I’ve had the French children’s song “Dans sa maison un grand cerf” stuck in my head for about a week now.

It’s a song about a stag who, while looking out the window of his house, sees a rabbit coming. The rabbit knocks on the door:

Dans sa maison un grand cerf
Regardait par la fenêtre
Un lapin venir à lui (some say the line is actually l’hui – an old-fashioned word for door)
Et frapper ainsi

The rabbit is being chased by a hunter. He begs the stag to let him in so he won’t be killed:

Cerf, cerf, ouvre-moi
Ou le chasseur me tuera

To which the stag replies, “Rabbit, come inside. Take my hand”:

Lapin, lapin, entre et viens
Me serrer la main

The stag is kind of a king of the forest or noble protector in Western European folklore. The white hart is a symbol of English royalty. In French and English medieval poetry the hunt for the stag (or hart) almost always becomes a spiritual hunt. It changes you forever. Each hunt begins like an ordinary one, but destiny always calls and turns it into a quest.

deer

The Arthurian Romance Erec et Enide by Chrétien de Troyes begins with a hart hunt. King Arthur wishes to revive an old custom of hunting le blanc cerf. Not long into the hunt, Erec encounters a knight, a surly dwarf, and a maiden and before he knows it, he’s on a quest. 

In Chaucer’s Book of the Duchess, the Dreamer is pulled from his hart hunt by a ‘whelp’ to the Black Knight – thus begins his quest. 

In Marie de France’s Breton Lay Guigemar, a knight fatally wounds a white deer but the arrow ricochets to pierce his own thigh. The deer tells Guigemar that the only thing that will save him from his wound is the love of a woman. 

The examples go on and on…

Is this children’s song about a deer forced to make the split-second decision to let a rabbit in who is running away from a hunter soaked in medieval symbolism? Probably not. But it doesn’t need to be.

Children who sing this song understand on some level why the deer lets the rabbit in. They might not tell us, but they probably understand some of the risk the deer takes too. Do they see the hunter as just the rabbit’s problem? What if the deer just watched from his home and didn’t answer the door or told the rabbit to go away?

Dealing with refugees is not a simple matter – especially on a global scale – and I don’t mean to over-simplify the issue but there is irony in my having this song stuck in my head lately and I’m sure you see it by now.

Anyway, here’s a version of this chanson d’enfance by the Patapons, maybe it will get stuck in your head too: