Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Nursery Rhymes - Not that innocent!

N of the A to Z Blogging Challenge

I sing a lot of nursery rhymes to my baby daughter these days.  We learnt these very same nursery rhymes as kids and they continue to be very popular still. However, as an adult, I have now started delving deeper into some of the lyrics that seem downright violent.  After some research, I discovered that many of these are not as innocent as they seem.

It is funny to know that the story behind many of these nursery rhymes alludes to political histories, atrocities, diseases, and religious intolerance!

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water
Jack fell down and broke his crown and
Jill came tumbling after

Going up the hill to fetch a pail of water sounds bad enough, and poor Jack broke his crown, is probably much more serious than a happy occurrence! How poor Jill must hurt after tumbling down the hill!

Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run,
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice?
Really? Cutting off tails of blind mice with a knife? – This rhyme actually refers to Queen Mary 1 of England burning and executing three Protestant bishops

Peter Peter pumpkin eater
Had a wife and couldn't keep her
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well!
The Poor poor hostage wife!

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.
Certainly not the right rhyme I would like to hear in this day of violence against women!

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn't that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and pecked off her nose!
Everything about this is violent!

Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.
This probably refers to the anti-Catholicism wave in England’s history where Catholic priests were hidden in secret chambers in houses.

There are many more poems that I wouldn’t like to sing to my baby girl anymore, but well, perhaps it is best to not look too deep into the meaning unless it is not downright explicit. I will continue to sing Ring-a-ringa roses to her.  She’ll not know how it alludes to the bubonic plague!

For more such rhymes you may be interested in links below.



  1. Nice one .
    its horrifying about the origins of these popular nursery rhymes.
    I stick to twinkle twinkle, jhonny jhonny n incy wincy spider.

  2. Very interesting research.

  3. As a child, I read the nursery rhyme "Who Killed Cock Robin?" and I was shocked at its cruelty. There are many scary nursery rhymes and folk tales, and it would be interesting to do research on their origins.

  4. Never bothered to delve so deep into these rhymes. Your post made me think. Thanks Richa.

  5. Yes. When you think about it the nursery rhymes are not really stuff that you'd want children reciting! There is also the one about Tommy Thin drowning the kitten.

  6. Ha ha . I never realised the violence in these nursery rhymes :) Seriously when I think they all seem so odd. GOOD that u rounded on ringa ringa rose :D
    I dont know few rhymes u shared
    dropping by from A to Z -

  7. Yes there are too many violent poems around and schools continue teaching them without even realizing the meaning!

  8. I am shocked that these rhymes had such origins ! Agatha Christie's novels many times had nursery rhymes associated with the muders !

  9. Ha. Good thing she will only remember you spending time with her. I used to read my anatomy to my baby as I studied. Lots of blood and guts...

  10. Super post richa...I think most of us have never realised these inconsistencies in the rhymes.

  11. So true and yet our youngest of children do love them! I still remember a fun Hawaiian version of Humpty Dumpty that I always recite to our preK and kinder kids in my library:
    Humpty Dumpty sat on Kuhio Beach wall,
    Humpty Dumpty took a BEEEEEEEEEG fall (long e sound on Big)
    All da king's horses and all da king's men
    Couldn't put dat buggah back togetta again.

    Sue, visiting from A-Z Blogging

  12. It is true the number of rhymes yjay are pretty violent! Another one I can think of is rock-a-bye baby!

  13. Until I read your post i never even paused to think that the seemingly innocent rhymes may have such violent content in them.
    Very good post beta

  14. I have heard before already that nursery rhymes mean more than we've always thought them to be. From what I remember hearing, JACK AND JILL and LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN had to do with witchcraft.

    Very interesting post, by the way :)