'Au Clair de la Lune' Lyrics and Translation

Smiling young woman playing the guitar
Chris Bernard / Getty Images

"Au Clair de la Lune" is a popular French folk song that dates back to at least the mid-18th century. The melody is simple, which is why it is often used to teach children how to play an instrument, and the lyrics beautiful, whether sung in French or in English.

Meaning of the Lyrics

The song references characters from the French version of the Commedia dell'Arte, the theatrical comedy troupe established in Italy in the 16th-century. Pierrot is the French version of Pedrolino, and Harlequin is the French version of Arlecchino. We can presume that our unnamed lady is Columbina/Columbine. It's unknown whether the original version of the song used these characters' names, or whether they were added in later.

French Lyrics

Au clair de la lune
Mon ami Pierrot
Prete-moi ta plume
Pour écrire un mot.

Ma chandelle est morte
Je n'ai plus de feu
Ouvre-moi ta porte
Pour l'amour de Dieu.

Au clair de la lune
Pierrot repondit
Je n'ai pas de plume
Je suis dans mon lit.

Va chez la voisine
Je crois qu'elle y est
Car dans sa cuisine
On bat le briquet.

Au clair de la lune
L'aimable Harlequin
Frappe chez la brune
Elle repond soudain.

Qui frappe de la sorte?
Il dit a son tour
Ouvrez votre porte
Pour le Dieu d'Amour.

Au clair de la lune
On n'y voit qu'un peu
On chercha la plume
On chercha du feu

En cherchant d'la sorte
Je ne sais ce qu'on trouva
Mais je sais que la porte
Sur eux se ferma.

English Translation

In the light of the moon, Pierrot, my friend
Loan me your pen to write something down
My candle's dead, I've got no flame to light it
Open your door, for the love of God!

In the light of the moon, Pierrot replied
I don't have a pen, I'm in bed
Go to the neighbor's, I think she's there
Because someone just lit a match in the kitchen.

In the light of the moon, likable Harlequin
Knocked on the brunette's door, and she responded immediately
Who's knocking like that? And he replied
Open your door, for the God of Love!

In the light of the moon, you can barely see anything
Someone looked for a pen, someone looked for a flame
In all of that looking, I don't know what was found
But I do know that those two shut the door behind them.

Earliest Recording

The earliest recording of this song also happened to be the earliest recording of any human voice, almost 20 years before Thomas Edison captured "Mary Had a Little Lamb" on what was essentially a piece of tinfoil. In March 2008, a 10-second recording was discovered in a Paris archive by a group of American historians. Apparently, the snippet was recorded on something called a phonautograph, a machine that could record sounds visually, but not play them back audibly. That is, until scientists at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, converted the symbols laid down on paper into sound. And that sound was a female voice singing "Au Clair de la Lune."