Barbara *

Remember Barbara

It rained and rained on Odessa that day

And you walked smiling

Beaming delighted soaked

Under the rain

Remember Barbara

It rained and rained on Odessa

I saw you on the Potemkin stairs

You were smiling

And I smiled too

Remember Barbara

I didn’t know you

You didn’t know me


Remember that day

Do not forget

A man under a porch took shelter

He shouted your name


And you ran towards him under the rain

Soaked delighted beaming

Remember Barbara

And do not frown at me if I call you by your name

I call by their name all those I love

All those who love

Even if I don’t know them

Remember Barbara

Do not forget

That rain wise and happy

On your smiling face

On this happy city

That rain on the sea

On the harbour

On the boat to Mariupol

Oh Barbara

The absurdity of war

What’s become of you now

Under that rain of iron

Of fire of steel of blood

And the one who held you in his arms


Is he dead missing or still alive

Oh Barbara it rains and rains over Odessa

As it rained before

But it is not the same anymore

All is broken, destroyed

It is a rain of doom full of dread and sorrow

It is not even the storm

Of steel and blood

Only clouds

That die like dogs

Over the waters of Odessa

And go rot in the distance

Far, far away from Odessa

The city that is no more.”

*Jacques Prévert wrote “Barbara” between late 1944 and 1946, when he published it in “Paroles”. The original poem in French is about a young woman in Brest, the western-most city and harbour of France totally destroyed by bombing during the war.

In this translation I changed Brest for Odessa, la rue de de Siam for the Potemkin stairs, Ouessant for Mariupol. Odessa, I understand, is still relatively spared by the war in Ukraine. Hopefully it won’t be destroyed. Mariupol has been torn to the ground. Massacred. And yet, Mariupol is still fighting as of April 18th.

The “model” for the sketch is a young Ukrainian woman photographed in Dalo’s wonderful post on the spirit of Ukraine. (The featured picture on this blog’s home page is (c)ourtesy Dalo aka Randall Collis.) See Dalo’s post here:

This post is for Olga, her family, friends, and the brave people of Ukraine. 🇺🇦

If you would like to donate for Ukraine, World Central Kitchen, an NGO (recommended to me by Rebecca at Fake Flamenco) is doing a fantastic job providing meals in more than 30 cities and towns in Ukraine. Here’s their link:

90 thoughts on “Barbara *

    • Thank you Cindy…
      I’d been wanting to do a portrait of Olga, based on a photo by Dalo. Wasn’t quite sure how to handle it. Then another blogger wrote a poem in Spanish that reminded me of Prévert’s poem. And it clicked.

  1. A truly heart felt post, Brian.
    You did fabulous!
    The war is making me sick to my stomach. I will do posts about the Ukraine, as much as possible.
    Charlotte and I are working on one together. I’ve got one more drawing to do.
    Keep up the good work, and keep the faith!

    • “Dogs”… That is Prévert for you. I was just a humble translator/illustrator. 😉
      As for the “sketches” it’s only one of course. I take pictures, many, along the way, then pick up those that go with the text. In this case the poem had 9 parts, so it had to be 9 stages of the final drawing.
      Dankje wel Peter.
      (PS. is Prévert know in your neck of the woods?)

      • I myself had not heard of Prévert before. I googled a bit and it seems that he was’t well known in the rest of the Netherlands too. Wich is a shame! Because from what I read he was a very interesting guy and in France and also elswhere famous. And rightly so. He was extremely productive too, putting deep thoughts into simple and effective words. So now I want to read more of him. I’m going to look for Dufch or English translations. (My French unfortunately is beyond weak, although I did take a serious course half a liftetime ago and I secretly hope that after some practise I at least will be able to read it again.) By the way – however I can’t judge your translation, it is a moving piece of text, so certainly in that regard very well done.

      • Jacques Prévert was a very talented artist, even wrote screenplays or songs. Montand sang many of his texts. He was very active in Saint-Germain from before the war to his death.
        Not sure he was known much outside France. Maybe Amazon can find you Dutch or English versions.
        Translation was easy, Prévert used simple words. Was criticized by some for that. But his text is very powerful. More now that war is “back”.
        Best of luck in finding translations.

    • I heard that poem, in French, for the first time in Senior HIgh. End of year “show”. A friend of mine, Françoise picked this poem to recite. I was very impressed then.
      Recently a Spanish blogger wrote a text that made me remember “Barbara”. I had Olga’s photo in mind for a sketch. Brest became Odessa because of the giant staircase.
      (between us, every time I reviewed the final version of the post for details, my heart felt heavy…)
      Free 🇺🇦

      • Indeed. The Poles, the Czechs, the Baltic republics are running point on this. Plus all the US weapons delivered to Ukraine… But I still think it’s not enough.
        Let’s see what happens. One day at a time.

      • It occurred to me last night as I was watching the latest news report that the Russians have been throwing so much ordnance at Ukraine, shouldn’t they be running out soon?

      • Very likely. They’ve lost 500 tanks (out of 2,800). Those 500 tanks are double the entire number of tanks France has. (Frightening). A retired french military just said that in such a conflict, France would run out of planes in 10 days, and ammo in two days… (Frightening again)
        So even if Russia has clearly invested a lot in warfare these past years, they might run out soon. Which is why we need to keep supplying the Ukrainians…

      • Probably not. When it did, they usually pulled the knives and bayonets out of their sheath and went corps-à-corps. War is a “No quarter” affair.

