Frère Jacques

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Frère Jacques Image

Frère Jacques (English: “Brother John“), is a nursery rhyme of French origin. The rhyme is traditionally sung in a round.

The song is about a friar who has overslept and is urged to wake up and sound the bell for the matins, the midnight or very early morning prayers for which a monk would be expected to wake.

 

"Frère Jacques" Lyrics


The original French version of the song is as follows:

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

The song is traditionally translated into English as:

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

This translation completely distorts the meaning: the whole point is that the bells are not ringing, because brother John, who is supposed to ring them, is sleeping.

A more adequate translation of the French lyrics would be:

Friar James, Friar James
Are you sleeping? Are you sleeping?
Sound the matins chimes! Sound the matins chimes!
Ding, dang, dong. Ding, dang, dong.

The song concerns a monk’s duty to ring the bell for matines . Frère Jacques has apparently overslept, it is time to ring the bell for matines, and someone wakes him up with this song.

In English, the word Friar is derived from the French word frère (“brother” in English), as French was still widely used in official circles in England during the 13th century when the four great orders of Friars started. The French word frère in turn comes from the Latin word frater (which also means “brother”).

"Frère Jacques" Chords


G  D  G        G  D  G   
Frère Jacques, Frère Jacques,
G  C   D     G  C   D 
Dormez-vous? Dormez-vous?
D7         G        D7         G
Sonnez les matines, sonnez les matines
C    D    G     C    D    G
Ding dang dong, ding dang dong.

(repeat as desired)

"Frère Jacques" Origins

A possible connection between Frère Jacques and the 17th century lithotomist Frère Jacques Beaulieu (also known as Frère Jacques Baulot), as claimed by Irvine Loudon and many others, was explored by J. P. Ganem and C. C. Carson without finding any evidence for a connection.

Francesca Draughon and Raymond Knapp argue that Frère Jacques originally was a song to taunt Jews or Protestants or Martin Luther (see Frère Jacques in popular culture).

Martine David and A. Marie Delrieu suggest that Frère Jacques might have been created to mock the Dominican monks, known in France as the Jacobin order, for their sloth and comfortable lifestyles.

In a review of a book about Kozma Prutkov, Richard Gregg notes it has been claimed that Frère Jacques Frère Jacques was derived from a Russian seminary song about a “Father Theofil”.

"Frère Jacques" Youtube Videos


 

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