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Flags in Music

Music about flags

Last modified: 2018-03-29 by antónio martins
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Le Vieux Drapeau

Pierre-Jean de Béranger (1780-1857) was a French poet and chansonnier. He worked initially as a typographer and was later involved in the bankrupcy of his family’s bank. In 1809, he was hired by the University as a copyist. His anti-governmental poems and songs caused his dismissal in 1821. However, his works, of popular, liberal and patriotic inspiration, became rapidly famous. Renowned writers, such as Stendhal and Merimée considered him as the greatest poet of the XIXth century. Châteaubriand, Hugo and Dumas honoured him. Béranger refused titles and dignities, including a membership in the French Academy. In 1848, he was elected Deputee in Paris without having been candidate and resigned. This caused a great disappointment among his supporters and the “modern” writers, such as Baudelaire and Flaubert denounced his literary opportunism. Béranger was rediscovered by the French nationalists in the beginning of the XXth century.

A main inspiration source for Béranger’s poems was the Napoleonic epic. In 1820, he wrote a song called Le Vieux Drapeau (The Old Flag). The song can be found in Béranger’s Complete Works, published in 1850 by the Librairie Encyclopédique de Périchon in Brussels. I use here the online version (with a few typos corrected) from a Napoleonic website.

The song is made of six stanzas of eight octosyllabs each. In fact, each stanza is made of two independent quatrains, each with “embraced” rhymes, that is an "abba" rhyme scheme. The last two octosyllabs are common to the first five stanza and come back like a rant:

Quand secouerai-je la poussière
Qui ternit tes nobles couleurs?
(«When shall I shake off the dust / Which tarnishes your noble coulors?») In the last stanza, minor changes give all its sense to the poem:
Oui je secoueria la poussière
Qui ternit tes nobles couleurs
(«Yes I shall shake off the dust / Which tarnishes your noble colours»)

The poem is full of hints which would have been clearly understood by a reader in 1820. It is a rant by an old veteran of the Napoleonic wars, who kept a [Tricolor] flag in his poor house and regrets the glorious Napoleonic times. He calls several symbols of the Revolution and the Empire, such as the eagle, the Liberty, the Victory, the Gauls’ roaster, which were more or less banned during the Restoration. The «noble colours» are associated with the men of common birth who made the Napoleonic glory, The Bourbons are presented as the “oppressors” and the «dust which tarnished the noble colours» can also be associated to them. As said above, the end of the poem is a call to “counter-restoration” and reestablishment of the Tricolor flag.

The violence hidden in the poem and its popularity shows once again how clueless the Bourbons were when they suppressed the Tricolore flag. Initially considered as an insurgent’s flag, the Tricolore had progressively gained more respectability, especially via the Napoleonic epic, and was widely accepted. Having spent all that time in exile preparing their return and revenge, the Bourbons could not have understood the political and social changes which had taken place in France from 1789 to 1814.

Ivan Sache, 7 June 2003


Le Vieux Drapeau



De mes vieux compagnons de gloire
Je viens de me voir entouré :
Nos souvenirs m’ont enivré,
Le vin m’a rendu la mémoire.
Fier de mes exploits et des leurs,
J’ai mon drapeau dans ma chaumièere.
Quand secouerai-je la poussière
Qui ternit ses nobles couleurs?
I was just surrounded
By my old companions in glory:
Our memories intoxicated me,
Wine triggered my memory.
Proud of my exploits and their,
I kept my flag in my cottage.
When shall I shake off the dust
Which tarnishes its noble colours?


Il est caché sous l’humble paille
Où je dors pauvre et mutilé,
Lui qui, sûr de vaincre, a volé
Vingt ans de bataille en bataille!
Chargé de lauriers et de fleurs,
Il brilla sur l’Europe entière.
Quand secouerai-je la poussière
Qui ternit ses nobles couleurs?
It is hidden under the humble straw
Where I sleep, poor and disabled,
Him which, sure of the victory, flew
For twenty years from battle to battle
Laden with laurels and flowers,
He shone over the whole Europe.
When shall I shake off the dust
Which tarnishes its noble colours?


