Autumn Leaves: the story of the song

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Les Feuilles Mortes… The sight of a colourful autumn scene in a forest reminds us of a popular French song written in the aftermath of WW2. “Les Feuilles Mortes” has this nostalgic touch attached to it and fits perfectly for the autumnal season when summer is long gone and the prospect of a cold winter is ahead.


About the song

Les Feuilles Mortes (literally “The Dead Leaves“) is a popular French song originally recorded in 1945. It is known in English as “Autumn Leaves“.

The song was composed by Joseph Kosma with lyrics by French poet Jacques Prévert. It was featured for the first time in the movie “Les Portes de la Nuit” (1946) starring Yves Montand. However, the first recorded by Cora Vaucaire just before the release of the film.

The English version of “Les Feuilles Mortes” was written by American song writer Johnny Mercer in 1947 under the title “Autumn Leaves“. The song was introduced in America by Jo Stafford.

On Christmas’ Eve 1950, Édith Piaf sang the French and the English version of the song on the radio programme The Big Show.

It gives its name to a Hollywood movie in 1956 starring Joan Crawford. Nat King Cole sang “Autumn Leaves” in the title sequence of the film.

Many other singers have released a version of the song either in French or in English: Richard Anthony, Andrea Bocelli, Eric Clapton, Dalida, Serge Gainsbourg, Juliette Gréco, Patricia Kaas, Tino Rossi, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Susan Boyle, Cora Vaucaire, Andy Williams.


The French lyrics of “Les Feuilles Mortes”

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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.

{Refrain:}
C’est une chanson qui nous ressemble.
Toi, tu m’aimais et je t’aimais
Et 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.


The English Literal Translation: “The Dead Leaves”

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Oh I would like you so much to remember
The joyful days when we were friends.
At that time, life was more beautiful
And the sun burned more than it does today.
Fallen leaves can be picked up by the shovelful.
You see, I have not forgotten…
Fallen leaves can be picked up by the shovelful,
So can memories and regrets.

And the north wind takes them
Into the cold night of oblivion.
You see, I have not forgotten
The song you used to sing me.

(chorus)
This song is like us.
You used to love me and I used to love you
And we used to live together,
You loving me, me loving you.

But life separates lovers,
Pretty slowly, noiselessly,
And the sea erases on the sand
The separated lovers’ footprints.

English Translation: find out more on lyricstranslate.


The English Lyrics of “Autumn Leaves”

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The falling leaves
Drift by my window
The falling leaves
Of red and gold

I see your lips
The summer kisses
The sunburned hands
I used to hold

Since you went away
The days grow long
And soon I’ll hear
Old winter’s song

But I miss you most of all
My darling
When autumn leaves
Start to fall

Since you went away
The days grow long
And soon I’ll hear
Old winter’s song

But I miss you most of all
My darling
When autumn leaves
Start to fall


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About Author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations and a degree of Economics and Management.

1 Comment

  1. A beautiful if melancholy song.

    Please also consider the exquisite recording in French by Joan Baez on the 1967 album “Joan”

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