La Marseillaise: what are the lyrics to the French national anthem and when were they written?

Written in revolutionary France during the late 18th century the French national anthem, La Marseillaise, was a call to arms, to stand up and fight, which captured the emotion of that historical period. Here are its lyrics in both French and English

La Marseillaise lyrics

What is the French national anthem?

Today the French national anthem is  known as La Marseillaise, but it began life as ‘Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin’ (‘War Song for the Army of the Rhine’). The Army of the Rhine were one of three revolutionary armies at the time in France. They were deployed to the French/German borders  along the Rhine River. The song was renamed ‘La Marseillaise’ after volunteers from Marseille sung it when marching on to the capital on 30 July 1792.

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Who composed La Marseillaise?

La Marseillaise was written in April 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle. He wrote it in Strasbourg after hearing France had declared war against Austria and it was officially recognised as the French national anthem three years later, in 1795. However, less than 10 years after that  – during the rules of Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis XVIII and Charles X (1804-1830)  – it was banned. Perhaps the leaders feared it might reignite revolutionary passions and lead to their downfall… which happened anyway. Although reinstated in 1830 it was banned again during Napoleon III’s reign, but it’s had quite a peaceful existence since then.

La Marseillaise is synonymous with the French Revolution and is sung with gusto every Bastille Day in July, which commemorates the storming of the Bastille and the fall of the monarchy

And did you know…?

The French composer Hector Berlioz arranged La Marseillaise for orchestra, chorus and soprano in around 1830, while a number of other composers have included the melody in their music. These include the German Robert Schumann, who features it in his Hermann und Dorothea Overture, and the Russian Tchaikovsky, who parodies it in his 1812 Overture, a work celebrating Napoleon’s failed invasion of his country. Plus, of course, it famously introduces ‘All you need is love’ by the Beatles.

What are the lyrics to La Marseillais in English

Arise, children of the Fatherland,
The day of glory has arrived!
Against us, tyranny’s
Bloody standard is raised, (repeat)
Do you hear, in the countryside,
The roar of those ferocious soldiers?
They’re coming right into our arms
To cut the throats of our sons, our women!

To arms, citizens,
Form your battalions,
Let’s march, let’s march!
Let an impure blood
Water our furrows!

What does this horde of slaves,
Of traitors and conspiring kings want?
For whom have these vile chains,
These irons, been long prepared? (repeat)
Frenchmen, for us, ah! What outrage
What furious action it must arouse!
It is to us they dare plan
A return to the old slavery!

To arms, citizens…

What! Foreign cohorts
Would make the law in our homes!
What! These mercenary phalanxes
Would strike down our proud warriors! (repeat)
Great God! By chained hands
Our brows would yield under the yoke!
Vile despots would themselves become
The masters of our destinies!

To arms, citizens…

Tremble, tyrants and you traitors
The shame of all parties,
Tremble! Your parricidal schemes
Will finally receive their prize! (repeat)
Everyone is a soldier to combat you,
If they fall, our young heroes,
Will be produced anew from the ground,
Ready to fight against you!

To arms, citizens…

Frenchmen, as magnanimous warriors,
Bear or hold back your blows!
Spare those sorry victims,
For regretfully arming against us. (repeat)
But these bloodthirsty despots,
These accomplices of Bouillé,
All these tigers who mercilessly
Tear apart their mother’s breast!

To arms, citizens…

Sacred love of the Fatherland,
Lead, support our avenging arms
Liberty, cherished Liberty,
Fight with thy defenders! (repeat)
Under our flags may victory
Hurry to thy manly accents,
So that thy expiring enemies
See thy triumph and our glory!

To arms, citizens…

(Children’s Verse)
We shall enter the (military) career
When our elders are no longer there,
There we shall find their dust
And the trace of their virtues (repeat)
Much less keen to survive them
Than to share their coffins,
We shall have the sublime pride
To avenge or follow them.

To arms, citizens…

What are the French lyrics to La Marseillais?

Allons enfants de la Patrie,
Le jour de gloire est arrivé !
Contre nous de la tyrannie
L’étendard sanglant est levé, (bis)
Entendez-vous dans les campagnes
Mugir ces féroces soldats ?
Ils viennent jusque dans vos bras
Égorger vos fils, vos compagnes!

Aux armes, citoyens,
Formez vos bataillons,
Marchons, marchons!
Qu’un sang impur
Abreuve nos sillons!

Que veut cette horde d’esclaves,
De traîtres, de rois conjurés ?
Pour qui ces ignobles entraves,
Ces fers dès longtemps préparés ? (bis)
Français, pour nous, ah! quel outrage
Quels transports il doit exciter !
C’est nous qu’on ose méditer
De rendre à l’antique esclavage !

Aux armes, citoyens…

Quoi ! des cohortes étrangères
Feraient la loi dans nos foyers !
Quoi ! Ces phalanges mercenaires
Terrasseraient nos fiers guerriers ! (bis)
Grand Dieu! Par des mains enchaînées
Nos fronts sous le joug se ploieraient
De vils despotes deviendraient
Les maîtres de nos destinées !

Aux armes, citoyens..

Tremblez, tyrans et vous perfides
L’opprobre de tous les partis,
Tremblez ! vos projets parricides
Vont enfin recevoir leurs prix ! (bis)
Tout est soldat pour vous combattre,
S’ils tombent, nos jeunes héros,
La terre en produit de nouveaux,
Contre vous tout prêts à se battre !

Aux armes, citoyens…

Français, en guerriers magnanimes,
Portez ou retenez vos coups !
Épargnez ces tristes victimes,
À regret s’armant contre nous. (bis)
Mais ces despotes sanguinaires,
Mais ces complices de Bouillé,
Tous ces tigres qui, sans pitié,
Déchirent le sein de leur mère !

Aux armes, citoyens…

Amour sacré de la Patrie,
Conduis, soutiens nos bras vengeurs
Liberté, Liberté chérie,
Combats avec tes défenseurs ! (bis)
Sous nos drapeaux que la victoire
Accoure à tes mâles accents,
Que tes ennemis expirants
Voient ton triomphe et notre gloire !

Aux armes, citoyens…

(Couplet des enfants)
Nous entrerons dans la carrière
Quand nos aînés n’y seront plus,
Nous y trouverons leur poussière
Et la trace de leurs vertus (bis)
Bien moins jaloux de leur survivre
Que de partager leur cercueil,
Nous aurons le sublime orgueil
De les venger ou de les suivre.

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Aux armes, citoyens…