Ce drapeau payait à la France
Tout le sang qu’il nous a coûté.
Sur le sein de la liberté
Nos fils jouaient avec sa lance.
Qu’il prouve encore aux oppresseurs
Combien la gloire est roturière.
Quand secouerai-je la poussière
Qui ternit ses nobles couleurs?
This flag paid to France
All the blood it costed us.
On the bosom of liberty
Our sons played with its spear.
May it still prove to the oppressors
How glory is of common birth.
When shall I shake off the dust
Which tarnishes its noble colours?


Son aigle est resté dans la poudre,
Fatigué de lointains exploits.
Rendons-lui le coq des Gaulois:
Il sut aussi lancer la foudre.
La France, oubliant ses douleurs,
Le rebe’nira, libre et fière.
Quand secouerai-je la poussière
Qui ternit ses nobles couleurs?
Its eagle remained in the dust,
Tired of its far-off exploits.
Give him back the Gauls’ roaster:
It also knew how to throw the thunderbolt.
France, forgetting its pains,
Shall bless it again, free and proud.
When shall I shake off the dust
Which tarnishes its noble colours?


Las d’errer avec la Victoire,
Des lois il deviendra l’appui.
Chaque soldat fut, grâace à lui,
Citoyen au bord de la Loire.
Seul il peut voiler nos malheurs;
Déployons-le sur la frontière.
Quand secouerai-je la poussière
Qui ternit ses nobles couleurs?
Weary of wander with Victory,
it shall become the support of the laws.
Every soldier was, thanks to it,
A citizen on the shore of the Loire.
Only it can veil our misfortunes;
Let us unfurl it on the border.
When shall I shake off the dust
Which tarnishes its noble colours?


Mais il est là près de mes armes ;
Un instant osons l’entrevoir.
Viens, mon drapeau, viens, mon espoir!
C’est à toi d’essuyer mes larmes.
D’un guerrier qui verse des pleurs
Le ciel entendra la prière:
Oui, je secouerai la poussière
Qui ternit tes nobles couleurs.
But it lies here close to my arms;
Let us make it out for a whilte.
Come, my flag, comme, my hope!
You shall dry my tears.
Heaven shall hear the prayer
From a warrior who shed a tear:
Yes, I shall shake off the dust
Which tarnishes your noble colours.

quoted and translated by Ivan Sache, 07 Jun 2003


Flags shown in Madonna’s American Life video

The following is, I believe, the list of the flags mentioned (in order of appearance) on the American Life video by Madonna. Most nations are represented including Greenland and Palestine…

