L’Enfant au Tambour: the story of the song

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L’Enfant au Tambour… the story of the song known in English as “The Little Drummer Boy”.


About the song

The Little Drummer Boy was written by Katherine Kennicott Davis in 1941 and recorded by the Trapp Family Singers in 1955. It became famous in 1858 with a version by the Harry Simeone Chorale.

In the 1960s, French novelist Georges Coulonges adapted the song in French and it was firstly recorded by Nana Mouskouri in 1965 (see below).

The storyline of the song is completely different in French to the original as it has no reference to the Nativity.

This is similar to Jingle Bells which has been translated into French by “Vive le Vent” (Long live the wind)…

The French version tells the story of a boy in search of his father who had died in the war. He offers his drum in exchange of having his father brought back to life. The angels of heaven granted him his desire, but then he woke up to find out it was just a dream.

The French version denies the Christian origins of the song and has a sad touch to it that does not appear in the original.

L’Enfant au Tambour performed by Nana Mouskouri in the 1960s:

L’Enfant au Tambour has been recorded by Les Chœurs de l’Armée Rouge, Nana Mouskouri, Henri Pélissier, Gilette Reno, and Roch Voisine.


The French lyrics of “L’Enfant au Tambour” 

Sur la route, parum pum pum pum
Petit tambour s’en va, parum pum pum pum
Il sent son cœur qui bat, parum pum pum pum
Au rythme de ses pas, parum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
O, petit enfant, parum pum pum pum
Où-où vas-tu ?

Hier mon père, parum pum pum pum
A suivi le tambour, parum pum pum pum
Le tambour des soldats, parum pum pum pum
Alors, je vais au ciel, parum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
Là, je veux donner pour son retour
Mon tambour.

Tous les anges, parum pum pum pum
Ont pris leurs beaux tambours, parum pum pum pum
Et ont dit à l’enfant, parum pum pum pum
“Ton père est de retour”, parum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
Et l’enfant s’éveille, parum pum pum pum
Sur son tambour.


The English Literal Translation: “L’enfant au Tambour”

On the road, pa ram pam pam pam
Little drummer goes, pa ram pam pam pam
He feels his heart beating, pa ram pam pam pam
To the rhythm of his steps! pa ram pam pam pam
ram pam pam pam, ram pam pam pam
Oh! Little child, pa ram pam pam pam
Where are you going?

Yesterday, my father, pa ram pam pam pam
Followed the drummer, pa ram pam pam pam
The soldiers’ drummer, pa ram pam pam pam
ram pam pam pam, ram pam pam pam
I want to give him for his return
My drum

All the angels, pa ram pam pam pam
Took their beautiful drums, pa ram pam pam pam
And told the child, pa ram pam pam pam
Your father is back! pa ram pam pam pam
ram pam pam pam, ram pam pam pam
And the child woke up, pa ram pam pam pam
On his drum.


The English Lyrics of “The Little Drummer Boy”

Come they told me, pa rum pum pum pum
A new born King to see, pa rum pum pum pum
Our finest gifts we’ll bring, pa rum pum pum pum
To lay before the King, pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
So to honor Him, pa rum pum pum pum
When we come

Baby Jesus, pa rum pum pum pum
I am a poor boy too, pa rum pum pum pum
I have no gift to bring, pa rum pum pum pum
That’s fit to give our King, pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
Shall I play for You?, Pa rum pum pum
On my drum

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum
Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum

Mary nodded, pa rum pum pum pum
The ox and lamb kept time, pa rum pum pum pum
I played my drum for Him, pa rum pum pum
I played my best for Him, pa rum pum pum pum
Rum pum pum pum, rum pum pum pum

Then He smiled at me, pa rum pum pum pum
Me and my drum, me and my drum
Me and my drum, me and my drum
Me and my drum


Find out more about Christmas in France!

👉 The French traditions of Christmas (on the blog)

👉 Christmas in France (on the French blog)


 

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About 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. In 2014 he moved back to Europe from Sydney with his wife and daughter to be closer to their families and to France. He has a background teaching French 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.

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