Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Nursery Rhymes--A Crash Course

Nursery Rhymes have delighted our ears for centuries. While most of the verses have lost their meaning throughout the generations, some still have a meaning that is surprisingly dark.

According to answers.com, “Little Jack Horner” is a “popular nursery rhyme, still in circulation after 200 years. The first known printing dates from 1725, but the rhyme was taken up by the chapbook publishers and incorporated into a much longer rhyming tale entitled ‘The History of Jack Horner’ printed a number of times later in the 18th century. A 19th-century explanation of the story claims that it celebrates one Tom Horner who was steward to Richard Whiting, Abbot of Glastonbury, at the time of the Dissolution. Whiting entrusted Horner with a pie in which title deeds had been secreted to be delivered to Henry VIII. As in the rhyme, Horner opened the pie and thus became a major landowner.”

Another classic favorite has an unexpected past. According to snopes.com, the seemingly innocent Sing A Song of Sixpence has dark and brooding written all over it, as it represents a coded message to recruit hands aboard a pirate ship. To learn more about how the verses are broken down and explained, see: http://www.snopes.com/lost/sixpence.asp
To be fair, some of the research I found revealed that several people disagree with snopes and claim that the song is simply silly.

Askyahoo.com describes the origins of a few rhymes as “The provenance of many rhymes is interesting enough without resorting to sensational interpretation. Wikipedia calls "plausible," for instance, the theory that Pop Goes the Weasel tells a tale of silk weavers peddling their equipment to pawnbrokers for drinking money. This NPR story explains that in the language of Henry VIII's time, Goosey Goosey Gander associates the Catholic Church with prostitution. As for "Sing a Song of Sixpence," it tells the story of Henry VIII's ill-fated marriage to Anne Boleyn. And a complicated set of references in Yankee Doodle really just boils down to trash-talking between the British and Americans during the Revolutionary War.”

The Ring Around the Rosie verse is clouded in great distress. According to tradition, the poem tells about the Great Plague of the 1300’s in Europe, saying the “ring around the rosie describes the rash of the beginning stages of the disease. The posies refer to the flowers people kept in their pockets hoping it would protect them. The “ashes” imitates the sound of sneezing, and then they all fall down dead. However, Snopes discounts this account saying the rhyme has no definite origin and it has no definite meaning.

On the information about nursery rhymes website: http://nurseryrhymes.allinfoabout.com/Hey_diddle_diddle.php
“I found the following account about Hey Diddle Diddle. This old nonsense rhyme is probably just that - nonsense, however some people have suggested that the cat is Elizabeth Ist and the dog is Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester who she once referred to as her 'lap dog.' Hey Diddle Diddle was a new dance accompanied by a fiddle according to a play written by Thomas preston in 1569. Michelle Cheng kindly contacted me with the theory that the characters in this rhyme are actually constellations of stars, and the line, 'the dish ran away with the spoon' relates to the stars disappearing over the horizon.”

Regardless of how they came to be, nursery rhymes are fun and should be counted as a literary treasure for the generations yet to come. Whether you choose to make yours political, nonsensical, or historical, I wish you the best of luck. If you need my email address, I can be reached at traviswinman@yahoo.com I will accept your submissions until Sunday at midnight. After that, the dish will run away with the spoon and it will be
Diddle diddle dumpling for you.

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