Saturday, October 17, 2009

Nursery rhymes

I am sure everyone has a favorite nursery rhyme they heard as a child and has always remembered. I decided to explore and see what nursery rhymes were out there and if there was any history to how they came about. Here are some that you may recognize and others maybe new to you.

One two buckle my shoe:

One two buckle my shoe
Three, four, knock at the door
Five, six, pick up sticks
Seven, eight, lay them straight
Nine, ten, a big fat hen
Eleven, twelve, dig and delve
Thirteen, fourteen, maids a-courting
Fifteen, sixteen, maids in the kitchen
Seventeen, eighteen, maids in waiting
Nineteen, twenty, my plates empty

Devised as a pleasurable and fun way to teach children how to count using different imagery to fire a child's imagination.
Christmas is coming:

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please to put a penny in the old man's hat;
If you haven't got a penny, a ha'penny will do,
If you haven't got a ha'penny then God bless you!

The lyrics of this song were to associate the Christmas feast with geese which were traditional English Christmas fayre. The meaning that was conveyed to a child was that the festive period was where each should give to charity, according to their means...even if they could only give their blessing!
Georgie Porgie:

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,
Kissed the girls and made them cry
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

The Early Battle of the Sexes?
A Nursery Rhyme demonstrating the different attitudes between the sexes! Even at a very early age children in Britain would play a game called 'Kiss Chase' - in fact the girls would actually chase the boys and then kiss them! their were no tears from the girls but the boys fought like mad to get away! The origins and history of the lyrics to this nursery rhyme are English and refer to George (Georgie Porgie), the Duke of Buckingham, from 17th century English history. His dubious moral character was much in question! This, however, was overlooked due to his friendship with King Charles II until the parliament stopped the Kind intervening on his behalf - at this point all of the jealous husbands vowed to wreak their revenge causing Georgie Porgie to 'run away'!
Old Mother Hubbard:

Old Mother Hubbard
Went to the cupboard
To get her poor doggie a bone,
When she got there
The cupboard was bare
So the poor little doggie had none.

Origins of lyrics in British history
The Old Mother Hubbard referred to in these nursery rhyme words and lyrics allude to the famous Cardinal Wolsey. Cardinal Wolsey was the most important politician and churchman of the Tudor history period in 16th century England. Cardinal Wolsey proved to be a faithful servant but displeased the King, Henry VIII, by failing to arrange the King's divorce from Queen Katherine of Aragon which would enable him to marry Anne Boleyn. The King was the "doggie" and the "bone" alludes to the divorce (and not money as many believe) The cupboard relates to the Catholic Church
Red sky at night:

Red sky at night,
Shepherd's delight;
Red sky at morning,
Shepherd's warning.

A practical nursery rhyme
Practical origins for this English nursery rhyme are based on the weather predictions of England and how a red sky at night would indicate fair weather on the following day. Conversely a shepherd would say that a red sky in the morning would suggest inclement weather to follow. It should be remembered that there were no weather forecasts, as such, in days gone by and one had to make one's own weather predictions. Those with the most knowledge and experience were those who worked outside all year round and were fully conversant with changing weather patterns like the shepherd referred to in this rhyme
Ring a ring o' rosies:

Ring a ring o' rosies
A pocketful of posies
"Atishoo, Atishoo"
We all fall down!

Origins in English History
The lyrics to this nursery rhyme has its origins as a children's ring game. The period in history dates back to the great plague of London in 1665 (bubonic plague). The symptoms of the plague included a raised red rash on the skin (Ring a ring o' rosies) and violent sneezing (Atishoo, Atishoo) A pouch of sweet smelling herbs or posies were carried due to the belief that the disease was transmitted by bad smells. The death rate was over 60% and the plage was only halted by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which killed the rats which carried the disease which had been transmitting it to water sources.
Diddle Diddle Dumpling:

Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John,
Went to bed with his trousers on;
One shoe off, and one shoe on,
Diddle, diddle, dumpling, my son John!

The origins and history to Diddle Diddle Dumpling?
A mother's words in a nursery rhyme to a typical boy child!
How many parents would be able to associate these lovely lyrics to their own child sprawled out , fast asleep, clothes half off and totally oblivious to their surroundings? Perhaps when told it could be a plea to become more tidy?
Simple Simon:

Simple Simon met a pieman going to the fair;
Said Simple Simon to the pieman "Let me taste your ware"
Said the pieman to Simple Simon "Show me first your penny"
Said Simple Simon to the pieman "Sir, I have not any!"

