More than you ever wanted to know about Frére Jacques

| Misc
Mrs. G. was singing Frére Jacques earlier tonight and it reminded me of the generally incorrect English translation. As Landes points out, "sonnez les matines" is an imperative "ring the morning bell", not, as commonly translated "morning bells are ringing." The idea here is that this is an instruction to whatever monk is responsible for ringing the bells calling the other monks to morning prayer.

I seem to have lent out my copy of Revolution in Time, so I had to resort to Wikipedia, which goes on in some detail:

Given that some maintain that nursery rhymes have serious themes when they are examined in detail (this might not always be true, however[2][3] ), one might infer some morbid undercurrent to the French version of this song. Admittedly, if the song originally was created to commemorate some negative event, it might have greater cultural resonance and be more likely to be incorporated into the canon of cultural elements that are transmitted from generation to generation. Once a memetic unit like this song reached sufficient familiarity and social penetration, it presumably would continue to be passed on as part of a tradition even though its original meaning had been forgotten. If one subscribes to this line of reasoning, one might expect Frére Jacques to refer to a well known figure and a well known event.

Another piece of evidence that appears to support a dark interpretation of this song is the fact that in some places such as Austria, it was at one time commonly sung in a minor key, rather than a major key, giving the song the quality of a funeral dirge.[4][5]

In this vein, some have suggested that this verse might not refer to sleep, but to the death of a friar or monk, or perhaps a member of one of the religious military orders. For example, it is widely believed in France that the renowned Frére Jacques de Molay of the Templar Knights, who was executed in 1314, is the subject of the Frére Jacques song.[6][7] This claim should be probably approached with an air of caution, because there are many alternate interpretations. For example, the poet Jean-Luc Aotret has written a poem suggesting that the subject of Frére Jacques is the excommunicated Franciscan poet Jacopone da Todi (1236\u20131306).[8][9][10]

OK, then.