Mother Goose and other rhymes

Ring around a rosy

Pocket full of posies

Husha husha

We all fall down.

For years I’ve heard that the origins of this nursery rhyme lay in London’s Great Plague – rosy cheeks brought on by fever, posies to ward off the danger, and the final, inevitable death. What a gruesome rhyme, I thought, to sing with your children.

Well, it turns out that the plague plot line is not accurate. For one thing, the rhyme does not appear in any anthologies before 1881, long after the plague was over. For another, the symptoms mentioned in the song do not match those of the bubonic plague. And finally, there is a second verse with the final line “We all get up”. Which, of course, we couldn’t do if we were dead.

“Falling down’ and ‘getting up’ refers instead to a simple curtsey or dance movement.

This and other stories about favourite nursery rhymes can be found in the book “Oranges and Lemons: Rhymes from Past Times” by Karen Dolby (Michael O’Mara Books Limited, 2015).

It is interesting to read about the origins of some of the rhymes that have entertained and educated children for more than 500 years.

The queen with the mouse under her chair, for example, was England’s Elizabeth 1.

The little lamb that followed Mary to school one day is based on a true story that happened in the United States.

“Pat a Cake Pat a Cake Baker’s Man” was first quoted in 1698.

“Rain rain go away” dates back to the time of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Children, who were believed to have special power to affect weather, would chant it to make the sun come out.

It is said that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “There was a little girl who had a little curl” on the spur of the moment while holding his infant daughter.

Many rhymes were designed as learning songs – the alphabet, numbers, the days of the week. Others as an aid to making choices (“Eeny Meeny Miny Mo”) and still others as an inducement to sleep (“Rock-A-Bye Baby).

A was an apple pie

B bit it

C cut it

D dealt it

E eat it

F fought for it

G got it

H had it

I inspected it

J jumped for it

K kept it

L longed for it

M mourned for it

N nodded at it

O opened it

P peeped at it

Q quartered it

R ran for it

S stole it

T took it

U upset it

V viewed it

W wanted it

X, Y Z and ampersand

All wished for a piece in hand.

 

The fact that they have survived is a testament to their value. The times may have changed, but the needs of our children have not.

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