méditer

De rendre à l’antique esclavage!


Aux armes, citoyens…

 

Quoi! des cohortes étrangères

Feraient la loi dans nos foyers!

Quoi! Ces phalanges mercenaires

Terrasseraient nos fiers guerriers! (bis)

Grand Dieu! Par des mains enchaînées

Nos fronts sous le joug se ploieraient

De vils despotes deviendraient

Les maîtres de nos destinées!

 

Aux armes, citoyens…

 

Français, en guerriers magnanimes,

Portez ou retenez vos coups!

Épargnez ces tristes victimes,

À regret s’armant contre nous. (bis)

Mais ces despotes sanguinaires,

Mais ces complices de Bouillé,

Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,

Déchirent le sein de leur mère!

 

Aux armes, citoyens…

English Translation

Arise, children of the Fatherland,

The day of glory has arrived!

Against us tyranny

Raises its bloody banner (repeat)

Do you hear, in the countryside,

The roar of those ferocious soldiers?

They’re coming right into your arms

 

 

To arms, citizens,

Form your battalions,

March! March!

That an impure blood

Waters our furrows!

 

Sacred love of the Fatherland,

Lead, support our avenging arms

Liberty, cherished Liberty,

Fight with thy defenders! (repeat)

Under our flags, shall victory

Hurry to thy manly accents,

That thy expiring enemies,

See thy triumph and our glory!

To arms, citizens…

 

Tremble, tyrants and you traitors

The shame of all parties,

Tremble! Your parricidal schemes

Will finally receive their reward! (repeat)

Everyone is a soldier to combat you

If they fall, our young heroes,

The earth will produce new ones,

Ready to fight against you!

 

To arms, citizens…

 

What does this horde of slaves,

Of traitors and conjured kings want?

For whom are these vile chains,

These long-prepared irons? (repeat)

Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage

What fury it must arouse!

It is us they dare plan

To return to the old slavery!


To arms, citizens…

 

What! Foreign cohorts

Would make the law in our homes!

What! These mercenary phalanxes

Would strike down our proud warriors! (repeat)

Great God ! By chained hands

Our brows would yield under the yoke

Vile despots would have themselves

The masters of our destinies!

 

To arms, citizens…

 

Frenchmen, as magnanimous warriors,

You bear or hold back your blows!

You spare those sorry victims,

Who arm against us with regret. (repeat)

But not these bloodthirsty despots,

These accomplices of Bouillé,

All these tigers who, mercilessly,

Rip their mother’s breast!


To arms, citizens…

As you can see, the French national anthem follows the same structure as many songs, so after each verse it returns to repeat the chorus.

French National Anthem Video Link

Here is a link to the French national anthem being sung to music so that you can get an understanding of how it is supposed to sound: 

Conclusion

Because of La Marseillaise’s rich history since it was created in April 1792, the song has remained a large part of French culture and history. So, if you are looking to learn more about French culture, you can check out our articles on various subjects here.

It has remained this way despite various controversies, such as some people being uncomfortable with the use of violent language and the discussion of “impure blood.” Most people understand its origins and focus on its symbolism for the country, for example linking it to more recent events and issues that require the country to band together.

An example of the French national anthem being used as a rallying song in the modern day is when it was sung as a show of support for the French people during the terrorist attacks that took place in November 2015.

As previously mentioned, if you are learning the French national anthem for an event, it is best to start with the first verse and make sure that you have that memorised before you move on. Still, it is always best to learn the entire song when you have the time.

If you would like to know more about French history, take a look at our article on Bastille Day.

Or, if the event you are learning La Marseillaise for is a football game, you may want to have a look at our vocabulary here that will help while you are there.

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