Witte zwanen, zwarte zwanen - Dutch Children's Songs - The Netherlands - Mama Lisa's World: Children's Songs and Rhymes from Around the World  - Intro Image


Gerda Crichton wrote, "I know the song with a different ending: the last line would be 'van achter en van voren' translated as 'from behind and from the front'."

Nancy and Bill sent this version and translation (which they believe is more standard):

Witte zwanen, zwarte zwanen

Witte zwanen, zwarte zwanen,
Wie gaat er mee naar Engeland varen.
Engeland is gesloten,
De sleutel is gebroken
En er is geen enkele smid in het land
Die onze sleutel maken kan
Laat doorgaan, Laat doorgaan
En de laatste zullen we vangen

White swans, black swans,
Will you sail to England with me?
England is locked
The key is broken
And there is no blacksmith in the country
Who could repair our key
Let them pass,
Let them pass
And the last one we will catch.

Nancy wrote: "Some variations do exist. Instead of the blacksmith they say timmerman (carpenter, this makes the key out of wood).

This is a singing game. Two rows of kids (let's say 10 each row) face each other forming an arch with their arms. They all start singing the song and the first kids in each row start walking/running under the arches. When the song is not quite finished, the first kids line up behind the last kids with arms raised. Now the second kid in each row starts walking/running under the arches. If those kids are under the arches at the last word of the song (vangen), the arms go down and they are caught and "out". This goes on till only 2 kids are left. You can imagine that this game will be frantic at the end."

Game Instructions

Two children stand opposite each other and form an arch. The other children walk through the arch while the song is sung. When they reach the last word "gaan" this word is prolonged till the 2 forming the arch "catch" a child between their arms (they lower their arms). The "caught" child now swaps places with one of the 2 children forming the arch and the song repeats itself.


Someone from the Netherlands wrote me the following about this song, "It is about all the people, black and white. And England in Dutch sounds similar to how we pronounce angelland (heaven) in Dutch. We cannot enter heaven, because the key to it has broken. We must unite to make the key. Let us pass means: Let the ones, the poor and sick and homeless people, who were last in line on earth, be the first to enter."



Many thanks to F. S. for the recording!

Sheet Music

Sheet Music - Witte zwanen, zwarte zwanen

Thanks and Acknowledgements

Thanks to Gerda Crichton for sharing the game instructions and the alternate ending. Thanks to Nancy and Bill Vanderhoeven for the 2nd version and game instructions. Photo by Monique Palomares.

Dank u wel!