Au Clair de la Lune: The Risqué French Nursery Rhyme

Au Clair de la Lune: The Risqué French Nursery Rhyme

Nobody ever questions nursery rhymes as a child. Au Clair de la Lune is probably one of those French nursery rhymes that every French kid learns to warble in pre-school. But if you listen to the lyrics for the first time as an adult, you start to question what the heck your kids are learning!

Lyrics and Meaning of Au Clair de la Lune

It starts off innocently enough, in the first stanza, with the singer looking for a pen and a light to write a letter at nighttime. Except for mild swearing at the end with “for the love of God!”

FrenchEnglish
“Au clair de la lune,
Mon ami Pierrot,
Prête-moi ta plume
Pour écrire un mot.
Ma chandelle est morte,
Je n’ai plus de feu.
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l’amour de Dieu.”
“By the light of the moon,
My friend Pierrot,
Lend me your quill
To write a word.
My candle is dead,
I have no light left.
Open your door for me
For the love of God.”
Au clair de la lune,
Pierrot répondit :
“Je n’ai pas de plume,
Je suis dans mon lit.
Va chez la voisine,
Je crois qu’elle y est,
Car dans sa cuisine
On bat le briquet.”
By the light of the moon,
Pierrot replied:
“I don’t have any pens,
I am in my bed
Go to the neighbor’s,
I think she’s there
Because in her kitchen
Someone is beating the wood to light the fire.”
Au clair de la lune,
L’aimable Lubin;
Frappe chez la brune,
Elle répond soudain :
–Qui frappe de la sorte?
Il dit à son tour :
–Ouvrez votre porte,
Pour le Dieu d’Amour.
By the light of the moon
Likeable Lubin (name)
Knocks on the brunette’s door.
She suddenly responds:
– Who’s knocking like that?
He then replies:
– Open your door
for the God of Love!
Au clair de la lune,
On n’y voit qu’un peu.
On chercha la plume,
On chercha du feu.
En cherchant d’la sorte,
Je n’sais c’qu’on trouva;
Mais je sais qu’la porte
Sur eux se ferma.
By the light of the moon
One could barely see.
The pen was looked for,
The light was looked for.
With all that looking
I don’t know what was found,
But I do know that the door
Shut itself on them.

“For the love of God, open the door and let me borrow a pen and a candle!” In the 2nd and 3rd stanzas, the plot thickens. Our dear friend Pierrot sends the writer to the house next door, to ask the neighbor, la brune. If you are not sure why her physical appearance is important here, you are about to find out. And what is all this about beating the wood?

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Another round of mild swearing with “for the love of God”, and then the sly metaphors begin: the writer and the lady look for the pen. They are looking for the pen and the light, and the door closes on them. The nursery rhyme ends telling us “we don’t know what they found”…

Risqué indeed!

The original song is actually an old folk tune, that no one is quite certain how it came about. The melody is attributed to Jean-Baptiste Lully in the 17th century, but the lyrics could be traced back even earlier.

It doesn’t really matter for children today, I suppose. They can just go to bed quietly and let mom and dad light a fire behind closed doors. As it should be!

A bientôt !

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