Tragedy and pathos in Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes as we know are so much part of the growing up years of children and their parents like. As children we had so many memories of singing various nursery rhymes, all a part of a happy memory characterizing fun accompanied with learning. Singing rhymes can indeed benefit in so many ways and are an essential part of the growing up years of children. Some of the ways it can benefit are
  1. The repetition of words or sentences enables kids to familiarize with words
  2. learning language
  3. it also helps them by improving their memory which helps in further learning
  4. enables them to enjoy group activity
  5. encourages them to create corresponding facial expression and gestures
  6. having fun while learning
  7. rhymes are also considered to be soothing and relaxing
  8. helps parent and children bond owing to the similarity in rhymes learned
Apart from that most of these nursery rhymes have ancient origins. They have cryptic meanings and speaks of issues we would never discuss with kids usually such as  religion, politics, graphic violence, disease, racism and so on.Some believe that the rhymes were a reflection of the socio-political issues of those times and conveyed hidden messages and meanings. We can further take a look at a few of these nursery rhymes which are so much a part of our lives!
Dan Brown in his  book Inferno refers to this particular nursery rhyme , Ring around a Rosie. He like many others claim that this rhyme refers to the Bubonic Plaque of early 1330’s or the Black death.
  • The victims of the bubonic plague would usually have a ring like formation  around the eyes or skin
  • it was believed that keeping a pocket of posies would help ward off the bad odor which generated from it
  • the words initially was achoo or atishoo in the second last line,which was the symptom of the flu
  • the word achoo is often replaced with ashes stating that the bodies were burnt as their were too many bodies and burying was not feasible;
  • we all fall down as in it would usually end in death
  • The bubonic plaque wiped off 10% of Britain’s population.
nu6Humpty 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.
  • No where in the poem is their a mention of an egg however that is the image which has always been associated with Humpty Dumpty i.e an anthropomorphic egg
  • It was perhaps originally a riddle
  • The first recorded version seems to have been published in 1787 in a book Juvenile Amusements.
  1. One of the theories of the original Humpty Dumpty as  provided by Katherine Elwes Thomas and supported by Robert Ripley  is that it is actually about King Richard the III of England who has been portrayed as humpbacked in history and plays.  He eventually was defeated at the Bosworth Field in 1485.
  2. Professor David Gaube suggested that it was a tortoise siege engine, an armored frame which did not succeed in approaching the walls of the city of Gloucester in the English Civil War.
  3. In 1996 the Colchester tourist board gave a story that Humpty Dumpty was actually a cannon which was placed strategically on a wall of the walled city of Colchester however it met with a fall when the wall beneath it collapsed due to a shot fired by a Parliamentary cannon.
Baa baa black sheep
Baa, baa, black sheep,
Have you any wool?
Yes, sir, yes, sir,
Three bags full;
One for the master,
And one for the dame,
And one for the little boy
Who lives down the lane.
use of the word black to some has racial connotations
  • Previously it was ‘none for the little boy who cries down the lane
  1. it is suggested that it was based on medieval wool tax of the 13th century imposed by King Edward I
  2. According to it a third of the profit went to the King, another to the Church and the last third to the farmer
  3. thus the little boy gets none
Through time and again its lyrics have met with opposition time and again. For instance an educator found it inappropriate for her playcentre as it opposed the multicultural fabric of the society she lived in. You may read about it in detail in the following link
nu10.jpgChubby Cheeks, Dimple Chin
Chubby Cheeks, Dimple Chin
Rosy lips, teeth within,
Curly hair, very fair
Eyes are blue, lovely too
Teacher’s pet, Is that you!
Yes, yes, yes
  • This rhyme has been since ages offending lots of people for the simple reason that the world is not comprised of children who match the description of ‘cute’ provided in these verses albeit they are still cute. 
  • It also suggests that to be be a teacher’s pet  a kid must have the following description rather than any specific inherent qualities.
  • It negates the modern day liberal values of equality despite skin color or physical appearances. Hence it may serve as a flattery to some but be an offense to others
A certain blogger even expresses how inadequate she felt while growing up singing this nursery rhyme. To read you may click on the following link.
nu8Three Blind mice
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.
  • the use of the word blind has a suggestion of making a mockery of a disability
  •  images which are too graphic for little children;grisly to the most with the farmers wife cutting off tails with a carving knife.
The three blind mice  rhyme dates back to 1609. They are referred to be protestant loyalists who had probably plotted the demise of Queen Mary 1. They were finally burnt at the stake by the farmer’s wife who was queen Marie and her husband, King Philip of Spain.
Ladybug, ladybug fly away home
Ladybug, ladybug, fly away home.
Your house is on fire and your children are gone.
All but one and her name is Ann,
And she crept under the pudding pan.

