I grew up hearing, reading and singing Nursery Rhymes. I brought my daughters up knowing them all too. They are a part of our history. Talking with friends the other day I was lamenting the fact that many children starting school at four years old (in my school anyway – it could be different elsewhere) know hardly any of them. They might just know Twinkle Twinkle Little Star or Baa Baa Black Sheep but rarely more than that. I said that I would hate for them to be lost from out culture. A friend then pointed out that many of the words were, in fact, violent and dark.
When I thought about it I recalled cats being drowned in wells, choppers chopping heads off, babies falling out of trees, helpless blind mice having their tails cut off, robins being shot with bows and arrows, a boy and girl falling down a hill and the boy fracturing his skull and an overweight lad chasing little girls and trying to kiss them. I could go on!
Apart from the literal meanings, we now know that most of these rhymes refer to historical events and people, albeit in the form of a simple children’s rhyme. I won’t got into all the meanings and origins here, they are extensively covered in texts and on the Internet. I thought I would take a few of the ones I knew and loved best as a child and say whatever comes to mind.
One theory is that Humpty Dumpty was the name of a very large cannon used in the Civil War in Colchester in 1648 which fell off a church roof and become damaged beyond repair. That might or might not be true but what is known is that Lewis Carroll was the first person to illustrate Humpty Dumpty as a comical egg character.
Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary
This was one of my favourites as a small girl. I think that was probably because it has such pretty girly images in the words! The Mary in the rhyme is reputed to be Mary Queen of Scots.
Old Mother Hubbard
Until I researched this picture I hadn’t realised Old Mother Hubbard had so many verses! There is a cottage in Devon which is supposedly where the real Mother Hubbard lived. I always felt sorry for the poor dog. My daughters and I always refer to having a Mother Hubbard cupboard if supplies are running low and we need to go shopping.
When I was in primary school Lucy Locket was a circle game we played a lot in the playground. Lucy Locket and Kitty Fisher are believed by some to have been courtesans in the time of Charles II who had a quarrel over a lover.
Are nursery rhymes sweet and historical or are they gross and the stuff of nightmares?
I love them and think it would be very sad if they disappeared from children’s lives.
I loved them as a child too; children love rhymes and chants, and don’t seem to worry overmuch about the content. The fact that nursery rhymes have been so popular, for so long, in so many different parts of the world says a lot for them. It would be a great pity if they were to be lost now.
Thanks for commenting. I’m doing my bit to keep them alive through my grandchildren! x x
It’s strange that when we learned these rhymes, we never thought of them as dark… just fun little rhymes. They were not taken literally. But now every word almost is examined with a microscope ! Diane
Hi Diane. Thanks for commenting. That’s exactly what another blogger has just said in a comment. Kids just like rhymes and chants and don’t worry about the content. Meryl