Les Feuilles Mortes (Autumn Leaves) was first sung in French in 1945 by the French singer/actor Yves Montand as "Jean Diego" in Marcel Carné's film Les Portes de la Nuit. The movie, written by French poet Jacques Prévert, is a sad love story set in post-World War II Paris, February 1945. After Jean Diego, a manual laborer, sees his friend Raymond Lecuyer, newly released from prison, he encounters a tramp who calls himself Fate. The tramp predicts that Jean will soon meet and fall in love with the most wonderful woman in the world. His prophecy appears to come true as Jean meets Malou that evening. However, he quickly discovers that her brother Guy is the person who gave Raymond away to the Gestapo.

The English lyrics of Autumn Leaves by Johnny Mercer (1950) (in Beltane's WU above) are less melancholy than the French lyrics of Jacques Prévert. Many performers such as Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Barbra Streisand have recorded English versions, sometimes adding a stanza from the French lyrics in lieu of the repeated English stanzas. An instrumental version by Miles Davis and John Coltrane sounds beautiful without words.

I noded this in memory of my grammar school music teacher, Dr. Matte. Too generous for his own good, he gave us brats lollipops after practice if we behaved. While he taught me how to play the violin, he encouraged me to perform some piano solos during the holiday and spring shows. I still have some of his hand-transcribed music sheets for band and orchestra including Bon Jovi's You Give Love A Bad Name and the Beach Boys' Kokomo (heh!) besides this one.

Les Feuilles Mortes
Lyrics by Jacques Prévert, (1945)
Music by Joseph Kosma, (1945)

Oh! je voudrais tant que tu te souviennes,
Des jours heureux où nous étions amis,
En ce temps-là, la vie était plus belle,
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu'aujourd’hui.
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié.
Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi.
Et le vent du Nord les emporte,
Dans la nuit froide de l'oubli.
Tu vois, je n'ai pas oublié
La chanson que tu me chantais...

(Oh! I really hope you remember
Those happy days when we were friends.
In those times life was more beautiful
And the sun brighter than today's.
The dead leaves gather on the rake.
You see, I have not forgotten...
The dead leaves gather on the rake,
As do the memories and the regrets,
And the north wind carries them
Into the oblivion of the cold night.
You see, I have not forgetten
The song that you used to sing to me.)

C'est une chanson qui nous ressemble,
Toi qui m'aimais, moi qui t'aimais.
Nous vivions tous les deux ensemble,
Toi qui m'aimais, moi qui t'aimais.
Mais la vie sépare ceux qui s'aiment,
Tout doucement sans faire de bruit.
Et la mer efface sur le sable,
Les pas des amants désunis.

(It's a song that resembles us.
You, you loved me and I loved you
And we lived together,
You who loved me, I who loved you.
But life separates those who love,
Gently, without making a sound,
And the sea erases from the sand-
The footsteps of separated lovers.)

Les feuilles mortes se ramassent à la pelle,
Les souvenirs et les regrets aussi
Mais mon amour silencieux et fidèle
Sourit toujours et remercie la vie.
Je t'aimais tant, tu étais si jolie.
Comment veux-tu que je t'oublie ?
En ce temps-là, la vie était plus belle
Et le soleil plus brûlant qu'aujourd'hui.
Tu étais ma plus douce amie
Mais je n'ai que faire des regrets
Et la chanson que tu chantais,
Toujours, toujours je l'entendrai !

(The dead leaves gather on the rake
As do the memories and the regrets
But my love, quiet and loyal,
Always smiles and is grateful for life.
I loved you so much, you were so beautiful.
How can you expect me to forget you?
In those times, life was more beautiful
And the sun brighter than today's.
You were my kindest friend
But I only created regrets
And the song that you used to sing,
I hear it always, always...)
The melody of 'Autumn Leaves' was originally written as a ballet music for 'Le rendez-vous' for Roland Petit. The original stage design was done by Pablo Picasso.
Moved by the music and the dance, the French film director Michael Carné' based his screenplay on 'Le rendez-vous': not without problems. Originally he tried to talk Marlene Dietrich into playing the lead role, which she refused. Another actor refused the role because of the fact that Marlene had refused. The composer Kosma, who had set the melody of the ballet into a chanson on the poem ' Feuilles mortes' (Dead leaves), insisted in using the sung version. The movie was a disaster, but the melody (hummed by Yves Montand) became an instant hit.
History tells that the first recording was made by Cora Vaucair in 1948. Yves Montand followed the same year. In 1949, Juliette Greco made the first clip while singing the song (amidst autumn scenes of course).
The first English version, which was translated by Johnny Mercer, was sung by Edith Piaf, the famous French 'chansonier'.
The rest is history: Jo Stafford (1950), Mitch Miller (1950), Bing Crosby (1950), Artie Shaw (1951), Anny Gould (1955), Roger Williams (1955), Nat King Cole (1955), Frank Sinatra (1956), Stéphane Grapelli (1956), Duke Ellington (1957), Cannonball Adderley (1958), Sylvie Vartan (1968), Placido Domingo (1990) and Ute Lemper (1992).

Shmoonkie Poonks, for starting my curiousity: thanks!
'The Originals' - Arnold Rypens

Soon after, she meets him there and looks at him for a moment with dark eyes that stare past the skin and wiggle their way into his mind. He takes her in for a moment, faded tattoos and all; he smiles at one of the few faces he's felt was familiar in a long time. "You look tired" she says simply, adding her obviously prescription induced smile. "How are you, Jen," and a quickly fading grin are his only answers. There is only one sentence on his mind as she answers.

