French Songs

One of the songs my piano book has had me playing for a while now is Alouette. The song is, of course, unmistakably French. For some reason, it was bugging me that I didn't know the words very well. So I looked them up. Unfortunately, being the curious sort of person that I am, I also looked up what they actually mean. Skylark, gentle skylark, skylark, I will pluck you. I will pluck your head! Skylark, gentle skylark, skylark, I will pluck you. I will pluck your beak! The scary thing is, this is supposedly a popular children's song.

When I read that, it caused me to wonder a bit about French culture. Bear in mind, this is only the third French song that I have seen translated into English. There's nothing particularly worrisome about Frere Jacques, but La Marseillaise is... very violent. Of course, it was written during a rather bloody revolution, and it's doubtless not the only national anthem to have a little war in it. Even our own Star Spangled Banner, which is mostly about a flag, nonetheless speaks of munitions going off in the first verse, and the third verse, although it is less graphic than the French anthem, is very much the stuff of war. Again, the song was written during a war of revolution, so it's going to contain some violence. Goes with the territory.

So what's running through my head now is, maybe Alouette is an aberration, and most French children's songs are more like Frere Jacques. Probably that is the case, and I just had the misfortune, in knowing only three French songs, to run into an abnormally high percentage of violent ones.

Still, would you encourage your children to sing a song with lyrics like that? Skylark, gentle skylark, skylark, I will pluck you. I will pluck your neck! And your beak! And your head! I'm pretty sure that if I were a French parent, I wouldn't teach my children this song.


Anonymous said...

Actually, most "traditional" french (or french-canadian) songs come from a long way back, when life was a little harder than nowadays.

For example, there's this cute song about a shepherd girl gathering milk from her sheep and making cheese from it. Her cat (eyeing the cheese) is warned not to lay a paw upon it, and when he lays his chin on it instead, she decides to kill it. Of course the song my daughter has on a CD is toned down (she only beats up the cat)...

Political correctness, and also modern life, has somehow unfortunately removed these traditional songs from the general folklore­.

There are also the "non violent" songs, like "Au Clair de la Lune", "Do-do, l'enfant Do", and other lullabies, and many others...

We're not all bloodthirsty savages... :^P


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Anonymous said...

The fact is Larks have been eaten and were considered a delicacy. We find this abhorent of course because the beauty of the Lark and its song is legendary. However, this song probably originated in the kitchens of a French chataux while some poor soul had to follow orders and prepare these delicate creatures for a meal. Such is life and thank goodness we have moved on.............?