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Frere Jacques (Brother John)

Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
Sonnez les matines! Sonnez les matines!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

English Version

Are you sleeping, are you sleeping?
Brother John, Brother John?
Morning bells are ringing, morning bells are ringing
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

Origin of Frere Jacques (Brother John)

Frere Jacques is probably the most popular foreign-language lullaby in the English-speaking world, and whilst an English translation exists, the original French version is the one that’s most often heard sung by mothers and children everywhere.

Like many lullabies that have been handed down for generations, the origin of Frere Jacques is unknown, but it’s possibly connected to Frère Jacques Beaulieu who was a Dominican friar who lived between 1651 and 1720. The first known printed version of the lullaby is on a French manuscript which dates from between 1775 and 1785.

The English version of this famous lullaby actually distorts the original meaning of the lyrics. In the French version “Sonnez les matines!” means “Ring [the bell for] matins!” – matins being early morning prayers.

With this context, it’s easy to interpret the song as being a cheeky wake-up call intended for a friar who frequently overslept his duty to ring the bell for morning prayers. Why it became so popular is therefore somewhat of a mystery, although the tune is catchy!

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