Le Chant du Départ

Battle hymn Words by M.-J. Chénier, music by Méhul.

Le Chant du Départ

Un député du peuple
La victoire en chantant nous ouvre la barrière ;
La liberté guide nos pas.
Et du nord au midi la trompette guerrière
A sonné l'heure des combats.
Tremblez, ennemis de la France,
Rois ivres de sang et d'orgueil !
Le peuple souverain s'avance ;
Tyrans, descendez au cercueil :
La république nous appelle,
Sachons vaincre ou sachons périr ;
Un Français doit vivre pour elle,
Pour elle un Français doit mourir.
Choeur des Guerriers
La république nous appelle,
Sachons vaincre ou sachons périr ;
Un Français doit vivre pour elle,
Pour elle un Français doit mourir.
Une mère de famille
De nos yeux maternels ne craignez pas les larmes :
Loin de nous de lâches douleurs !
Nous devons triompher quand vous prenez les armes :
C'est aux rois à verser des pleurs.
Nous vous avons donné la vie,
Guerriers, elle n'est plus à vous ;
Tous vos jours sont à la patrie :
Elle est votre mère avant nous.
Choeur de mères de famille
La république, etc.
Deux Vieillards
Que le fer paternel arme la main des braves ;
Songez à nous au champ de Mars :
Consacrez dans le sang des rois et des esclaves
Le fer béni par vos vieillards ;
Et, rapportant sous la chaumière
Des blessures et des vertus,
Venez fermer notre paupière
Quand les tyrans ne seront plus.
Choeur des vieillards
La république etc.
Un enfant
De Barra, de Viala le sort nous fait envie ;
Ils sont morts, mais ils ont vaincu.
Le lâche accablé d'ans n'a point connu la vie !
Qui meurt pour le peuple a vécu.
Vous êtes vaillans, nous le sommes :
Guidez-nous contre les tyrans ;
Les républicains sont des hommes,
Les esclaves sont des enfants.
Choeur des enfants
La république, etc.
Une épouse
Partez, vaillans époux: les combats sont vos fêtes;
Partez, modèles des guerriers;
Nous cueillerons des fleurs pour en ceindre vos têtes;
Nos mains tresseront vos lauriers.
Et, si le temple de mémoire
S'ouvrait à vos mânes vainqueurs,
Nos voix chanteront votre gloire.
nos flancs porteront vos vengeurs.

Choeur des épouses
La république etc.

Une jeune fille
Et nous, soeurs des héros, nous qui de l'hymenée
Ignorons les aimables noeuds;
Si, pour s'unir un jour à notre destinée,
Les citoyens forment des voeux,
Qu'ils reviennent dans nos murailles
Beaux de gloire et de liberté,
Et que leur sang, dans les batailles,
Ait coulé pour l'égalité.

Choeur des jeunes filles
La république etc.
Trois guérriers
Sur le fer devant Dieu, nous jurons à nos pères,
A nos épouses, à nos soeurs,
A nos représentants, à nos fils, à nos mères,
D'anéantir les oppresseurs:
En tous lieux, dans la nuit profonde,
Plongeant l'infâme royauté,
Les français donneront au monde
Et la paix et la liberté.
Choeur général
La république etc.