  1. Sweden
  2. Italy
  3. United Kingdom
  4. Cuba
  5. Macedonia
  6. Lesotho
  7. Kenya
  8. Jordan
  9. Cote d’Ivoire
  10. Chile
  11. Madagascar
  12. Kyrgyzstan
  13. Paraguay
  14. Palestine
  15. Swaziland
  16. Georgia
  17. Sri Lanka
  18. Haiti
  19. South Africa
  20. Austria
  21. Russia
  22. Mozambique
  23. Mauritius
  24. Morrocco
  25. Mauritania
  26. Andorra
  27. Iran
  28. Guyana
  29. Guatemala
  30. Kazakhstan
  31. Oman
  32. Niger
  33. Australia
  1. Nicaragua
  2. Romania
  3. Lebanon
  4. Seychelles
  5. Denmark
  6. Lithuania
  7. Colombia
  8. Djibouti
  9. Jamaica
  10. Germany
  11. Cambodia
  12. Gabon
  13. France
  14. Estonia
  15. Norway
  16. Pakistan
  17. Indonesia
  18. Micronesia
  19. Libya
  20. Greenland
  21. Syria
  22. Afghanistan
  23. Armenia
  24. Togo
  25. Monaco
  26. India
  27. Zimbabwe
  28. New Zealand
  29. Moldova
  30. Spain
  31. Turkmenistan
  32. Trinidad and Tobago
  33. Yemen
  1. Liberia
  2. Thailand
  3. Bahrain
  4. Israel
  5. Gambia
  6. Eritrea
  7. Czech Republic
  8. Costa Rica
  9. Comoros
  10. Bolivia
  11. Burundi
  12. Mali
  13. Malaysia
  14. Ethiopia
  15. Sudan
  16. Taiwan
  17. Luxembourg
  18. Senegal
  19. Japan
  20. China
  21. United Arab Emirates
  22. Uzbekistan
  23. Serbia*
  24. Albania
  25. Phillippines
  26. Chad
  27. Vietnam
  28. Netherlands
  29. Malawi
  30. Peru
  31. Congo
  32. Bulgaria
  33. Angola
  1. Finland
  2. Brazil
  3. Azerbaijan
  4. Yugoslavia*
  5. Venezuela
  6. Belgium
  7. Argentina
  8. Somalia
  9. Saudi Arabia
  10. Portugal
  11. Palau
  12. Zambia
  13. Malta
  14. South Korea
  15. Burkina Faso
  16. Nigeria
  17. Bangladesh
  18. Algeria
  19. Brunei
  20. Botswana
  21. Bosnia and Herzegovina
  22. Benin
  23. Suriname
  24. Tanzania
  25. Rwanda
  26. Puerto Rico
  27. Namibia
  28. Mongolia
  29. Qatar
  30. Papua New Guinea
  31. Panama
  32. Nepal
  33. Maldives
  1. Latvia
  2. Laos
  3. Sierra Leone
  4. Iceland
  5. Slovakia
  6. Vatican City
  7. Tunisia
  8. Slovenia
  9. Canada
  10. Ukraine
  11. Switzerland
  12. Mexico
  13. Croatia
  14. El Salvador
  15. Egypt
  16. Dominican Republic
  17. Kuwait
  18. Ireland
  19. Poland
  20. Turkey
  21. Ghana
  22. Greece
  23. Guinea
  24. North Korea
  25. Hungary
  26. Honduras
  27. Uruguay
  28. Singapore
  29. Uganda
  30. Vanuatu
  31. Cameroon
  32. Iraq
  33. United States

Earl Washburn, 15 Jun 2003


Das Elsässische Fahnenlied

Here is the text of the Alsatian flag song, written by Emil Woerth in 1911. Note that the text is written in German. Although Alsatian and German are different languages, the written form of Alsatian is German. Source of the original text (music also available) at Elsassnet.
Ivan Sache, 21 Jun 2003

1. Sei gegrüsst, du unsres Landes Zeichen
Elsass Fahne flatternd froh im Wind
Deine Farben, lieblich ohnen Gleichen
Leuchten stets, wo wir versammelt sind

Weiss un rot,
Die Fahne sehen wir schweben
Bis zum Tod,
Sind treu wir ihr ergeben

2. Echt und recht, wie unsre Väter waren
Wollen wir in Tat und Worten sein
Unsre Art, wir wollen sie bewahren
Auch in Zukunft makellos und rein

3. Und ob Glück, ob Leid das Zeitgetriebe
Jemals bringe unserm Elsassland
Immer stehn wir in unentwegter Liebe
Freudig wir zu ihm mit Herz und Hand

4. Lasst uns drum auf unsre Fahne schwören
Brüder ihr vom Wasgau bis zum Rhein
Niemals soll uns im fremder Hand betören
Treu dem Elsass wollen stets wir sein

1. Be saluted, you, the emblem of our country,
The Alsatian flag joyously flying in the wind.
Your colours, graciously peerless,
Shall shine for ever where we get together.

White and red,
We shall see the flag flying,
Until death,
We shall be faithfully devoted to him.

2. Genuine and right, like our fathers,
That is how we want to be in our acts and talks
We want to preserve our manners
Also in the future, unblemished and pure.

3. And if time brings either luck or misfortune
To our Alsatian land,
We shall keep love for ever
To it with heart and hand.

4. Let us therefore swear on our flag,
Brothers from Wasgau to the Rhine
We shall never be placed in foreign hands
We want to remain faithful to Alsace forever.

quoted and translated by Ivan Sache, 21 Jun 2003


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