    • Thank you. it was a challenge, but the original poem in French is so good, and real that i couldn’t blotch it.
      The sad thing remains, that Brest was destroyed nearly 80 years ago, and bombs are flying again…
      take care. 💕

  2. Too many lives are tragically cut short by the outbreak of war. I love how the repetitions and world play in this poem remind the reader of the overall lullaby-tone of the poem, and the feeling of familiarity between himself and the poet grows into an experience of love itself: the reader becomes one of the lovers. Thanks for sharing and have a good day 🙂 Aiva

    • Thank you Aiva. Prévert really did a great writing job, until the final twist of Brest’s destruction. Now Mariupol… And yes, too many lives. Russia will pay dearly for what is being done. I say that not in a spirit of revenge, but justice. It is still unbelievable in the 21st century that a permanent member of the Security Council should be able to do that.
      I am also amazed at the courage of the Ukrainians and the solidarity of Poland, Czech and the Baltic republics… 👏🏻
      Take care my dear.

    • Merci à toi Mélie. J’ai parfois (souvent) un tel sentiment d’impuissance face à ce qui se passe en Ukraine… On fait les petites choses qu’on peut…

    • Le poème m’a “sauté” à la figure, de nouveau. Je l’ai cherché pour une bloggueuse (Espagnole) et j’ai pensé “Voilà mon texte pour le ‘portrait’ d’Olga…”
      Thank you for the “powerful adaptation”.
      What is happening is beyond reason. Are we back in the 19th century? 😡

      • Orthodoxe? Pas courant. Le signe de croix “à l’envers…” (Je blague bien sûr). Le patriarche? Oui, c’est dommage, mais dans l’histoire, les grands leaders religieux n’ont pas toujours été à la hauteur… Pie XII n’a pas toujours été très clair.
        Et pour l’Ukraine c’est un peu comme si la France décidait de massacrer la Wallonie sous prétexte qu’ils parlent Français. Fort triste.

  3. The progression of the poem along with the progression of your drawing… absolutely spellbinding. Emotions are in full force with this post, Brian, and this is the beauty of art. Wonderful and thank you. This is a very nice dance between the poem and drawing: the poem carrying something significant to build up the piece and is met, in turn, with the drawing to take it to a higher level. This creativity brings life to them both ~ beauty, hope, and heartbreak…

    I had never read the original poem by Jacques Prévert, but I love how you adapted it to Barbara/Olga ~ and the drawing is magnificent, beautiful, and the nice surprise of her hair reflecting the spirit and flag of Ukraine, I really found this perfect. Brilliant! Bless you, bless all the Barbaras and Olgas out there ~ take care 🇺🇦🇺🇦🇺🇦

    • Thank you Dalo. Your opinion means a lot to me for obvious reasons. (I’m gonna have to start paying you royalties for all your photos!)
      The colours of Ukaine just went through my ming when I started drawing, figuring how to render her blonde hair.
      Heartbreak it is. And one feels so helpless. Then I think: Brest was rebuilt. Mariupol will be. Meanwhile every little post that we write for Ukraine may help a little. Hopefully.
      And yes, bless all the Barbaras and Olgas.

  4. Pingback: Barbara * – Nelsapy

  5. Wonderful re-interpretation. At a time when so many of us feel powerless, every effort to push back against the horror that is happening in Ukraine is important.

    • Gracias Rebe. They’re actually starting to bomb Odessa… Darn.
      No, thank YOU for pointing them out to me. I think they’re doing a fantastic job. When the sh.. hits the fan, all goes back to basics: shelter, food and water… I am very grateful for your rec.

      • Thanks, Brian, very kind. Helps to feel I can positively affect the situation there by donating, to help provide food. Wish I had a magic wand to return the Russian troops to sender.

      • Don’t we all? Right now, Biden is waving the magic wand of billions of dollars of equipment to help the Ukrainians fight. As Roosevelt did when he sent tons and tons of armament to Churchill even when the US was not at war yet.

  6. Thank you!
    Because of bombers, while Brest city inspired Jacques Prévert’s poem – “Barbara” (1950), Dresden inspired a great poem too:
    “Die Bitten der Kinder” (1951) – Bertolt Brecht ,
    “Plead of the Children” English language version.

  7. Désolée, honte à moi !
    Pardonnez mes fautes, je ne maîtrise pas totalement le français, quant à l’anglais….😢 bof bof😿

  8. Oh the beauty of your rendition of Barbara.
    Barbara is the woman each of us has experienced in our lives, even if for only a minute or so.
    Minutes that swell the soul in remembrance. We always wonder if we will ever meet again.
    Where are you Barbara?
    Thank you for providing that memory, and we will pray for peace in Ukraine,

    • Thank you Steve. I picked up drawing again 5 years ago, after a 40 years break…
      I started doing this young Ukrainian woman’ portrait, wondering what words I would put, when Prévert’s “Barbara” came back to my mind. In the original it was brest that was destroyed. While I was drawing, it was Mariupol. War never stops, sadly.

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