twinkle, twinkle, little star

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star

"Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star" is a popular English nursery rhyme by Jane Taylor. The poem, which is in couplet form, was first published (as "The Star") in 1806 in Rhymes for the Nursery, a collection of poems by Taylor and her sister Ann. It is often sung to the tune of the French melody "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman" (first published in 1761).


The English lyrics have five verses. The repetition of the first two lines at the end of each verse is not in the original, but is needed to fit the usual melody. Below is the whole text, without the repetition of the first two lines added.

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.


Many think that Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was the original composer of this melody, a misconception reinforced by its appearance as a "correct answer" in the original edition of Trivial Pursuit. However, Mozart wrote twelve variations for piano on the melody (Variations on "Ah vous dirai-je, Maman"), now catalogued as K. 265/300e in the Köchel-Verzeichnis.

Appearances of the melody

Many songs in various languages have been based on the "Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman" melody. In English, "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" shares its melody with the "Alphabet Song" from 1834, and "Baa, Baa, Black Sheep".

The German Christmas carol "Morgen kommt der Weihnachtsmann", with words by Hoffmann von Fallersleben, also uses the melody, as does the Hungarian Christmas carol "Hull a pelyhes fehér hó", and the Dutch "Altijd is Kortjakje ziek".

Several classical compositions have been inspired by the tune:

First appearances of the melody and the original French text version

The original French rhyme Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman, was far from a children's rhyme. Apparently it originated in the first half of the 18th century. As there was no published version of the text before 1774, several slightly differing versions of what could have been the "original" version exist:

In these versions a girl confides a secret to her mother: that she has been seduced by "Silvandre". Only in one version cited above did the girl apparently make a narrow escape ("Je m'échappai par bonheur), in the other versions the girl appears to have been "beaten" by L'Amour ("Love").

As for the history of the melody and the non-nursery rhyme version(s) of the French text:

  • 1761: first publication of the music (without lyrics) of Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman in "Les Amusements d'une Heure et Demy" by Mr. Bouin (Paris), p. 1.
  • Around 1765, the words and music appear in a manuscript entitled "Recueil de Chansons" under the title "Le Faux Pas", p. 43.
  • 1774: earliest known printed publication of the lyrics together with the music in volume two of "Recueil de Romances" by M.D.L. (De Lusse) published in Brussels, under the title "La Confidence – Naive" (p. 75).
  • Around 1780 (Paris): the words and music appear in sheet music under the title "Les Amours de Silvandre".
  • 1785: First publication of Mozart's Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman variations.

As for the composition date of Mozart's Variations, for a time the variations were thought to have been composed in 1778, while Mozart stayed in Paris from April to September in that year, the assumption being that the melody of a French song could only have been picked up by Mozart while residing in France. For this presumed composition date, in the chronological catalogue of Mozart's compositions the composition was renumbered from K. 265 to K. 300e. Later analysis of Mozart's manuscript of the composition by Wolfgang Plath rather indicated 1781-1782 as the probable composition date.

French "nursery rhyme" version

Origin unknown.

French lyrics English translation
Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman,
Ce qui cause mon tourment.
Papa veut que je raisonne,
Comme une grande personne.  
Moi, je dis que les bonbons
Valent mieux que la raison.
Ah! I shall tell you, mum,
What causes my torment.
Papa wants me to reason
Like an adult.
I say that candy
Is better than being right.

The French "nursery rhyme" version also appears with slight variations:

French lyrics English translation
A variation
Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman,
ce qui cause mon tourment.
Papa veut que je demande
de la soupe et de la viande...
Moi, je dis que les bonbons
valent mieux que les mignons.
Ah! I would tell you, Mother,
what causes my torment.
father wants me to ask
for soup and for meat
I say that candy
is better than lovers.
Another variation
Ah! vous dirai-je, Maman,
ce qui cause mon tourment
Papa veut que je retienne
des verbes la longue antienne...  
Moi, je dis que les bonbons
valent mieux que les leçons.
Ah! I shall tell you, Mother,
what causes my torment.
father wants me to remember
This catalogue of verbs conjugations
I say that candy
is better than lessons.

Other text versions

The song is a popular target for parodies. "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Bat," a parody of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" recited by the Mad Hatter during the mad tea-party, in Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. It reads:

Twinkle, twinkle, little bat!
How I wonder what you're at!
Up above the world you fly,
Like a tea tray in the sky.
Twinkle, twinkle—

The Mad Hatter is interrupted in his recitation. "The Bat" was the nickname of Professor Bartholomew Price, one of the Dons at Oxford, a former teacher of Carroll's and well known to the Liddell family. It is one of the few parodies in the Alice books of which the original is still widely known.

A Latin translation appears in Mary Mapes Dodge's When life is young (1894):

Mica, mica, parva stella,
Miror quaenam sis tam bella.
Super terra in caelo,
Alba gemma splendido.
Mica, mica, parva stella,
Miror quaenam sis tam bella.

Another parody appeared in Sesame Street. In a short skit, Muppet composer Don Music, overcoming writer's block, struggles to pen the nursery rhyme.

The Elegants released a single adapted from this song called Little Star, which made #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1958.

An anonymous astronomy parody, quoted in Violent Universe by Nigel Calder (BBC, 1969), refers to pulsars and quasars. A different version of this parody attributed to George Gamow and Nigel Calder was published in Galaxies in the Universe: An Introduction by Linda Sparke and John Gallagher (Cambridge University Press, 2000 - ISBN 0-521-59740-4).

Another parody was used on Degrassi: The Next Generation episode Voices Carry, where Liberty (Sarah Barrable-Tishauer) and J.T. (Ryan Cooley) made up as a protest song for a school play. They sang it in front of Mr. Raditch (Dan Woods) for which they got in trouble.

Another parody was used in the Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends episode "The Big Cheese", where Cheese sang, "Sprinkle sprinkle little bar, what I wonder is a cat!"

The Girl Scouts of the USA placed a full page ad in the March 19th 2006 New York Times containing a version of the rhyme that was "resung by science" as part of their "Girls Go Tech" campaign.

The second demo music from Mario Paint, in the music composing part of the game, is also based on this song.

Vashti Bunyan, an English singer-songwriter, composed "Lily Pond" based on this tune. It can be found on her 1970 album Just Another Diamond Day. American singer Elizabeth Mitchell (musician) covers the song on her 2006 album You Are My Little Bird.


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