ne me quitte pas


It’s actually not about the music. My favorite music has a lot more to do with context than chords. It’s why I can cry from watching movie trailers; and it’s not, as you’d think, because of the word "trailers." I swoon when the music pipes in at just that thick, delicate moment, the moments when we risk, when we’re scared but do it anyway, when we’re moved to do something immediate and heartfelt. I like my music intense but gentle, building up to a scream. Like sex.

Aside from the songs that are a piece of your childhood, the ones that ground you to a campfire, and a freckled boy with shoulder-length hair each time you hear them, I’m all about the lyrics. It’s often why I prefer songs with an acoustic guitar. Not always. We can all appreciate the sounds of our past, the way they link us to memories like scent. But of newer songs, when I’m on the prowl for newer artists, I’m really looking for songs that tap into moments of abandonment or freedom, songs that make me ache and feel alive. I can, of course, appreciate mood music. Playing a big red barolo of a song while wearing an apron and hoop earrings, letting my man lick the red sauce from my wooden spoon. Good songs sound like a warm story you’re told by a stranger at a bar.

As I tried to pick through a few favorites, I asked Phil for some of his. "Stuff with really good lyrics," I’d said. Then he sent me the lyrics of a song via email.

"Dude, are you serious?"
"Seriously, I ask you for your favorite lyrics, and you send me some song in FRENCH?"
"Google it."
"You couldn’t even make French dressing, never mind translate a French song."
"Google it."
"If I have to Google it, you’re missing the point," I say as I google it. I have nothing against French music, mind you. I prefer it on rainy afternoons, or in the evening, something scratchy, as I drink something sweet. Or in the morning with a paper, dressed in yellow, crossing my legs, sitting in a breakfast nook, eating leftover Tart Tatine. French music is for Sundays.

"Did you find the lyrics yet?" Damnit, fool, if I have to find them, it won’t damn matter. It’s never going to affect me, change me, move me the way a song I actually understand will. I’m so not Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman. I’d never have almost peed in my pants, be it La Boheme or Pirates of Penzance.

I then stumbled upon a few translations, one of which I’ve included below. I can now see why he was moved to move past my stubborness and push me along to it.

Translation of Ne Me Quitte Pas:

Don’t leave me
We must forget
All we can forget all we did till now
Let’s forget the cost of the breath
We’ve spent saying words unmeant
And the times we’ve lost hours that must destroy
Never knowing why everything must die at the heart of joy
Don’t leave me don’t leave me
Don’t leave me don’t leave me

I’ll bring back to you the pearls of rain
From a distant domain where rain never fell
And though I grow old I’ll keep mining the ground
To deck you around in gold and light
I’ll build you a domain where love’s everything
Where love is king and you are queen
Don’t leave me don’t leave me
Don’t leave me don’t leave me

Don’t leave me
For you I’ll invent
Words and what they meant only you will know
Tales of lovers who fell apart and then fell in love again
There’s a story too that I can confide
Of that king who died from not meeting you
Don’t leave me don’t leave me
Don’t leave me don’t leave me

And often it’s true that flames spill anew
From ancient volcano’s we thought were too old
When all’s said and done scorched fields of defeat
Could give us more wheat than the fine April sun
And when evening is nigh with flames overhead
The black and the red aren’t they joined in the sky
Don’t leave me don’t leave me
Don’t leave me don’t leave me

Don’t leave me
I will cry no more
I will talk no more hide myself
To look at you and see you dance and smile
And hear you sing and laugh
Let me be for you the shadow of your shadow
The shadow of your hand the shadow of your dog
Don’t leave me don’t leave me
Don’t leave me don’t leave me



  1. Definitely one of the most amazing songs ever written. Which version did he recommend?

  2. This song is one of our national prides in Belgium! Jacques Brel wrote plenty of beautiful songs – I definitely recommend googling some of them.
    I am currently reading Moose and I find it very touching. It makes me think about my own adolescence and I can really relate to your experience, even though I come from a different continent and background. I had to order it from abroad – no shop in Belgium have it. But the wait was worthwhile. Keep writing!

  3. i hope he recommended the nina simone version.

    the strength and want in her voice translate effortlessly in any language.

  4. Everything sounds better in french except "Strike", "infidelity" and "Speedo".

  5. Very sweet of him. It's nice you actually came around and were open to learning something new, pushing beyond your boundaries (if you have to look it up the song won't matter??), to discover something new and wonderful.