Simple Simon went a-fishing for to catch a whale;
All the water he had got was in his mother's pail.
Simple Simon went to look if plums grew on a thistle;
He pricked his fingers very much which made poor Simon whistle.
He went for water in a sieve but soon it all fell through;
And now poor Simple Simon bids you all "adieu"

Origins and history to lyrics
In the days before fast food and convenience restaurants were invented food was sold from individuals. A fair was an extremely popular place to sell 'your ware' The tradition and history of fairs dates back to before the period in history referred to as Medieval England. The term 'Adieu' meaning 'Goodbye' is no longer used in the English language but will never be lost forever due to rhymes such as Simple Simon
Mondays child:

Mondays child is fair of face,
Tuesdays child is full of grace,
Wednesdays child is full of woe,
Thursdays child has far to go,
Fridays child is loving and giving,
Saturdays child works hard for his living,
And the child that is born on the Sabbath day
Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay.

Traditional Nursery Rhyme lyrics
The words and lyrics of this nursery rhyme poem were used to introduce a child to the order and the different days of week. The wording guaranteed to ensure that a child would take a keen interest in which day that they were born on! Sunday was traditionally referred to as the 'Sabbath day' in the religion of Christianity. This is the only reference to history for the origins of this nursery rhyme poem
The lion and the unicorn:

The lion and the unicorn were fighting for the crown
The lion beat the unicorn all around the town.
Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown;
Some gave them plum cake and drummed them out of town.

Origins in British history
The lion and the unicorn lyrics date from 1603 when King James VI of Scotland became James I of England unifying the Scottish and English crowns . The virgin Queen Elizabeth 1 named the son of Mary Queen of Scots, James, as her heir. The new union of the two countries required a new royal coat of arms combining those of England which featured two lions, and Scotland, whose coat of arms featured two Unicorns. A compromise was made thus the British coat of arms has
one Lion and one Unicorn
Hush a bye baby:

Hush a bye baby, on the tree top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock;
When the bow breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.

Nursery Rhyme or lullaby?
The lyrics to this famous nursery rhyme were first published in 1765.
The words and lyrics to this song are often crooned to a baby in an effort to rock them to sleep. When repeating this song children often make a rocking motion with their hands and arms. The imagery conveyed appeals to a child's imagination! The origins and history of this nursery rhyme are said to originate from America and the habit of some Native Americans of placing a baby in the low branches of a tree allowing the young child or baby to be rocked to sleep.
There was an old lady:

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a spider,
That wriggled and wiggled and tiggled inside her;
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a bird;
How absurd to swallow a bird.
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a cat;
Fancy that to swallow a cat!
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady that swallowed a dog;
What a hog, to swallow a dog;
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a cow,
I don't know how she swallowed a cow;
She swallowed the cow to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider,
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!
There was an old lady who swallowed a horse...
She's dead, of course!

Nonsense nursery rhyme which aids memory retention
A favourite nonsense nursery rhyme amongst most children whose famous lyrics aid memory retention and whose origins have no basis in history! Just look at a child's face the first time the rhyme is repeated to them! Sheer delight in what is happening - the imagery paints a very strong picture which stimulates the imagination whilst clarifying the relative size and order of all of the animals mentioned. The words become more incredulous as they progress and there is almost a sense of relief and also astonishment at the abrupt ending of the tale! There is no basis for the words and lyrics in history -it is perhaps better described as a traditional folksong, the lyrics of which have been set to music and recorded by many various artists.
What are little boys made of:

What are little boys made of?
Snips and snails, and puppy dogs tails
That's what little boys are made of !"
What are little girls made of?
"Sugar and spice and all things nice
That's what little girls are made of!"

The lyrics!
The origins and history of this nursery rhyme date back to the early nineteenth century - the battle of the sexes was raging even then! The lyrics obviously reflect this, but what is the meaning of 'snips and snails'? Many meanings have been suggested but the one that has the most credibility is that the original words were in fact 'snips of snails' snips meaning 'little bits of' No redemption there for describing what little boys are made of' !
Hark hark the dogs do bark:

Hark hark the dogs do bark
The beggars are coming to town
Some in rags and some in jags*
And one in a velvet gown.

A cautionary tale - Nursery rhyme dates back to 13th century England
The origins of this story, reflected in the lyrics, is seeped in history. Wandering minstrels and beggars went from town to town singing their songs and rhymes - secret messages of dissent were often found in the lyrics and could lead to plots and uprisings against the crown and governments of the day. Dogs barking alerted communities to strangers in their midst, hence the words 'Hark, hark the dogs do bark ...' - " Beware of strangers"
Little Tommy Tucker:

Little Tommy Tucker sings for his supper,
What shall we give him? Brown bread and butter.
How shall he cut it without a knife?
How shall he marry without a wife?

Who was Tommy Tucker?
'Tommy Tucker' referred to in the words and lyrics of this nursery rhyme was a colloquial term that was commonly used to describe orphans. The orphans were often reduced to begging or 'singing for their supper'. The reference to marrying and the lack of a wife reflects the difficulty of any orphan being able to marry due to their exceptionally low standing within the community

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