Dona, Dona

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"Dana Dana
(Yiddish original)"
Songwriter(s)Sholom Secunda, Aaron Zeitlin
"Dona Dona
(English version)"
GenreFolk music
Songwriter(s)Sholom Secunda, Aaron Zeitlin. English lyrics by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz

"Dona Dona" popularly known as "Donna, Donna" is a song about a calf being led to slaughter written by Sholom Secunda and Aaron Zeitlin. Originally a Yiddish language song "Dana Dana" (in Yiddish דאַנאַ דאַנאַ), also known as "Dos Kelbl" (in Yiddish דאָס קעלבל meaning The Calf) it was a song used in a Yiddish play produced by Zeitlin.


"Dana Dana" was written for the Aaron Zeitlin stage production Esterke[1] (1940–41) with music composed by Sholom Secunda. The lyrics, score, parts, and associated material are available online in the Yiddish Theater Digital Archives.[2] The lyric sheet is in typewritten Yiddish[3] and handwritten Yiddish lyrics also appear in the piano score.[4] The text underlay in the score and parts is otherwise romanized in a phonetic transcription that appears oriented toward stage German.[5][6] The YIVO standardized transliteration system[7] was not then in widespread use, and many Yiddish transliterations looked like German, to which the Yiddish language is closely related.

The orchestra plays the "Dana Dana" melody at several points in Esterke. The original is 2/4, in G minor for a duo of a man and a woman, choral with the orchestral accompaniment. Secunda wrote "Dana-" for the orchestral score and "Dana Dana" for the vocal scores. The Yiddish text was written with Roman alphabet. He wrote for the choral score "andantino" (somewhat slowly) and "sempre staccato" (play staccato always). The melody of the introduction was also used at the end of the song. He wrote "piu mosso" (more rapidly) for the refrain and some passages that emphasize the winds. First, a woman (Secunda wrote "she") sings four bars and then the man (Secunda wrote "he") sings the next four. They sing together from the refrain. Although singing the third part of "Dana Dana" (="Dana Dana Dana Dana...") the man sometimes sings lower than the melody using disjunct motions. The melody is refrained. Then "he" sings the melody, and "she" sometimes sings "Dana", other times sings "Ah" with a high voice or technical passage. Secunda wrote "molto rit." (suddenly much more slowly) for the ending of the first verse. There are some differences between the original and the melody that are well known. Secunda wrote "ha ha ha" for the choral score with the broken chords.

There are various views as to the meaning of the Yiddish word Dana, repeated sixteen times in each chorus. Some believe it to be a nonesense word. A comment appearing in the Hebrew newspaper Haaretz (ref, gives the meaning of Dana as the sound that was commonly made by the guide of a horse-drawn cart to encourage the horse to continue to step forward as it drags its heavy load. According to the comment in Haaretz, the translation of the word Dana (from Yiddish to Hebrew) was provided by Kol Israel in 1962, when the song was performed by Nechama Hendel. In the John Camden Hotten slang dictionary, the word Dana related to a nightman's or dustman's cart in old German / Austrian slang.


Yiddish original

אױפֿן פֿורל ליגט דאָס קעלבל,
ליגט געבונדן מיט אַ שטריק.
הױך אין הימל פֿליט דאָס שװעלבל,
פֿרייט זיך, דרייט זיך הין און צוריק.

לאַכט דער ווינט אין קאָרן,
לאַכט און לאַכט און לאַכט,
לאַכט ער אָפּ אַ טאָג אַ גאַנצן
מיט אַ האַלבע נאַכט.
דאָנאַ, דאָנאַ, דאָנאַ, …

שרייַט דאָס קעלבל, זאָגט דער פּױער:
װער זשע הײסט דיר זײַן אַ קאַלב?
װאָלסט געקענט דאָך זײַן אַ פֿױגל,
װאָלסט געקענט דאָך זײַן אַ שװאַלב.