    The reaction you had at first is so sad though. Are you really that rigid about how things must be that you were resistant to decoding a song your beloved gave you? Most people would be much more open-hearted to such a sweet, romantic gesture. It seems like you have a very fixed and limited idea of how things should be. Maybe the simple act of googling this song made your world a little bigger?

  6. As I read this post, my jaw just kept dropping until my mouth was completely agape. I've never witnessed such an accurate description of my sentiments for songwriting before, and then to go on and read the lyrics… well, damn. I don't know what else to say but my soul has been very deeply touched by this…wish I had a Phil in my life. Thank you for making my day!

  7. Leigh, what I took from what SK wrote is that her having to look up the lyrics missed the whole point, entirely, about just loving a song only for its lyrics. It's not rigid. She had a goal: songs that when you hear them, the lyrics are so good, that you're moved, deeply. She could never hear that song and instantly swoon because it involved doing research. Sure she looked it up anyway, and she was moved by the lyrics, but whether she was or wasn't isn't really the point. The point, to me, isn't some lesson on how we should all be broadminded, but rather that in this instance, fine, the lyrics were powerful, but it still misses the mark since she doesn't, instantly, connect with the words or story.

  8. so funny, chica! all i have been listening to is french music…i have a special playlist. trying to learn a touch of the language…i'm sure you can guess why. even before i knew what the words meant, there were some songs that moved me. a la faveur de l'automne by tete…j'avais vingt ans by charles aznavour…mistral gagnant by renaud…and, i dig carla bruni's lyrics for their simplicity (her new album is getting some political press for it's racy lyrics). as far as english songs go, my faves are this year's love by david gray, easy come easy go by george straight, feel by robbie williams, and so it goes by billy joel, so many more, but for me i think it is less about the lyrics and more about the purity of the sounds of the songs.

  9. Listen to If You Go Away (if you haven't already)–it's the English version of Ne Me Quitte Pas. The lyrics are not quite as descriptive as the original, but they're still sweet.

  10. I love that song.I'm actually surprised that ( assuming you have heard 'Ne me quitte pas' in French) the melody didn't remind you of anything (anything being the English one that parisa mentioned).

    I wonder if Phil likes Italian oldies as well…

  11. Great visuals created here. Well written.

    As for moody, slow building and intense: agreed. It's one reason I got into movie scores. Some of my favorite movie soundtracks/scores (not in order)
    1) The Painted Veil (Gnossiene by Erik
    Satie is just incredible (listen here:

    2) The Mission
    3) The Passion of the Christ (mostly Peter Gabriel vocals, no lyrics)
    4) Anything by Vangelis. He can do no wrong.
    5) Gladiator (lots of Lisa Gerrard, excellent. She's on 'The Insider' scores as well, haunting amazing voice)
    6) Requiem for a Dream (I love Mozart's song Requiem for a Dream and it featured on here. It's one of the coolest songes ever)

    I'll stop there don't want this to be too long:)

  12. oh- and Thomas Newman's song 'Any Other Name' the melancholic instrumental piece on the American Beauty Soundtrack- awesome!

  13. Really sweet lyrics, although I know what you mean…looking up a translation is never the same as falling in love with a song when you hear it for the first time and it catches you off guard in that "I need to listen to this again" way. I was a French minor in college, and the English translations always lost the true feeling of the stories, poems, or whatever it was that I was studying…the extra words needed for it to make sense were always a little awkward. But anyway, the music is great. Check out Madeleine Peyroux – she sings in English and in French :)

  14. I just discovered Adele ( and downloaded her music from iTunes.

    I love the entire CD, but so far, my favorite song is "Melt My Heart To Stone" – specifically the lyrics "And I hear your words that I made up, You say my name like there could be can us, I best tidy up my head I'm the only one, In love, I'm the only one in love."

    Good CD all around.

  15. Stephanie,

    Off subject, but, loved the article in the new york times today about you at BlogHer — critical acclaim from the well-respected source, you are a superstar!

    Also, if you're not a fan of Jenny Lewis (rilokiley) and her work with Postal Service, you should be. At least check it out. But you probably already know.

  16. Featured in the ny times again! You rock! I so with i could have heard your keynote. Loved MOOSE and Straight Up & Dirty!