  • this talks of death to break it simply
  • one of the theories state that it describes the time of the harvest when the farmers would go to burn the crops they would ask the ladybird to fly away  
According to the Act of uniformity of 1559 and 62 , the Catholics were enjoined to attend the mass by the protestants . At the same time the Catholic priests were restricted from holding masses due to which they began conducting it secretly in fields. If discovered laymen were fined and the priests were persecuted. This rhyme is even said to be a warning song to the Catholics.
Goosey Goosey Gander
Goosey Goosey Gander where shall I wander,
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady’s chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.
  • The gander provides a manipulative imagery to  our kids.
  • he pushes an old man down the stairs for being unable to say his prayers
  • is graphic for little children
  1. Historians believe that this rhyme refers to priest holes, which were hiding places for The Catholic priests during the reign of King Henry the VIII  and later under Oliver Cromwell. If caught these priests would be treated badly.
  2. An amateur historian Chris Roberts reiterates that this rhyme referred to the propaganda campaign against the Catholics at the time of King Henry the VIII.
nu15.jpgRock a Bye Baby
Rock-a-bye baby, in the treetop
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all
  1. It refers to the events before the glorious revolutions
  2. baby assumed to be King James the II ‘s baby
  3. also another man’s child who was brought in to poise as a Roman catholic heir
  4. A certain blog on BBC claims that the rhyme in its earliest prints carried a footnote which conveyed the following; “This may serve as a warning to the Proud and Ambitious, who climb so high that they generally fall at last”.
I am sure that there are many more nursery rhymes that can be added to this list, rhymes which talk of pain and hurt  like ‘Jack and Jill’ and ‘Pussy’s in the well’ , if you come to think of it. However how many of us actually thought of the meanings as kids , all we know is that we had fun singing them. However the idea for ‘this’ blog came from my daughter as I often sang this rhyme to my kids. It was she who always added  a certain line of her own whenever  I had just about finished with singing the last line of Rock a bye baby..
‘And mamma will catch you !’
Makes some sense too, I would think. A lot.manicmonday2P.S. A lot has been going on in my life lately which keeps me away from this wonderful world of blogging. Further their will be a discontinuation of any further blogs till I am back, most probably on a different domain this time, hope to see you there and have  a happy blogging life !  🙂 

14 Comments Add yours

    1. Thanks for the reblog!


  1. Anaishaa says:

    Wow… This is an amazing post with a very fresh perspective.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Anaishaa 😊


  2. Homemakersunited says:

    Wow! I never knew those nurseries were that weird, but reading them in description makes me say, yikes! And nooooooo! I missed you, I was excited when I finally saw a post from you. Well, I’ll be here in WordPress land waiting for your return.😳☺

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well your words really made me smile …tbh I wont say I am not missing it however times are much too busy to be able to do something about it..miss your bright presence too lovely fellow blogger..catch up with you soon..😊 xxx

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Betcha didn't know! says:

    Hi😄, This is formerly homemakers United. If you’re interested,my new blog is


    1. Hi I am really sorry for missing out on your comment, I would be too happy to follow your blog..must say I really missed it 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Betcha didn't know! says:

        Hi!!!!!😂you were so dearly missed. Welcome back😊

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks..happy to be back 🙂

          Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Aks Thariani says:

    Wow! Never thought so deeply about these ‘innocent’ rhymes which made favourite childhood memories for many of us! Pretty insightful!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for sharing 😊

      Liked by 1 person

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