Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nursery Rhymes

A writing prompt from Mama Kat

What do childhood rhymes even mean?  Write something that includes a rhyme you used to sing or say when you were a child.

This was an interesting subject and I'm just going to write about the first part of the prompt, What do childhood rhymes even mean?  I've found myself revisiting the rhymes of my own childhood now that I'm a mother and I'm sharing them with my son now.  And now that I'm older, I'm realizing that many of them make absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Take one of the first ones I can remember learning...

Ring around the rosies
A pocketful of posies
Ashes ashes
We all fall down

One of the possibilities for this rhyme (that is a bit controversial) is the plague that happened in England in 1665.  People supposedly carried pocketfuls of "posies" to ward off the smell of the plague (probably the smell of death) and the ashes would represent the burned bodies.  Of course, "we all fall down" is all the people lying down when they died.

This seems the most probable explanation, because otherwise, if you ask me, it doesn't make any sense.  Ok, so you're all in a circle around some roses, you put some in your pocket, but then what?  You burn them?  Something else burns?  Where do the ashes come from?  And why does everyone fall down?  I remember having fun falling down, but why?  Strange that we all used to find this so entertaining when the possibility of what it means is so devastating.  (Yes, I'm weird.)

And then there's a favorite sung by mothers everywhere...

Hush-a-by baby
On the tree top,
When the wind blows
The cradle will rock.
When the bough breaks,
The cradle will fall,
And down will fall baby
Cradle and all.

What a terrible song!  The baby falls and crashes to the ground?!  What irresponsible parent would place their baby, unsecured, in a tree (or anywhere else for that matter) where they could easily fall and get hurt... or worse?!  Even though I've found myself singing this to my son when he was first born, I actually stopped it because it just seemed a little freaky to me.  

This old man, he played one,
He played knick-knack on my thumb;
With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

This old man, he played two,
He played knick-knack on my shoe;
With a knick-knack paddywhack,
Give the dog a bone,
This old man came rolling home.

(and it continues...)
Three=on my knee
Four= on my door
Five=on my hive
Six=on my sticks
Seven=up in Heaven
Eight=on my gate
Nine=on my spine
Ten=on my pen

This one really gets me... What the heck is a paddywhack?  Well, apparently, it means a mean person, or more accurately, a Brawny Irishman, which is a derogatory term (although I don't know why that's derogatory, but maybe to people from Ireland, it is.  I honestly don't know.)  And in the 70's, it was changed to patty-whack to keep from being the derogatory word.  What difference that made, I'm not sure.  Honestly, I don't think that's what it meant, anyway.  I mean, a knick knack mean person?  A knick knack brawny Irishman?  Neither of those make any sense to me.  And what does any of that have to do with giving the dog a bone?  That line seems to just come out of nowhere.  And then the old man rolls home?  What, is he drunk and can't walk home?  Does he fall down a hill and roll home?  Totally weird.  

I did find that this song actually got a lot of publicity from being in a film called The Inn of the Sixth Happiness.  I immediately looked it up and watched it.  It was a decent movie.  The ending kind of left me wanting closure that I didn't really get.  But I enjoyed it nonetheless.  Even though I like Ingrid Bergman, I don't think she was the right person for the part.  I think she was too pretty for it.  It called for a more plain girl who was smaller in stature, more petite.  She did a wonderful acting job on it, she just didn't have the right "look" for the movie, in my humble opinion.  And what bothers me about it is the fact that they were supposedly speaking in Chinese (although the movie is in English, in order to avoid subtitles) yet the children sing this song.  Did she teach them English?  No, I don't think so.  I also doubt that the translation would keep the rhyme with it.  

But I digress....

There are so many other nursery rhymes that I used to sing as a kid, but that never really made any sense to me.  Well, I suppose, as a child, they made sense... or we just didn't care about the logic behind them.  They were fun to play/act out and that's what mattered.  As adults, we tend to lose that child-like wonder and world of imagination.  Maybe being a mother now, and teaching these to my son, will help me to capture that innocence again and learn to just enjoy life and not boggle myself down with the details... a trait that has become a big part of me, but has also gotten me into trouble a few times as well.


  1. I completely agree with the cradle "will fall" song. It used to TERRIFY me. I never could get it. Too funny (I guess.)

  2. Thanks for the comment... I'm so glad I'm not the only one! :o)

  3. Just stopped by after seeing your comment on my blog about oils, you can buy both coconut oil and peanut oil at local distributors. For me I totally trust the products from Tropical Traditions, it is the only place I will order coconut oil from. Peanut oil is more expensive than other oils, but worth it.

    I have also heard the same things about these child hood chants.

  4. And we're singing Rock-a-bye Baby in a sweet voice to sooth a child to sleep. It's more likely to evoke night terrors. Most of these rhymes were seriously whacked!

  5. @ Joyce, Thanks so much for the info on oils! Glad you got a chance to stop by. I think the word "chants" is a good word to describe some of the creepier nursery rhymes.

    @ Wombat Central, I know, right?! I mean, who actually came up with these morbid things, anyway?! Is there a Grimm's Nursery Rhymes book somewhere?!


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