Complainte of the little white horse.
Paul Fort, Les Ballades fran├žaises, 1896-1958.


Published in 1908, this highly popular poem was set to music by Georges Brassens in 1952.
 

The little white horse caught in the rough-weather, he was so brave!
He was a little white horse, everyone behind and him ahead.
It was never fine weather in this poor landscape,
There was no spring, neither behind nor ahead. There was no spring, Neither behind nor ahead.
But still he was always happy, leading the villagers
Through the dark rain of the fields, everyone behind and him ahead.
His carriage kept going after his nice little wild tail.
This is when he felt happy, them behind and him ahead.
But one day, caught in the rough-weather, a day, although he was so good,
He died struck by a white lightning, everyone behind and him ahead.
He died without seeing fine weather, he was so brave!
He died without seeing spring, neither behind nor ahead.


Picture
"The Horse Misery". Drawing by Steinlen, L’Assiette au beurre, no. 219 from 10 June 1905
With acerbic realism, this illustration portrays the hard life of horses in the early 20th century. It shows an animal of mere skin and bones (a consequence of malnutrition and overuse) hitched to a wagon. While the driver is protected from rain and cold under a hat and a long cloak, the horse is left without choice. Despite the slippery conditions and fatigue, it must keep moving, the whip not being far off. This image reveals the deficient care given to carriage horses in the early 20th century.

National Library of France, engravings and photography department