Well-Known It May Be But This Song is Not So Gentille For The Alouette

Among non-French speakers Alouette gentille alouette is probably one of the best known of all French songs and dates back several hundred years although it is difficult to establish the exact date on which it first surfaced.

Hark Hark the Lark une Alouette des champs (Alauda arvensis) (Credit Wikipedia)

Hark Hark the Lark une Alouette des champs (Alauda arvensis) (Credit Wikipedia)

It is widely used by French language teachers for whom it as an easy way to teach the names of body parts to children studying French. Let’s however set aside the ramifications of teaching our most precious little ones, through the medium of a song that deals exclusively with plucking out feathers from the head, nose, eyes and wings of a bird that in turn lives almost entirely on seed and weighs in at around fifty grams — and focus on its origins.

Here first of all is a video with the song lyrics in French and English

For several hundred years the French trapped widely in Canada and it was these French-speaking fur trappers who introduced the song to Canada, using it to alleviate some of the pain and monotony of paddling long distances across that country’s vast lakes and waterways. Soldiers from the United States then brought it back to their country after picking it up in France during World War I.

The alouette is a lark that once thrived in the woodlands of Europe. There are many different types of lark and there is still some dispute as to whether the song refers to a wood lark or a sky lark. The numbers of both these species have declined due mainly to habitat destruction with the increase of modern agriculture practices, though they are not currently at risk of extinction. The lark is said to be the first bird to sing in the morning and it may be its early morning serenading that triggered the late risers into the taking revenge by ripping out his plumage. However they don’t seem to be quite as severe with the far more raucous farmyard cock – but then he is the national symbol!

In French folklore the lark also has a reputation as a gossip a bird that could not be relied upon to carry a message without stopping to share it with whoever he met in flight. Contrast this with that other well known song bird — the nightingale — that was regarded as far more discreet, even to the extent of delivering your message in Latin.

France just would not be France if there were not some recipe associated with our unfortunate gentille alouette. This song bird was widely consumed as light game throughout Europe but now are seldom found on menus largely because with the decline in their population it is difficult to sufficient birds to prepare a decent gourmet meal.


Read all Mike Alexander’s gardening advice here and here


A trawl through French hunting websites, however, quickly turns up several recipes and the bird is still be found on some menus in Italy and Spain. Normally it is eaten whole including the bones or baked in a pie. It is said that lark’s tongues in aspic was a favourite of the Roman emperors and according to the myths website the alouette is the most widely eaten song bird in existence. There is little evidence to back up the story of the larks tongue recipe but Roman legionnaires were referred to as alouettes by the Gauls because of their crested helmets which resembled a lark’s crest.

The recipe “alouette sans tete” should not be confused with that of the songbird — it is made from stuffed escalope of beef but looks like the bird minus its head.

Nothing to do with the lark but so called because they resemble the bird:  Alouettes sans tête (Credit Wikipedia)

Nothing to do with the lark but so called because they resemble the bird: Alouettes sans tête (Credit Wikipedia)

The vocal range of both wood and sky larks is incredibly broad and they sing mainly to attract mates and to mark their territories. In China they make popular cage birds and in Beijing there is a tradition of teaching the birds thirteen different sounds which need to be sung in a distinct order. Birds that are able to correctly copy all thirteen sounds in the requisite sequence become very valuable.

Story: Mike Alexander

Mike Alexander is a regular contributor to French News Online, offering topical gardening advice in his monthly column and exploring quirky nature and food habits in France.

Meanwhile adds Chris McCreedy try this for a different angle on a bit of a bird:

Cheryl Cole Sings in French. Or Does She?
Cheryl Cole - Messy Raindrops
Cheryl Cole
In her new hit single – ‘Promise This’, Cheryl Cole turns to French in order to fully express her emotions. Or does she? What do you make of this:

“Alouette uette uette
Alouette uette uette
Alouette uette uette
Déployer l’aile”

Before you hit the Google Translate button, don’t bother as it just translates “Alouette” as a lark and “l’aile” as a wing. The rest Google gives up on. Even without hearing Cheryl’s French pronunciation!

Ah ha, we hear you say, it’s all about Larks… just like probably the very first French words we ever heard as kids… “Alouette, gentile alouette”. What we tend to forget about this charming childhood ditty, of course, is that it’s all about plucking the wings (and just about everything else) off the poor unfortunate Skylark!.

Didn’t know that? Well Cheryl does, because lo and behold, she goes on to sing (in English, thank heavens) “Before I pluck your wings cover me please spread your wings cover me”.

So, there you have it… even if you are less than fluent in French, you now know that Cheryl is singing about that French Gourmand avian delicacy, where they have to cover their heads in shame when eating it. Because of how they kill and cook it. (Another story, another time perhaps, see here).

Cheryl Cole spreads her wings.
A still from the ‘Promise This’ video

Free Spirit
Well no, actually,’ Promise This’ has got nothing to do with larks apparently. More to do with the free spirit of the bird. See this gem of an analysis, from a recent trawl of the internet buzz about Cheryl Cole and her lyrics…

“The spreading of wings concept is mirrored in the English language lyrics of the song and in the video. As for meaning, I think it’s a sad take on a modern relationship. [in other words] Before I pluck your wings (i.e. entrap you so you can’t fly away), cover me please. Spread your wings, cover me and promise this…be the last to kiss my lips.”

This commentator goes on to say:

“So the spreading of the wings comes first – the thought of comfort, nurture and protection from another being. Then the protectee starts to pluck the wings (by nagging, out of indifference) and ultimately the protection is lost but presumably the protector can’t fly away.”

A bit of a sad comment about love and relationships? Maybe, but here is one (English) verse though that would seem to point to her true reason for penning this song…

“Promise this if I die before I wake oh
Promise this take the time to say your grace
On your knees you pray for me
Promise this be the last to kiss my lips”

Near Death
Almost certainly, Cheryl is alluding to her very close dice with death, following her contracting a very dangerous strain of Malaria. She very nearly didn’t make it apparently. Who did she want to “… be the last to kiss my lips”? She hasn’t said, but we guess it wasn’t Ashley. Or maybe…

Not Everything in French Makes Sense!
Sometimes it is best not to over-analyse song lyrics as it just goes to show however, that not everything you hear in French makes sense! Catchy tune though …

Additional reporting by: Chris McCready

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