בידנע קעלבער טוט מען בינדן
און מען שלעפּט זײ און מען שעכט,
װער ס'האָט פֿליגל, פֿליט אַרױפֿצו,
איז בײַ קײנעם ניט קיין קנעכט.


Translation by Shalom Secunda

On a wagon bound and helpless
Lies a calf, who is doomed to die.
High above him flies a swallow
Soaring gaily through the sky.

The wind laughs in the cornfield
Laughs with all his might
Laughs and laughs the whole day through
And half way through the night
Dona, dona, dona...

Now the calf is softly crying
"Tell me wind, why do you laugh?"
Why can’t I fly like the swallow
Why did I have to be a calf,


Calves are born and soon are slaughtered
With no hope of being saved.
Only those with wing like swallow
Will not ever be enslaved.


Translation by Kodesh & Schwartz

On a wagon bound for market
There's a calf with a mournful eye.
High above him there's a swallow
Winging swiftly through the sky.

How the winds are laughing
They laugh with all their might
Laugh and laugh the whole day through
And half the summer's night.
Dona, dona, dona...

“Stop complaining,” said the farmer,
“Who told you a calf to be?
Why don't you have wings to fly away
Like the swallow so proud and free?”


Calves are easily bound and slaughtered
Never knowing the reason why.
But whoever treasures freedom,
Like the swallow has learned to fly.


Literal English translation

Upon the wagon lies the calf,
Lies bound with a rope.
High up in the skies there flies a swallow,
Rejoicing, flying to and fro.

The wind laughs in the corn,
Laughs and laughs and laughs,
Laughs up a whole day
And half a night.
Dona, dona, dona …

The calf shouts; the farmer says,
“Who told you to be a calf?
You could have been a bird,
You could have been a swallow.”


People tie up wretched calves,
Move them around, and slaughter them;
Whoever has wings flies up,
Not enslaved by anyone.



"Donna Donna"
Single by Joan Baez
from the album Joan Baez
A-side"House of the Rising Sun"
B-side"Donna, Donna"
GenreFolk music
Length3:15 or 3:09
Songwriter(s)English lyrics by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz
"Donna Donna"
Single by Claude François
from the album Donna Donna / Les choses de la maison
A-side"Donna, Donna"
B-side"Du Pain et du beurre / Je sais / Les cloches sonnaient"
GenreFolk music
Songwriter(s)French lyrics by Vline Buggy, Claude François
"Donna Donna"
Single by Donovan
from the album What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid
A-side"Donna, Donna"
B-side"Car Car / (alternatively) Josie"
GenreFolk music
Songwriter(s)Sholom Secunda, Aaron Zeitlin. English lyrics by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz
"Donna Donna"
Single by C4
A-side"Donna, Donna"
GenreDance music / disco
Songwriter(s)French lyrics by Vline Buggy, Claude François
Secunda's English version

Secunda translated "Dana Dana" into English language (changing the vocalization of 'dana' to 'dona'), but this version didn't gain much attention.

Joan Baez version

The lyrics were translated once again in the mid-1950s, this time by Arthur Kevess and Teddi Schwartz, and the song became well known with their text.

It became especially popular after being recorded by Joan Baez in 1960 in her album Joan Baez. In her version, the song is retitled "Donna, Donna" (doubling the n"). This became very popular and later versions also used the double "n". The song became a staple of Baez and used in the human rights protest movement in the 1960s.

Claude François version

In 1964, the song was recorded in French language by French singer Claude François as "Donna, Donna" reaching the top of the French Singles Charts for two consecutive weeks in December 1964. François co-wrote the French lyrics with Vline Buggy. The song also known by its longer title "Donna, Donna (Le Petit Garçon)" is a completely revamped version lyricwise, as it no longer describes a helpless calf being led to its slaughter, as in the original Yiddish version, but is rather about the troubles of an aspiring young boy growing up dreaming about his own future. In the last verse, in an autobiographical twist, Claude François alludes to himself by singing the verse as "ce petit garçon que j'étais" (this small boy that I was...).

