Until I had this job, I probably couldn't remember that last time I sang a nursery rhyme. My first few weeks of work, I was surprised at how many I had forgotten - or atleast a lot of the lyrics slipped my mind. Now, six months in, I know every nursery rhyme word for word it seems, and even some from England that I had never heard before.
While the kids learn them without thought and have fun doing actions along with the words, as an adult doing them, I started to wonder who Miss Muffet was, why the blind mice were running and how Humpty Dumpty fell. In turn, the following is some nursery rhyme history that I found quite interesting and hope you do too. I highly doubt you know half of it, but can surely repeat the rhyme without thinking twice!
Ring Around the Rosy -
Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies, ashes ashes, we all fall down.
This rhyme dates back to England's bubonic plague outbreak in the mid 1600s. Symptoms of the plague started with a ring-shaped red rash. During the plague, it was thought that the disease was caught by smelling bad, so people carried herbs such as posies in thier pockets. Ashes ashes alludes to the cremation of those who were infected and died. Growing up it was such a fun song to sing, running in cirlcles and then falling down at the end...to know its origins is not too humourous.
Three Blind Mice -
3 blind mice (2x), see how they run (2x), They all ran after the farmer's wife, who cut off thier tails with a carving knife, Have you ever seen such a sight in your life as 3 blind mice.
Equally morbid as the previous rhyme, this one is based on Queen Mary I of England. She was a staunch Catholic and with her religious persecution of Protestants, earned herself the name 'Bloody Mary'. The 3 blind mice in this saying are said to be 3 noblemen who changed over to the Protestant faith and plotted to kill her. While she did not run after them with a knife and cut them to pieces, she did have them burned at the stake for thier plan.
Little Miss Muffet -
Little Miss Muffet sat on her
tuffet, eating her curds and whey, along came a spider and sat down
beside her and frightened Miss Muffet away.
If a spider came
and sat next to me, I would probably both scream and run away. But why
is this little Miss Muffet so special she gets a rhyme about it? Well,
it turns out her father. Dr. Muffet, was the entomologist who wrote the
first scientific catalogue of British Insects. The poor daughter was
probably surrounded by yucky bugs all the time!
Rock a Bye Baby -
Rock a bye baby on the tree top, when the wind blows the cradle will rock, when the bough breaks the cradle will fall and down will come baby, cradle and all.
This one I found interesting because it's an American rhyme and although widly popular is still quite young if you compare it to other nursery rhymes. It is thought that these lyrics were made to reflect the account of a young pilgrim boy who had seen a Native American mother rocking her baby to sleep - and had suspended the cradle on a birch branch.
Humpty Dumpty -
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall, Humpty Dumpty had a great fall. All the King's horses and all the King's men, couldn't put Humpty together again.
When we sing this song, the image of an egg-shaped man comes to mind and when he falls he cracks and no one can put him together again, but that is not what the original meaning signifies! Humpty Dumpty, in 15th century England, was a way to describe an obese person. Taking this 'large' connotation, the English named a massive cannon Humpty Dumpty. During the English Civil war, Humpty Dumpty was atop a roof ready to fire, but the church above which it is sat is bombed and blown to pieces and Humpty Dumpty falls to bits.
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt -
John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt, his name is my name too. Whenever we go out, the people always SHOUT, there goes John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt.
I distinctly recall singing this one in elementary school and shouting at the top of my lungs the word shout. It was great. Little did I know that this American nursery rhyme was made to reflect the massive amount of German immigrants in our country. Both -heimer and Schmidt have German roots. With my last name being German, I felt this one was quite funny because in the end the song is made to make fun of the difficult to say last names by creating the word Jingleheimer, which is obviously not as cool as a last name as Gonser!
Mary Mary Quite Contrary -
Mary Mary quite contrary, how does your garden grow? With silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row.
I love flowers of all kinds so it's not surprising that I always liked this nursery rhyme! What little girl doesn't like rhyming about flowers? But, while I knew and liked bell flowers, I never could figure out what a cockle shell was. Turns out, it's nothing pretty or smell-goody at all! In fact, cockle shells were a torture instrument that was attached to the genitals of men. With that in mind, silver bells can't be pretty blue flowers right? What they really are were screws that were used to bolt someone's thumbs by the tightening of the screw. The pretty maids, or Maiden as it was called, is nowadays known as the guillotine - used for beheading! How did this garden get so bloody red? This rhyme was in reference to the Bloody Mary we talked about earlier and her 'garden' or graveyard of Protestant faith followers. Not the kind of garden I would like to stroll through.
These are just some of the many songs that the kids are learning that I am in a sense re-learning. It's kind of funny to think how much history is packed into a couple lines of a rhyme. Hopefully you were whisked back to your childhood for a minute and maybe even learned something!