9 March

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Sur le pont du nord (also known as Le pont de Nantes) is a traditional French folk song whose lyrics seem to go back as far as the Middle Ages.

The story of the song

The story of the song is about a young girl from Nantes who wants to go dancing but her mother is against it because of the flooding of the Loire. The brother arrives and takes his sister dancing. The waters cover the bridge on which they are dancing and sweep away the brother and sister who drown.

Sur le pont du nord became part of the repertoire of children's songs in the 20th century.

However, in their book Aux sources des chansons populaires, authors Martine David and Anne-Marie Delrieu state that this song is derived from a romance from the 11th century.

The Loire in Nantes © Jibi44 - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The Loire in Nantes © Jibi44 - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

The moral of the song

The rhyme teaches children obedience through a tragic story.

The story of Hélène (or Adèle) who went to the ball without her mother's permission and ended up drowned teaches a lesson to obstinate children.

The song talks about dancing as a reason for temptation and the object of the conflict between the daughter and the mother. In the Middle Ages, dancing was severely condemned by the Church as unnatural and somewhat evil. 

The ball offered young people of marriageable age (or close to it) the opportunity to meet lovers.

Despite some nuances that can be found from one version to another, the song story always ends with the death of the two young people.

The moral of the song is that children should always listen to tehir parents.

About Nantes

Sur le pont du nord is not the only song to refer to the city of Nantes. There is also another lament: Dans les prisons de Nantes.

The image of the bridge can also be found in the well-known nursery rhyme "Sur le pont d'Avignon", which is much happier and light-hearted.

Nantes © Adam Bishop - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Nantes © Adam Bishop - licence [CC BY-SA 3.0] from Wikimedia Commons

Sur le pont du nord

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

There are several versions of the song, known as "Sur le pont du nord" or "le pont de Nantes".

The lyrics in French

This version below of Sur le pont du nord has 11 verses. In some versions, the name Hélène is replaced by Adèle and "pont du nord" by "pont de Nantes".

Couplet 1

Sur le pont du nord un bal y est donné. (bis)
La belle Hélène voudrait bien y aller. (bis)

Couplet 2

Ma chère mère m'y laisserez-vous aller? (bis)
Non, non ma fille vous n'irez point danser. (bis)

Couplet 3

Monte à sa chambre et se met à pleurer. (bis)
Son frère arrive dans un bateau doré. (bis)

Couplet 4

Qu'as-tu, ma soeur qu'as-tu donc à pleurer?(bis)
Hélas! mon frère je n'irai point danser! (bis)

Couplet 5

Oh! si, ma soeur moi je t'y conduirai. (bis)
Prends ta robe blanche et ta ceinture dorée. (bis)

Couplet 6

Les v'là partis dans le bateau doré (bis)
La première danse, Hélène a bien dansé (bis)

Couplet 7

La deuxième danse, le pied lui a glissé (bis)
La troisième danse, le pont s'est écroulé (bis)

Couplet 8

La belle Hélène dans la Loire est tombée. (bis)
Hélas! mon frère me laisseras-tu noyer? (bis)

Couplet 9

Non, non, ma soeur je vais te retirer. (bis)
Dans l'eau se jette et les voilà noyés. (bis)

Couplet 10

Toutes les cloches se mirent à sonner. (bis)
La mère demande: qu'a-t-on à tant sonner? (bis)

Couplet 11

C'est pour Hélène et votre fils aîné. (bis)
Voilà le sort des enfants obstinés. (bis)

Translation of the lyrics into English

Here is an approximative translation into English:

Verse 1

On the North Bridge a ball is given (bis)
The beautiful Hélène would like to go there (bis)

Verse 2

My dear mother, will you let me go? (bis)
No, no, my daughter, you will not go to the dance. (bis)

Verse 3

Goes up to her room and starts to cry. (bis)
Her brother arrives in a golden boat. (bis)

Verse 4

What is wrong my sister, what are you crying about? (bis)
Alas, my brother, I will not go dancing! (bis)

Verse 5

Oh yes, sister, I will take you there. (bis)
Take your white dress and your golden belt. (bis)

Verse 6

They left in the golden boat (bis)
The first dance, Hélène danced well (bis)

Verse 7

The second dance, her foot slipped (bis)
The third dance, the bridge collapsed (bis)

Verse 8

The beautiful Hélène fell into the Loire (bis)
Alas, my brother, will you let me drown? (bis)

Verse 9

No, no, my sister, I will take you away. (bis)
In the water he throws himself and they are drowned. (bis)

Verse 10

All the bells began to ring. (bis)
The mother asks: why are they ringing so much? (bis)

Verse 11

It is for Hélène and your eldest son. (bis)
That is the fate of obstinate children. (bis)

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Sur le pont du nord © 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:

French Nursery Rhymes Cover by French Moments
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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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