Donovan version

Very soon after the Claude François version, the Scottish singer-songwriter Donovan recorded another very popular cover of Baez' version in 1965. The track appeared on his album What's Bin Did and What's Bin Hid. The title is also "Donna, Donna", thus reinforcing further the popular "Donna" rather than the original transliteration "Dona".

Hebrew version

"Dana Dana" has been translated from Yiddish into Hebrew as "Lama Dona" and interpreted by Rika Zaraï. Zaraï went on also to launch a French oriental dance version in her album Hava.


The song was recorded in many other languages as well including German, French, Swedish, Japanese, Hebrew, Russian, Italian, Catalan and Vietnamese. In Vietnamese language, the lyrics was translated metaphorically from French version by Trần Tiến, a well-known musician in Vietnam. This version was performed by a girlband name Tam Ca Áo Trắng (Trio of schoolgirls). There is also a less popular Vietnamese version called "Tiếc thương" (Mourning) that expresses the mourning of a man whose lover died at the young age.



The song has been recorded in original Yiddish lyrics amongst others by:

The German folk ensemble Zupfgeigenhansel interpreted it as part of their 1978 album Jiddische Lieder ('ch Hob Gehert Sogn) (as "Dos Kelbl" (YouTube video) with lyrics from Jtschak Katsenelson).[8]


The most famous recordings in the English language include those by Joan Baez and Donovan. But there are also versions by:

  • American folk singers The Chad Mitchell Trio covered it on their 1961 US album Mighty Day on Campus
  • English duo Chad & Jeremy (Chad Stuart and Jeremy Clyde) covered it on their January 1965 US album Sing For You on World Artists Records. It was a B-side to their single "If I Loved You" which reached number 23 on the Billboard Hot 100. It was also included on their 1966 US album More Chad & Jeremy on Capitol Records.
  • Israeli folk duo Esther & Abi Ofarim recorded their version in 1966 in English for the album Noch Einen Tanz.[9]
  • Actress and performer Patty Duke covered "Dona, Dona" on her unreleased 1968 album Patty Duke Sings Folk Songs - Time To Move On for United Artists Records. She also performed it at the time on The Ed Sullivan Show.
  • Swedish band Ola & the Janglers covered it in English in as Side B of their single in 1966 (YouTube video)
  • Mary Hopkin covered it live during Expo '70 concert in Osaka, Japan
  • The song was covered in French by Claude François (YouTube video). His version topped the French Singles Chart for 1964. Because of the popularity of his version, in 1965 he released his album Donna Donna / Les choses de la maison making "Donna, Donna" the title track.
  • Dorothée and Hélène interpreted it in French as a duo on the inaugural edition of Rock'n'roll Show broadcast on prime time on TF1 in the autumn of 1993. (YouTube video)
  • In 1998, the French boyband C4 released a French dance version as "Donna, Donna" (YouTube video) on Polygram having a minor hit on French Singles Charts reaching number 25 and staying 12 weeks on the chart.[10]
  • Les Stentors a French 4-member super vocal group covered it in their self-titled 2010 debut album Les Stentors


  1. ^ "Esterke". Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  2. ^ "Esterke". 2005-05-13. Archived from the original on 2012-07-01. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  3. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part I". Archived from the original (JPG) on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  4. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part II". Archived from the original (JPG) on 2011-07-20. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  5. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part III". Archived from the original (JPG) on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  6. ^ "Photographic version of sheet music incorporating melody and lyrics - Part IV". Archived from the original (JPG) on 2012-03-05. Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  7. ^ "Yiddish Transliteration and Spelling | YIVO transliteration chart for Yiddish alphabet | Yiddish Spelling Guidelines". Retrieved 2015-07-13.
  8. ^ Zupfgeigenhansel – Jiddische Lieder ('ch Hob Gehert Sogn) (1979) album releases & credits at
  9. ^
  10. ^ C4 - "Donna, Donna" song page

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