From the earworm deconstruction department

by , under earworm deconstruction, thinking

Pieronelle

There are Dutch and French versions of this song. In the distant past (well, the nineteen-eighties) when I sang in a folk group, we did a combination of the two: all of the French, which has only part of the plot, replacing the same story-part of the Dutch. In fact the officially recorded Dutch version I found has eighteen verses, of which I know about a dozen, but we never sang all of them even before we discovered that we could insert the French.

I’m giving the version we sang: my spelling of the Dutch and Gabriel Yacoub’s of the French (but with my capitalisation and punctuation; he doesn’t use any and that distracts me), because it’s the Malicorne interpretation that we stole borrowed.

One line got stuck in my head in the swimming pool and caused earworminess. I’ll come to it at the end, because it’s in the last verse.

Pieronelle liet een keursken maken,
daartoe een lijfje van fijn fluweel.
Haar kousen waren van rood scharlaken,
haar schoenen naar de nieuwe snee.

Pieronelle had a corset made, also a bodice of fine velvet. Her stockings were of red scarlet, her shoes in the new style.

This is actually the second verse in the Dutch version, and indeed it’s more in medias res than eighteenth-century beginnings tend to be. But it does remind one of Schoon Elselijn: a girl who dresses up to go out into the world.

En toen is zij zich gaan vermeien
al daar de schone bloemen staan.
Met dat ze kwam aan een groen heie
kwamen daar drie Fransozen aan.

And then she went to frolic where the pretty flowers are. As she came to a green heath, three Frenchmen came along.

If she dressed up for it, she must have expected someone to come along, right?

Pieronelle dacht te zelver ure:
Het dunkt mij fraaie gasten te zijn.
Ik wil met hen gaan avonturen,
zij drinken zo gaarne de koele wijn.

Pieronelle thought at that same moment: They look like fine fellows to me. I want to go adventure with them, they like to drink the cool wine.

Gast, which I’ve translated as ‘fellow’ here, means ‘guest’ nowadays but is also used a bit deprecatingly for ‘slightly shady character’. I don’t think that was already the case when the song was made, though. And of course, “drink the cool wine” is hardly-a-euphemism for, well, you know, nudge nudge wink wink. This Pieronelle is up to no good. (Note that I’m saying this Pieronelle– I have reason to think that the protagonist of the French song has a somewhat different agenda.)

A-vous point vu la Péronelle
que les gens d’armes ont emmenée?
Ils l’ont habillée comme un page,
c’est pour passer le Dauphiné.

Haven’t you seen Peronelle, who the soldiers have taken along? They have dressed her like a page, that’s for passing the Dauphiné.

Dressed her like a page, that is, like a boy; either to hide the fact that they’re taking a troop whore along, or, as I secretly think, because she’s run off to join the army. There’s no mention of pretty clothes and stylish shoes in the French version.

Elle avait trois mignons de frères
qui la sont allés pourchasser.
Tant l’ont cherchée, que l’ont trouvée
à la fontaine d’un vert pré.

She had three cute brothers who went to chase after her. As they searched, they found her at a well in a green field.

… not with the soldiers, apparently; she’s dismounted to water her horse. And perhaps to wait for her brothers so she could have a private word with them.

Où elle faisait boire sa cavale,
c’était pour mieux la chevaucher.
“Eh, Dieu vous garde, la Péronelle,
vous en voulez point retourner?”

Where she let her horse drink, that was to better ride it. “Hey, God keep you, Peronelle, won’t you come back?”

Rather abrupt, isn’t it?

“Nenni vraiment, mes gentils frères,
jamais en France n’entrerai.
Recommandez-moi à mon père
et à ma mère, s’il vous plaît.”

“Certainly not, my dear brothers, I’ll never go into France. Recommend me to my father and to my mother, please.”

I thought until I looked up the lyrics that it was “jamais en France n’entrerais”, in the conditional, “I’d never get to France [if I came back with you]”, but Gabriel Yacoub puts it in the simple future. (And aren’t the brothers also offspring of the same father and mother? Ah well.)

“Et à ma soeur, la Catherine,
qu’elle ne fasse pas comme moi,
qu’elle ne prenne pas, la Catherine,
la bourse et les deniers du roi.”

And to my sister, Catherine, so that she doesn’t do as I did; so that she, Catherine, doesn’t take the purse and the money of the king.”

La bourse du roi can be either a royal grant (to go to school, for instance; Napoleon Bonaparte went to military school with one) or the royal treasury. Les deniers du roi is definitely the royal finances. This is what makes me think that the Peronelle in the French song didn’t go off with the soldiers for, well, nudge nudge wink wink, but disguised herself as a man and enlisted. Apparently, her sister was made of different material so Peronelle wanted the brothers to warn Catherine against following her example.

Zij stak haar peerdeken met sporen,
reed over bergen ende dal,
zij reed zo menigen stouten mijle
totdat zij bij de Fransozen kwam.

She spurred on her horse, rode across mountains and valleys, she rode so many a bold mile until she got to the Frenchmen.

In the Dutch version, behind the scenes, the brothers looked all over for her and had a much more extensive talk, but the result is the same: she leaves them standing.

Wie Pieronelle wil aanschouwen,
kom dan tot Antwerpen in de Kroon,
daar staat ze gemaald van fijnen goude,
aan beide zijden even schoon.

Whoever wants to look at Pieronelle, come to Antwerp in the Crown; there she stands, painted in fine gold, equally beautiful on both sides.

I still want to go to Antwerp and see if there’s an inn called The Crown and if there’s a gold-paint picture of Pieronelle there (and indeed, if I had an inn in Antwerp called The Crown I’d make sure that there was). What earwormed me in the first place was the phrase “tot Antwerpen in de Kroon” — modern Dutch would be “naar de Kroon in Antwerpen” (to the Crown in Antwerp). Tot ‘to’, not strictly ‘towards’ because it implies arriving, also occurs elsewhere, “Zijn vader kwam tot Rozenberg”. These days tot means “until, up to, as far as but no further”, as in Deze trein rijdt tot Utrecht “this train goes as far as Utrecht” (and ends there, though you might think it ought to go further).

I thought it was the difference between above-the-great-rivers Dutch and Flemish, but this song seems to be from the north: early versions of it appeared in Amsterdam and Haarlem. But, come to think of it, this was at a time that Amsterdam and Haarlem were overrun with Flemish refugees.

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