The Meaning Behind the Murderous French Lullaby “Alouette”

Whether you’re a fan of The Simpsons, have French family members, or just came across it on your travels, the lullaby “Alouette” is a classic and one of the most well-known French-language songs. While the song is often associated with France today, it has become a prideful tune for the Canadian people. It’s even sometimes used to teach children English and/or French.

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But where did this seemingly ubiquitous kids’ song come from? Let’s dive in.

The Meaning

Before we go into the history of the song, let’s dive quickly into the meaning. The song has a sing-song-like quality, bright and light, which is appropriate because the subject of the tune is a lark or a songbird. More specifically, it’s about the singer’s desire to kill, pluck and eat the bird. (For a full translation, click here.) It begins in French,

Alouette, gentille Alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai,
Alouette, gentille Alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai

Translated to English,

Lark, nice lark
Lark, I’ll pluck you
Lark, nice lark
Lark, I’ll pluck you
I’ll pluck your head

(You get the idea)


As anyone who has ever rowed a boat knows, rhythm is key. And some scholars think that fact is a major reason why the song, “Alouette,” had such staying power. For hundreds of years, canoes were used for the French fur trade in North America. To row the boats, rowers sang rhythmic songs… like “Alouette,” which features a strong emphasis on the beginning of each line. Singing rowers were prized in the industry and thus their songs were important, too.

With “Alouette,” being a motivational song about finding a songbird—specifically a horned lark—killing it, plucking it, and eating it, made this specific song even more enticing for rowers moving through streams and rivers.

For those wondering why the singer wants to eat the songbird and not an owl or eagle—well, some scholars believe the song pinpoints the songbird because it is the first to sing in the morning. Thus, it starts the work day and parts lovers and families from their beds and homes. Irked by being awakened to responsibility, the hunter goes out to permanently shut off his alarm clock.

World War 1

Fighting abroad around the turn of the 20th century, American soldiers learned the songs of the countries they fought in and from the soldiers they fought with. From French and Canadian influences, Americans learned songs like “Frère Jacques” and “Alouette.” Those soldiers came home and sang the songs to their children, as they’d seen French parents do with theirs. And thus the lineage continued, especially amongst families with French roots.

“Alouette,” which dates back to at least 1879, is likely (much) older as most traditional songs enjoy being spread word-of-mouth before they are published formally, especially prior to the 20th century. While the origin remains unclear, some believe it originated in France, though the first known French publication of the song came 14 years after the 1879 work.

Final Thoughts

“Aloutte” is one of those classic songs that sounds sweet but is all about death. Is there anything more timeless?

Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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