Notorious Nursery Rhymes (Number One)

Updated on April 10, 2019
Jodah profile image

John has been writing poetry since his school days. He was awarded "Poet of the Year 2014" Hubby Awards and has had two poems become songs.

Introduction: The Nursery Rhyme

Most people would agree that plagues, prostitution, torture, beheadings, burning at the stake etc are not nice topics to subject our toddlers and children to. However, many of the popular nursery rhymes we enjoyed and learned to sing as children had very dark and disturbing origins which would shock many parents (especially those still reciting them to their children today.)

It seems that fictional writer of fairytales Mother Goose may be more suited to the horror genre along with the likes of Steven King and Dean Koontz.

In each edition of this series, I will discuss the history and/or meaning of two or three of the nursery rhymes we grew up with.

Mother Goose
Mother Goose | Source

Ring Around the Rosie

Ring around the rosie

A pocketful of posies

Ashes, ashes

We all fall down!

History and Meaning

The perceived origin for this rhyme is by far the most infamous. The verse is said to refer to the Great Plague of London in 1665. The “rosie” is the rash that covered the sufferers of the disease, the smell of which they tried to cover up with “a pocket full of posies (herbs).” The “ashes” were the cremated remains of the deceased, and well, they all did fall down.

Is your childhood ruined yet?

Alternative Versions

(British)

Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!
We all fall down.

* this is the version I am most familiar with

(Indian)

Ringa ringa roses,
Pocket full of posies
Husha busha!
We all fall down!

Source

Georgie Porgie Pudding and Pie

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,

Kissed the girls and made them cry

When the boys came out to play,

Georgie Porgie ran away.

History and Meaning

Georgie Porgie is most often thought to refer to English courtier George Villiers, Duke of Buckingham, who was rumoured to be King James I's lover. There is no proof of this relationship, however, it was evident that King James was very fond of Villiers, bestowing on him a lot of money and titles. Villiers' good looks are very well documented though, along with his love for women. It is said that Villiers earned the ire of several husbands whose wives he had sex with, without their consent. This would explain why the girls cried, and why Georgie Porgie ran away when the “boys came out to play.”

Alternative Version

Here is an alternative version with a different ending by me and that may be even more apt if Buckingham was, in fact, King James I's lover.

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie,

Kissed the girls and made them cry

When the boys came out to play,

He kissed them too, he's funny that way.

The Great Fire of London Theory

One other and very interesting theory is that this verse actually refers to Great Fire of London which started in Pudding Lane and is reportedly finished at Pye Corner. In this hypothesis, "The Boys" may refer to the firefighters of the time and "Georgie Porgie" to the arsonist running away at the prospect of being caught by the firefighters.

Source

London Bridge is Falling Down

London Bridge is falling down,

Falling down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down,

My fair lady.

Set a man to watch all night,

Watch all night, watch all night,

Set a man to watch all night,

My fair lady.

Suppose the man should fall asleep,

Fall asleep, fall asleep,

Suppose the man should fall asleep?

My fair lady.

History and Meaning

Depending on your source, “London Bridge is Falling Down” could be about a Viking attack, child sacrifice, or the normal deterioration of an old bridge.

One of the more widely believed theories is the alleged destruction of London Bridge at the hands of Olaf II of Norway in about 1014. (“Alleged” because some historians don’t believe that attack ever took place.)

However, of all the stories behind the origin of this rhyme, the one that really stands out is the one about human sacrifice. It was believed that a bridge would collapse unless a human sacrifice was buried at the foundations. This was known as immurement, which is the “practice of entombing someone within a structure, where they slowly die from lack of food and water.”

Do you remember the popular game that was played while singing this song, where two kids form an arch, and others run underneath till the end of the song? Whoever was left at the end, was trapped by the hands of the two kids forming the arch. How creepy does that sound now?

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

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      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        3 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Thank you Lawrence. I also appreciate you sharing about that bridge in Iraq. Very interesting.

      • lawrence01 profile image

        Lawrence Hebb 

        3 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

        John

        I'd heard of the origins for 'Ring of Roses' but not the other two.

        However when I was living in Iraq we had a bridge there that legend had it was built after the architect sacrificed his own daughter in Medieval times.

        The bridge would claim three or four lives every year.

        Awesome hub.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        It is my pleasure to refresh your childhood memories Venkatachari. I am glad you also found the background stories interesting.

      • Venkatachari M profile image

        Venkatachari M 

        4 months ago from Hyderabad, India

        Very entertaining and informative post. It refreshed my childhood days when we were taught those nursery rhymes. I remember the first one entirely (Indian version) and the 3rd one only the starting lines. We used to play Ringa-Ringa Roses.

        Thanks for refreshing my memories and for revealing the secrets behind those rhymes.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        MsDora, maybe your private school teacher was aware of the real meanings behind the nursery rhymes. I hope I haven’t spoiled them for you. I appreciate you reading this.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Chitrangada, it is only in the last few years that I have been made aware of the darker background of most nursery rhymes, and also some fairy tales. Rhymes we loved to sing to out children without even considering the meaningful the words.

        In fact, as they get older I find the children are intrigued by these background stories. So, I am sure yours will be too. Thanks for reading.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        4 months ago from The Caribbean

        We never learned nursery rhymes at my private school. I learned most of them when I became a teacher. I'm wondering now if my private school teacher thought there was something to hide. Thanks for the unfolding.

      • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

        Chitrangada Sharan 

        4 months ago from New Delhi, India

        Wow! This is so refreshing. You took me back in time, to my childhood and my children’s childhood. I can remember, how much we enjoyed singing those nursery rhymes, without even caring for the meaning of the song. It was fun, to sing in chorus.