  17. Phil sounds so warm and loving some times and like the devil at other times. I choose to believe he is the one that emanates love. I hope to meet my Phil soon. We'll fight and make up and learn things abotu one abother no one else knows.

  18. Another post that makes me feel. Yes, feel. You have a way of articulating what i think but don't know how to express. Thank you and thank Phil for introducing me to such a warm song. I watched Alison Moyet perform it on Youtube and nearly cried.

  19. Another lovely post – and a great song recommendation. Just wanted to say how much I enjoy your blog.

  20. I'm sure you'd heard the song before. Its gives one a lump in your throat. Its gorgeous.
    Appreciate that husband of yours.

  21. such a great song. scott walker, an amazing singer, did tons of english versions of Brel songs — and brel loved his versions. a great way for english speakers to learn more about brel's amazing body of work. also, there are videos of brel performing that song on youtube — unbelieveable!.

  22. To ubers — you are so right! Scott Walker is fabulous. I love "When Joanna loved me", he creates such a mood.

  23. I feel the same way about music. Some lyrics just have the power to move you to tears because of the truth in them. I love Matt Nathanson's music. He works mainly with acoustic guitar and has thoughtful lyrics. You might like him.

  24. Jane – that song is great! sadly, i'm really not crazy about his experimental new stuff, but the walker brothers and his earlier solo stuff, including all that brel is awesome.

    i'm also loving the m. ward and richard hawley, and totally ilo kiley and also neko case, right now.

  25. I guess maybe having come from such a horrid relationship, I have not yet seen something described about Phil to make hime seem like "the devil". I see that he has his moments (as Stephanie definitely has hers) and that we only read half the story is quite telling.

  26. Love Adele! You can't listen to French music without listening to Serge Gainsbourg! Look up his daughter Charlotte Gainsbourg, love her!

  27. Ne Me Quitte Pas Love – I love the Nina Simone version of this song.

  28. Holy crap. I can't believe you just quoted a Jacques Brel song. Well done. While you're discovering the man and his hundreds of beautiful songs, check out "La Valse a Mille Temps." Too fun.

  29. The Nina Simone version of this is constantly in rotation in my house. The pain and desperation in her voice is palpable and bittersweet.

  30. I love this song. It gives me shivers… I know you are busy so I understand you haven't had time to look at my stuff. When you can…

    Juan and I are in Boston / Cape Cod right now. Hope to see you soon.

  31. There is a lovely English version of this song by Emiliana Torrini – in a minor key and very sad. It's called "If you go Away", and it's not a direct translation of the French lyrics but captures a spirit…

    "If you go away, on this summer's day, then you might as well, take the sun away…"

    "But if you stay, I'll make you a day, like no has been or will be again, we'll sail on the sun we'll ride on the rain and talk to the trees and worship the waves… But if you go I'll understand, leave me just enough love to fill up my hand"

  32. I love the way you write, Stephanie! This my first time visiting. I am awed by the flow of your words, by the art of describing how music touches you. AND “Ne me quittes pas” was the epitome of my all-time, teenage sick-love-and-tears-fest. I grew up in Switzerland and the object of my woe was a boy who’d introduced me to Jacques Brel.
    However, the translation offered here doesn’t quite cut into the scarred tissue of my heart the way the original words do . So here’s my own translation : a bit rougher, less polished, closer to a word for word translation :

    Don’t leave me
    Let’s forget
    We can forget everything
    Already eluding thoughts
    Forget times
    Of misunderstanding
    And time waisted
    Trying to guess how
    Forget the hours
    Which at times,
    Hitting hard on the whys,
    Killed the heart of happiness

    I’ll shower you with pearls of rain
    Coming from countries where it doesn’t rain
    I’ll dig the earth till after my death
    To cover your body with gold and light
    I’ll create a domain
    Where love is law
    Where love is king
    Where you’ll be queen.
    Do not leave me

    Don’t leave me
    I’ll make up
    Nonsense words which
    You’ll understand
    I’ll tell about those lovers
    Who felt their hearts
    Ignite again
    I’ll tell you about this king
    Who died from
    Not meeting you.

    How oft have we seen
    Fire erupt
    From volcanoes
    We believed too old.
    There is, they say,
    Scorched soil,
    Yielding more wheat
    Than the best of Aprils
    And when evening comes,
    For a sky to light up
    Don’t red and black
    Espouse each other?

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