The falling leaves drift by my window, the autumn leaves of red and gold

"Do you want anything different at all today?", she asks, that same smile locked on her face. It's fake, he thinks almost out loud, without that little pill she finds it as dull and lifeless as I do, is how he finishes the thought. "Just coffee," is all he manages to get out. Instead of rushing off to fill his order, she stays right there and keeps staring him down for a bit. "Been hell here tonight," she says as she looks around. She's right of course, and she'd know, she's worked here for quite some time, and the place is silent as a tomb. "It's been this way all night," she says, continuing to scan the room, "I haven't broke twenty in tips yet for the night" she says, looking at him not so expectantly. He stares back as he says, "We'll have to see what we can do about that." She smiles and looks off into the night, with the question 'Weren't you cold?' plastered to her eyes as she looks back. The man points out his coat to her and she smiles, saying nothing. She rises, "I'll go and get your drinks,". And she does.

He's left to regard only the night that brought him here, and he looks out at the storm outside, the driving wind and the leaves plastered against the very wet window. It feels as though he is looking out into his mind, sharp, cold, but also dark. Darker these days than he's allowed in years, but for the moment it fits. Now in his mind he find the next line ebbing away at him.

I see your lips, the summer kisses, the sunburned hands I used to hold

She comes back with the drinks, not bothering with a menu. He has it memorized, she knows this, she looks at him and says, "Same as always?" this time letting the smile go for just long enough for him to see through to the thoughts behind it? Worried about her daughter as usual he thinks to himself and says, "Yes, the same". She pushes for no more just then and neither does she. The man knows he will, it simply wasn't time yet. It would be time soon.

Instead he chooses to go to work on his drinks, but still watches her as she leaves. He regards the night again, remembering that he has been dark before, and survived it well, coming out only stronger in the end. He reminds himself that it will be the same this time, he will resurface stronger for the trial. He watches the cream go to work spreading in its usual mushroom cloud fashion, he stirs in the sugar watching fall going over its chemical nature in his mind, thinking of the elements that make it up until he can stand it no more and then he is forced to regard the storm again and it's then that he remembers the dark days and he thinks.

But since you've gone away, the day's grow long.

Images come to greet him, broken sentences like, "It's you, you're evil,", things that have long since faded from his head. Things that began nearly a literal lifetime ago spiral up the surface, just as the cream is doing the same. He knows it is, he's had to hide from the darkness again, but just then, she comes and saves him.

"Here ya go," she says, then as she takes a look at him she instantly quiets, empties the tray and sets it down, taking a seat across from him. She looks him in the eye, as if she will no longer have it she says, "what's wrong?" almost too innocently for the man to take it. Would it do any good to tell her? he thinks to himself, but then he remembers, he's seen behind those innocent eyes and he knows that she is on his side of the fence, in a few hours from the looks of things. "Whats wrong with your daughter Jen, why are you so worried?"

She hates this, she hates that he can read her this way, and he feels her as she feels it. "How do you do that?" she says, "How do you always know precisely what's on my mind?" she finishes, calmly and about as collected as she ever is. He wonders for a moment, would she believe if I even told her? he regarded her and then the coffee and back to his mind again, No he thought, she would never believe that he could feel that she did, that her thoughts were to some small degree, his own. He would keep this to himself he said in his mind, She'd never believe you anyway he tells himself. He looks back at her and says only, "Majik,". She's visibly annoyed at this, not being the first time she's received this as her only explanation and she grabs the tray gets up and leaves. It continues to ring through his head

And soon I'll hear Old winters song

Now the hard part, the man thinks of the days that were easy. He remembers the times he spent in her arms, and all the comfort that was to be had there. It seemed like such a short time ago, almost a year ago today he thinks. He remembers the simplicity of those days, a time when he believed in forever and a place where he knew he was truly whole. All of that gone now, all of it past, and something right there in that little restaurant happens to him, that he swore would never ever happen again, for her he cried another tear.

He thought a moment after it was gone and he realized that he didn't cry a tear for her, and that he never had. All the tears and all the pain had for the memory of her, never the person before him. It was always for the past that he lamented, always for the things he couldn’t take with him, never the things he already had. He looked down at the food and for the first time this evening realized how hungry he was. He devoured it without so much as taking a moment to enjoy it.

When he looked up again she was smiling that same smile, standing there with the bill in her hand, she grinned even bigger as she sat down and said, "I'm not letting you leave until you tell me what's wrong." He looked back and responded with, "I'm not going to leave until I do." He finishes his coffee and then his root beer, the whole time just looking at her.

He looked at the bill, not a penny over seven dollars, got into his wallet, took out thirty and dropped it on the table. He put on his coat and smiled at her, it was when she saw that smile that the realization struck her, he looked happy, for the first time she could remember he looked truly happy.

He saw this on her face and was glad she'd finally understood, "Goodnight Jen." he'd said. She'd responded with only, Thank you Steve." With that I walked out into a dark and stormy evening where truly nothing was wrong. A last thought ran through his mind as he walked to his car,

But I miss you most of all my darling, when Autumn Leaves start to fall.

Triumphantly he thought, Nahh, not today

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