Last Updated: 6 February 2023

Gentil coquelicot (also known as J'ai descendu dans mon jardin) is a traditional French song that first appeared in the mid-19th century.

Gentil Coquelicot Red poppy © French Moments

Coquelicot (Red poppy) © French Moments

The story of the song

The poppy is the star in the chorus of an old song J'ai descendu dans mon jardin which first appeared in Marion Théophile Dumersan's 1846 collection "Chansons et rondes enfantines".

Beware the bad boys!

Under the guise of a naive pastoral song, the nursery rhyme is a moralising fable for young girls. The nightingale (le rossignol), the symbol of love par excellence, warns them against the bad boys who want to take advantage of them.

Is 'J'ai descendu' a mistake?

It is the auxiliary avoir (to have) and not the auxiliary être (to be) that is used in the song, contrary to contemporary usage.

Nowadays, it is correct to say:

  • "Je suis descendu dans mon jardin" (I went down to my garden), used without a direct object complement = COD)
  • "J'ai descendu les marches" (I went down the steps), used with a COD, here the steps.

One explanation among others is that Old French syntax was less rigorous than modern syntax.

Red poppy field in Burgundy © French Moments

Red poppy field in Burgundy © French Moments

Gentil coquelicot

Lyrics, music, free download... let's learn more about the popular song:

Gentil coquelicot

Gentil coquelicot © French Moments

The lyrics in French

The original song of Gentil coquelicot has 5 verses and a chorus.

Couplet 1

J’ai descendu dans mon jardin
J’ai descendu dans mon jardin
Pour y cueillir du romarin.


Gentil coquelicot, Mesdames,
Gentil coquelicot, nouveau.

Couplet 2

J'en avais pas cueilli trois brins
J'en avais pas cueilli trois brins
Qu'un rossignol vint sur ma main.

Couplet 3

Il me dit trois mots en latin
Il me dit trois mots en latin
Que les hommes ne valent rien.

Couplet 4

Et les garçons encore bien moins
Et les garçons encore bien moins
Des dames, il ne me dit rien.

Couplet 5

Des dames, il ne me dit rien
Des dames, il ne me dit rien
Mais des demoiselles beaucoup de bien.

Translation of the lyrics into English

Here is an approximative translation into English:

Verse 1

I went down to my garden
I went down to my garden
To pick rosemary.


Sweet poppy, ladies,
Sweet poppy, brand new.

Verse 2

I had not picked three sprigs
I had not picked three sprigs
That a nightingale came on my hand.

Verse 3

He said three words to me in Latin
He told me three words in Latin
That men are worthless.

Verse 4

And boys much less so
And boys much less so
Of ladies he tells me nothing.

Verse 5

Of the ladies, he tells me nothing
Of ladies he tells me nothing
But of the ladies much good.

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Gentil coquelicot © French Moments

French Nursery Rhymes

My challenge for the year 2023 is to publish 80 French Nursery Rhymes lyrics and descriptions (list below). Come back as time goes by to discover the new articles:

About the author

Pierre is a French/Australian who is passionate about France and its culture. He grew up in France and Germany and has also lived in Australia and England. He has a background teaching French, Economics and Current Affairs, and holds a Master of Translating and Interpreting English-French with the degree of Master of International Relations, and a degree of Economics and Management. Pierre is the author of the Discovery Course on the Secrets of the Eiffel Tower and the Christmas book "Voyage au Pays de Noël".

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