Colchiques dans les prés …

Temperatures during the day are still in the high twenties here, and sometimes I’m sure it’s been over 30”C, too hot for me to do anything demanding energy. A late afternoon stroll with some old friends to Heidi’s village, just across the river from here, gave me a poignant reminder however that autumn is nigh: the autumn crocus, or meadow saffron, is blooming in profusion on the slopes.


Goat in Heid’s village, above Maienfeld, view towards Bad Ragaz

I startled my friends by bursting into song – not too loud, I didn’t want to scare the droves of oriental tourists that flock to the scene of the 1950’s Heidi films – because for me this little flower is inextricably linked with my first September in Switzerland, in the mountain meadows near Geneva, where I first came across the colchicum autumnale and the children were all singing this melancholy little melody.


Colchiques dans les prés fleurissent …

As autumn songs go, it actually isn’t so sad: yes, the summer is over but the colchique is blooming, the colourful leaves are swirling, clouds wing their way across the sky, chestnuts are bursting in the forests and the song that lingers in the heart – despite the plaintive tune – is one of happiness.

Not an anonymous folk song, as I discovered from Wikipedia, but a ritournelle written for the scout movement in 1942 or 43, the words by Jacqueline Debatte and the melody by a lady with the marvellous name of Francine Cookenpot. What better name for a composer of campfire songs!

For anyone interested, here are links to YouTube versions of the song, one in a traditional children’s arrangement, the other by the romantic chansonnier Francis Cabrel  (one of my favourite French singers, who doesn’t sound like a bleating sheep). There’s also a version of the melody with English words that bear no relation to the original by a long-forgotten French progressive rock band called Sandrose.

I listened to the first few bars of this batlike singer and understand why the band sank into oblivion.

This pretty little flower is deadly poisonous, with no known antidote, but has medicinal uses. Interesting that once upon a time, nobody was bothered that little children sang so blithely about it. I do know that when I first heard it, sung by first-graders, they all knew it was not to be picked or nibbled. “If you touch it, you’ll DIE!” they told me. I hope that, despite modern over-protective parents, first-graders are still singing about it, aware of the dangers and with enough childish common sense not to eat it.

Finally, if you also want to sing along to this haunting little song, here are the words:

Automne (Colchiques Dans Les Près)

Colchiques dans les près
Fleurissent, fleurissent
Colchiques dans les près
C’est la fin de l’été

La feuille d’automne
Emportée par le vent
En rondes monotones
Tombe en tourbillonnant

Nuage dans le ciel
S’étire, s’étire
Nuage dans le ciel
S’étire comme une aile

Châtaignes dans les bois
Se fendent, se fendent
Châtaignes dans les bois
Se fendent sous nos pas

Et ce chant dans mon cœur
Murmure, murmure
Et ce chant dans mon cœur
Murmure le bonheur.


4 thoughts on “Colchiques dans les prés …

  1. Amazing scenery , bit different from West Bromwich ! I loved the Heidi novel as a child , introduced the film to my granddaughter.

    • I didn’t realise when I first came to live in Bad Ragaz, that I was in Heidiland, but the three or four houses that make up Heidi’s village are a major tourist attraction even though more recent film versions of the story used different locations. However, if you read the books, it’s clear that the story was set here. And yes, not much in common with West Brom!

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