The song of departure
Victory, hymning loud, our pathway makes,
While freedom guides our steps aright ;
From North to South the martial trumpet wakes
To sound the moment for the fight.
Tremble, ye enemies of France,
Kings who with blood have slaked your thirst !
The sovereign people see advance
To hurl ye to your grave accursed.
Come, brethren, the Republic calls ;
For her our hearts and lives we give ;
For her a Frenchman gladly falls,
For her alone he seeks to live.
A Mother
See, from your mother's eye no tear-drops flow,
Far from our hearts we banish fears ;
We triumph when in freedom's cause ye go,
Only for tyrant's eyes are tears.
Warriors, we gave you life, ‘t is true,
But yours no more the gift can be ;
Your lives are now your country's due,
She is your mother more than we.
Come, brethren, the Republic calls, etc.
Two Old Men
The old paternal sword becomes the brave,
Remember us 'mid battle's rage  :
And let the blood of tyrant and of slave
Honour the weapon blessed by age.
Then to our humble cottage come ;
With wounds and glory as your prize :
When tyrants have received their doom,
Then, children, come to close our eyes.
Come, brethren, the Republic calls, etc.
A Child
We envy Viala's and Barra's lot ;
Victors were they, though doomed to bleed :
Weighed down by years, the coward liveth not ;
Who dies for freedom, lives indeed.
With you we would all dangers brave,
Lead us against our tyrants then :
None is a child except the slave,
While all repulicans are men.
Come, brethren, the Republic call, etc.
A Wife
Husbands, rejoicing, seek the plain of death,
As patterns for all warrior shine ;
Flowers will we pluck to make the victor's wreath,
Our hands the laurel crown will twine.
When, your blest manes to receive,
Fame shall her portals open fling,
Still in our songs your names shall live,
From us shall your avengers spring.
Come, brethren, the Republic calls, etc.
A Young Girl
We, who know nought of Hymen's gentle fire,
But sisters of your heroes are,
We bid you, citizens, if you desire
With us our destiny to share,
Radiant with liberty to come,
And glory purchased with your blood,
The joyful record bringing home
Of universal brotherhood.
Come, brethren, the Republic calls, etc.
Three Warriors
Here, before God, upon our swords we swear
To all who crown this life with joy,
To mothers, sisters, wives, and children dear,
The foul oppressor to destroy.
Into the black abyss of night
Hurled every guilty king shall be ;
France o'er the world shall spread the light
Of endless peace and liberty.
Come, brethren, the Republic calls, etc.


Next to the "Marseillaise", the following was, perhaps, the most popular song of the latter days of the French revolution. It was the song sung by the soldiers of Joubert, Marceau, and Kleber as, foot-sore and weary, they marched against their enemies. The Directory adopted it and Napoleon's warriors took it up in the early days of the Republic as they pushed forward the work so gallantly begun by the heroes who had preceded them.

Christened "brother of the Marseillaise" by the soldiers of An II, the Chant du Départ, in other words Song of the Departure of the Troops (which Napoleon preferred to the Marseillaise), became almost the national anthem of the First Empire. It was however first and foremost a song of the Revolution. The author of the words was Marie-Joseph Chénier (1764-1811), one of the best-known playwrights and poets of his generation. His cooperation with Etienne-Nicolas Méhul (1763-1817), one of the most popular composers of the time, formed a sort of 'dream team'. Indeed after their song's first performance at the Jardin National on 4 July, 1794, in celebration of the taking of the Bastille, 18,000 copies were sent to the army.

The Song of the Departure of the Troops (whose original title, Hymne de la liberté, Robespierre changed to that currently used) is a musical tableau or picture in which each of the seven stanzas is sung by different individual or group of actors, namely, a Député, a mother, two old men, a child, a wife, a young girl and finally three warriors. In the first stanza, the Député addresses some conscripts as they leave the city (passing the gates or 'barrière'), singing their victory as they go. Next, a 'Spartan' mother says she will shed no tears, it is the enemy kings who will weep. Two old men talk of the conscripts' swords (once their father's property). The old men say that they will wait at home for the valiant soldiers to return to bring them the news of victory, at which point they may die happy. A child then sings of Barra and Viala, two heroes who died gloriously for the Republic while yet very young (one 12, the other 13). When surrounded by Vendéens, Barra refused to swear allegiance to Louis XVII, preferring to cry 'Vive la République', for which he was bayoneted on the spot. Viala was shot attempting to cut with an axe the ropes of the attacking enemy's pontoon bridge. His dying words were said to have been 'I am dying, but it was for Liberty'. The engravings designed by Trimolet and executed by Garnier (1 and 4) and Boilly (2 and 3) graphically illustrate these two tales. Wives and girlfriends sing their devotion to their loved ones in stanzas 5 and 6, whilst in the final seventh stanza the departing conscript heroes reply, swearing to live up to all exhortations of the preceding singers and to bring liberty and peace to the world.

Like the Marseillaise, the Song of the Departure of the Troops was to survive the Revolutionary and Napoleonic periods. It is still sung by the French army (French President during the 1970s', Giscard d'Estaing, had it played at official events alongside the Marseillaise) and is an excellent and stirring martial air.


Étienne Méhul/M.-J. Chénier


Download the score


-Dictionnaire Napoléon, ed. J. Tulard, Paris: Fayard, 1999, s.v., 'Chénier' and 'Méhul'
-Bouzard, Thierry, Anthologie du chant militaire français, Paris: Grancher, 2000, pp. 30-32
-Chants et chansons populaires de la France, ed. H.-L. Delloye, Paris: Garnier Frères, première série, 1843, "Le chant du départ".