N'est-il pas vrai Marie?

I'm trying to translate Prière païenne by Jacques Brèl (not the Celine Dion song of the same name)....

There's something about the structure, in the use of 'que' that I don't quite understand...

N'est-il pas vrai Marie - Isn't it true Marie

Que c'est prier pour vous - That it's to pray for you/That it is praying for you

Que de lui dire ''je t'aime'' - That tell him ''I love you'' ??

En tombant à genoux - while falling to the knees

N'est-il pas vrai Marie

Que c'est prier pour vous

Que pleurer de Bonheur - That crying with happiness ??

En riant comme un fou - while laughing like a fool

it's the lines ''Que de lui dire '' and ''Que pleurer de Bonheur ''

That I don't really understand. I think if I got this the rest of the song would slot into place. Any pointers?

Thanks :-)

May 27, 2015


This structure isn't quite evident because it's poetry. Let's write that sentence on one line first :

N'est-il pas vrai Marie que c'est prier pour vous que de lui dire « je t'aime »

Now let's re-write in a more natural order to help you understand it better :

N'est-il pas vrai Marie que de lui dire « je t'aime », c'est prier pour vous.

Now we translate it :

"Isn't it true Mary, that to tell him/her 'I love you' is praying for you."

The second one uses the same construction.

Tell me if it isn't clear enough.

May 27, 2015

Also, just in case it clears some confusion (or if someone else would read it and wonder), even if you didn't ask :

  • tomber à genoux is idiomatic in French for "to fall on one's knees", i.e. to enter a state of either begging or praying (which could be considered close enough to be the same) in a sudden and intense manner.
  • pleurer de bonheur is kind of idiomatic as well for "to cry with happiness", i.e. to be so happy you'd shed a (happy) tear.
May 27, 2015

Absolutely perfect! That makes complete sense to me now.

Thank you so much. :-)

May 27, 2015

Everyone seems to have explained the sentences very clearly, but just on a side note, in case you were wondering: the "de" in "que de lui dire" is completely optional. It's sometimes used in front of the infinitives. You can leave it out as well. It's not used in front of "pleurer" for instance.

May 27, 2015

Ah thank you! I was just wondering about that! :-)

May 27, 2015

Thanks for all the help!

I've put up a new translation here:

I've tried to keep the word order reasonably close to maintain the poetry while communicating the meaning that I now understand. It's always a bit of a balancing act - Let me know if you think it's successful (or not)

Thanks :-)

May 28, 2015
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