On The Palace Steps (Aux marches du palais)

Here is my translation of a famous French folksong/lullaby from the seventeenth century, followed by the original French version (note that in the song each line is repeated twice). The best part of the original lyrics is the surprising last stanza, in which sleep, love and death seem to be subtly conflated. As an aside regarding my accompanying illustration, there appears to be some extreme sexual dimorphism going on between the couple’s feet.

On The Palace Steps

On the palace steps
There’s a would-be bride,

Whom so many love
That she can’t decide.

In the end she chose
A poor cobbler, who

Laid out his claim
As he fit her shoe:

“By your leave, fair maid,
We could share a bed,”

“With a big square frame,
And a linen spread.”

“And hung from each post
Of this bed of ours,”

“A fresh-picked bouquet
Of wild violet flowers.”

“And a mattress soft,
In whose sag we’d sink,”

“River so deep all
The King’s steeds could drink.”

“Yes, a mattress soft
That’s as rivers deep;”

“Till the world’s end
In its depths we’d sleep.”


Aux marches du palais

Aux marches du palais
Aux marches du palais
Y a une tant belle fille,
Y a une tant belle fille.

Elle a tant d’amoureux
Qu’elle ne sait lequel prendre.

C’est un p’tit cordonnier
Qu’a eu sa préférence.

C’est en la lui chaussant
Qu’il lui fit sa demande.

La belle si tu voulais
Nous dormirions ensemble.

Dans un grand lit carré
Orné de toile blanche.

Aux quatre coins du lit
Un bouquet de pervenches.

Dans le mitan du lit
La rivière est profonde.

Tous les chevaux du roi
Pourraient y boire ensemble.

Et nous y dormirions
Jusqu’à la fin du monde.

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2 Responses to On The Palace Steps (Aux marches du palais)

  1. Thanks for the question. I am not the first to see a reference to death in the final allusion to a sleep –in a very deep spot- that lasts “until the end of the world” (at which time, according to certain interpretations of Christian doctrine, the dead will be resurrected and stand in judgement before God). I could add that the flowers mentioned in the original poem “pervenches” (periwinkle) are often planted in cemeteries.


  2. kajun says:

    I would want to know why or where do you see the death in this poem?


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