The Nightingale (A La Claire Fontaine) [demo]

The Nightingale (À la claire fontaine)

[Possibly a jongleur song from the 15th or 16th century: translation (C) by David A. Harley. ]

The tune used here is well known – I think it may be the one in the Penguin Book of Canadian Folksongs.

As I walked from my love’s wedding
By the spring where we once lay
From the top of a mighty oak tree
A songbird sang to me

It’s been so long that I’ve loved you
I never will love again

Sing, happy nightingale,
Sing, for your heart is light
Sing out your notes so merry
But all that I can do is cry

My love has wed another
Though I was not to blame
I gave to him my love too freely
Now someone wiser bears his name

Oh, how I wish that the rosebud
Still flourished on the vine
And that my false true lover
Still returned this love of mine

Il y a longtemps que je t’aime
Jamais je ne t’oublierai

I’ve always liked one particular tune to a French song (also widely found in Belgium and Canada), but the words as I’ve seen them have always seemed problematical to me, with the lover whining that he was unjustly discarded for being reluctant to give his lady a spray of roses. Hard to be too sympathetic… When I found some older versions where the protagonist was clearly female and the spray of roses symbolizes her maidenhead, it made more sense, though it also makes it more difficult for me to sing it convincingly myself. (I may attempt a male version that is nearer to the original sense, but that could be challenging.)  This is a rather free translation, picking up a possible interpretation that the lady lost out by giving in too easy, and then being too ‘easy’ to marry.

C’est de mon ami Pierre, qui ne veut plus m’aimer,
Pour un bouton de rose, que j’ai trop tôt donné.

Other versions suggest that she was dropped because she _didn’t_ give in. As well as making my chosen subtext a little clearer, I’ve compressed the story by dropping a couple of very common lines referring to the protagonist bathing, as that doesn’t seem to translate well. The song is often seen as a children’s song, but this approach might be considered a bit too explicit for that.

And yes, vining roses are a thing: they’re climbing roses trained to grow along fences and trellises.

One of the versions I used as a basis for this translation is on this French Wikipedia page: À la claire fontaine — Wikipédia (

Author: David Harley

Musician/singer/songwriter; independent author/editor

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