Children's Song

I'm not a big fan of children's songs -- blame it on childhood traumas! Actually, it wasn't too bad, but there was a kindergarten near where I lived when I grew up, and I heard these songs screeched by children all the time, so I kind of got really sick of them.

Not all children's songs or nursery rhymes are bad, I gather.

A few months ago, I went to see the exquisite period drama, A Painted Veil, based on W. Somerset Maugham's 1925 novel, starring Naomi Watts and Edward Norton. Well, I adore the film, which was filmed mostly in rural China. You can read my review here.

Near the end of the film, during one particularly heart-wrenching scene, they played this beautiful French song sung by little girls. It was stunning, especially given the effect it achieved in that powerful scene, and yet it was so delicate and eloquent. I was awed by it.

The song is a common French children's song entitled À la Claire Fontaine. A gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous song. The film version was performed by the Choir of the Beijing Takah. Unfortunately, the song wasn't included in the movie soundtrack -- an oversight -- and it's not available anywhere else. I was able to track down a YouTube excerpt of the scene in the movie, and also a spellbinding rendition by the Dale Warland Singers from the album, Harvest Home.

For those who are not familiar with the song, here's the lyrics:

À la claire fontaine

À la claire fontaine,
M’en allant promener
J’ai trouvé l’eau si belle
Que je m’y suis baigné

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

Sous les feuilles d’un chêne,
Je me suis fait sécher
Sur la plus haute branche,
Un rossignol chantait


Chante rossignol, chante,
Toi qui as le cœur gai
Tu as le cœur à rire,
Moi je l’ai à pleurer


J’ai perdu mon amie,
Sans l’avoir mérité
Pour un bouquet de roses,
Que je lui refusais


Je voudrais que la rose,
Fût encore au rosier
Et que ma douce amie
Fût encore à m’aimer

The words are simple but breathtaking. Here's the English translation:

At the Clear Fountain

At the clear fountain,
While I was strolling by,
I found the water so nice
That I went in to bathe.

So long I’ve been loving you,
I will never forget you.

Under an oak tree,
I dried myself.
On the highest branch,
A nightingale was singing.


Sing, nightingale, sing,
Your heart is so happy.
Your heart feels like laughing,
Mine feels like weeping.


I lost my beloved,
Without deserving it,
For a bunch of roses,
That I denied her.


I wanted the rose
To be still on the bush,
And my sweet beloved
To be still loving me.

Also, what strikes me is the similarity between this song and my own poem, which I wrote about a year ago:

Song of a Summer Lost (by Ray Wong)

Steeples of the evergreens
gently nodded at the silver sky
We ran through the quilt of flowers,
naked heels kissed by the sun-drenched grass
We lay in the fields of corn
as green as the youth in me

Around the corner of Bob & Jill's,
we knew all the mud-tracked paths
In the mist of heat we held our breaths
Your skin glistened white and gold
In the shade of a walnut tree,
we shared a piece of your lemon cake

When the cicadas sing for the second time,
I know to count the years gone by
Those months were the last we had
Now silence has my heart embraced
by dreams that were left behind
And the promises kept are mine

In both songs, there's this lingering wistfulness of memory and loss. There are differences, of course, but I was stunned by the shared imageries of the water, the tree, promises.

And a love that was lost.

* Sigh *


Gay said…
It's a beautiful song, and it sounds like a beautiful movie. I shall have to see it. For those who want to see scenes from the movie set to the song without searching for it themselves, you can here.
Ray Wong said…
I've never seen that version before. Must be the Chinese version for the Chinese release of the film. It's a gorgeous film. There's another one on YouTube that gives away the ending, so please DO NOT look for that one if you want to see the film. I highly recommend the movie.

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