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Origins: Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star

Stars. Blimey.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high
Like a diamond in the sky,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star
How I wonder what you are.

The lyric of this delicate little rhyme were written by Jane Taylor, and published in Rhymes for the Nursery in 1806. It was originally entitled The Star.

The full lyric is as follows:


Twinkle, twinkle, little star,
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

When the blazing sun is gone,
When he nothing shines upon,
Then you show your little light,
Twinkle, twinkle, all the night.

Then the traveller in the dark,
Thanks you for your tiny spark,
He could not see which way to go,
If you did not twinkle so.

In the dark blue sky you keep,
And often through my curtains peep,
For you never shut your eye,
Till the sun is in the sky.

As your bright and tiny spark,
Lights the traveller in the dark.
Though I know not what you are,
Twinkle, twinkle, little star.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
Up above the world so high,
Like a diamond in the sky.

Twinkle, twinkle, little star.
How I wonder what you are.
How I wonder what you are.

The melody that is associated with the rhyme is taken from a French folk tune called Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman, the first appearence of which has been traced to the 1760s when it accompanied a rhyme that was far from child friendly. It begins;

Ah! Vous dirai-je, maman, [Ah! shall I say, Mummy,]
Ce qui cause mon tourment? [What causes my anguish?]
Depuis que j’ai vu Silvandre [Since I saw Silvandre]
Me regarder d’un air tendre, [Looking at me with a tender air,]
Mon coeur dit à tout moment: [My heart says all the time:]
Peut-on vivre sans amant? [Can you live without a love?]

The rest of the song can be found here.

The tune became famous after Mozart used it for his Variations on Ah! Vous dirai-je, Maman in the early 1780s. The tune, it seems, was a popular target for borrowing, as it appears in several other folk songs and classical compositions.

When the melody became attached to Jane Taylor’s poem remains unknown. Their first publication together came in 1838, when they appeared in The Singing Master: First Class Tune Book.

A common target of parody, Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star is lampooned in Carroll’s Alices Adventures in Wonderland. Carroll’s Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat has since taken on a life of its own, and is equaly well known as the original version.

In June 2011, blogger and astrononomer posted this updated, more scientific, version to Mama’s Dukes of Hazard;

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
I know exactly what you are

Opaque ball of hot dense gas
Million times our planet’s mass
Looking small because you’re far
I know exactly what you are

Fusing atoms in your core
Hydrogen, helium, carbon and more
With such power you shine far
Twinkle twinkle little star

Classed by their spectroscopy
Oh, Be A Fine Girl Kiss Me
Bright when close and faint when far
I know exactly what you are

Smallest ones burn cool and slow
Still too hot to visit, though
Red stars dominate by far
Twinkle twinkle little star

Largest ones are hot and blue
Supernova when they’re through
Then black hole or neutron star
I know exactly what you are

Our Sun’s average as stars go
Formed 5 billion years ago
Halfway through its life so far
Twinkle twinkle little star

Forming from collapsing clouds
Cold and dusty gas enshrouds
Spinning, heating protostar
I know exactly what you are

Often forming multiply
Clusters bound by gravity
Open type or globulAR
Twinkle twinkle little star

Two hundred billion stars all stay
Bound up in the Milky Way
Dusty spiral with a bar
I know exactly what you are.

I think we can all agree that this version is far and away better than the original.

4 responses »

  1. Eleanor Blair

    Oh I love the final version, and I’d not seen it before, so thanks!

    Reply
  2. Eleanor Blair

    It’s nice to see the original French song too. I should think of everything I want to say before commenting🙂

    Reply
  3. Pingback: Re-reading a classic: Five Minutes’ Peace | TreasuryIslands

  4. Pingback: Origins: I Love Little Pussy | TreasuryIslands

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