        Now, when you explained them, I find it really fascinating. Would share with others, especially my children.

        Thanks for sharing this excellent and interesting article.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Shauna, there is much more to most nursery rhymes than meets the eye. Some have many different theories so it is difficult to determine the true stories behind them, but all very interesting and many shocking. I am enjoying the research.

      • bravewarrior profile image

        Shauna L Bowling 

        4 months ago from Central Florida

        John, this is very eye-opening! I had no idea any of these nursery rhymes have sinister origins and meanings. Ring Around the Rosie kinda blew me away. I remember doing the ring dance while singing it. We'd all fall down when we sang the ending.

        I always thought Georgie Porgie was a nonsensical childhood rhyme. After reading your alternatives, I think the Great Fire of London theory is the best. At least that's the one my rose-colored glasses prefers!

        London Bridge, to me as a child, was simply about a bridge that crumbled. Yes, I remember playing the game. Now I understand why the last person was "captured" by the arch.

        There's a bridge in Philly (I can't remember which one) that is purported to contain a body in one of the bases. Rumor has it that a mason fell into the wet concrete and was literally buried alive in the substructure. Creepy!

        I look forward to this series, John. I may not like what I learn, but it will bring forth just how naive we were as children. Nothing wrong with that!

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        You are not wrong there PoetikalyAnointed. The history is creepy.

      • PoetikalyAnointed profile image

        PoetikalyAnointed 

        4 months ago from US

        Well-done, John!

        So glad I didn't sing those songs to mu kid...creepy!

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Thank you, Reginaldo. Glad you enjoyed this.

      • Rhylee Suyom profile image

        Reginaldo Gatus Suyom 

        4 months ago from Angeles City, Pampanga, PHILIPPINES

        Great work! I love the alternative versions and additional information/theories. More power!

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Surprisingly, most are MsDora. Hopefully there are a few with nicer backgrounds.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Thank you Jamie. Stay tuned for more.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Pamela, consider yourself now enlightened lol. Glad you had fun with these tales.

      • MsDora profile image

        Dora Weithers 

        4 months ago from The Caribbean

        Thanks for the explanations. Nursery rhymes do sound like horror rhymes after all.

      • jhamann profile image

        Jamie Lee Hamann 

        4 months ago from Reno NV

        Fun read John. Jamie

      • Pamela99 profile image

        Pamela Oglesby 

        4 months ago from Sunny Florida

        I never thought twice about these nursery rhythms. What a rud awakening John. I liked your Georgie Porgie poem the best. Very funny! Thanks for the enlightening article.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Haha Linda, I hope you enjoyed your coffee more than the history/ meaning of these rhymes. Cheers.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        So glad these brought back pleasant memories Md, even if you realise you had been singing the wrong words. Thanks for reading.

      • Carb Diva profile image

        Linda Lum 

        4 months ago from Washington State, USA

        Well, that was certainly an interesting tidbit to enjoy with my morning cup of coffee. I'll just stay here safe and secure in my adult world.

      • profile image

        Velcro 

        4 months ago

        Plunged me in my childhood , refreshed me with the effervescence of memories....Especially Ringa Ringa Roses (Lol, sung a grammatically wrong rhyme in the whole tenure of my childhood ...yet it was amazing)...Thank you for sharing John...!!! Brought some great memories back !

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Well that is a good question Kaili. I guess some of us turned out better adjusted than others lol. Glad you found this interesting enough to want to read more.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Haha Ruby, now you know. Lucky you didn’t know the meaning as a child.

      • Kaili Bisson profile image

        Kaili Bisson 

        4 months ago from Canada

        Great article John, and I look forward to more. How did we ever turn out so well-adjusted? ;-)

      • always exploring profile image

        Ruby Jean Richert 

        4 months ago from Southern Illinois

        Yuck, I played the games and didn't know the meaning. It was interesting to learn the history behind the rhymes.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        That is so true Liz. It is interesting to delve into the background but can also spoil the childhood innocent enjoyment. Thanks for reading.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        4 months ago from UK

        It is an enlightening exercise looking at the background of nursery rhymes. As children we sing them in all innocence. As adults we find out their less than innocent back stories.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Haha, Bill. What have I done? Thanks for reading though.

      • billybuc profile image

        Bill Holland 

        4 months ago from Olympia, WA

        I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Seriously! This is some stuff I didn't know,and now I'm not sure I'm glad I know it. :)

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Hi Kamkar, other cultures probably have their own versions of many of these tales or similar ones. I am glad you found this interesting and informative.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Eric, I had never heard of the term "immurement" before but it would be a very unpleasant way to go. Do it! Bust out the Mother Goose and I am sure you will see these nursery rhymes differently from now on. Let's see what ones I come up with next.

      • Kamkar sanjukta profile image

        Kamkar Sanjukta 

        4 months ago from India

        INFORMATIVE & INTERESTING.

        As I am not a native speaker of English, I was not that familiar with those rhymes. But now when I have worked in kindergarten. I find this article very informative and interesting.

      • Ericdierker profile image

        Eric Dierker 

        4 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

        I am all in on this series. I will bust out my Mother Goose book and we can then back check with you. Perhaps today with all the violence in electronic gadgets kids will be numb to the horrors.

        I certainly never read Mother Goose stuff to a quite young child --- Yikes!

        "immurement" wow that would be my greatest fear.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Thanks for reading and commenting brother Elijah. Most nursery rhymes have extremely interesting histories. The difficult part is trying to discern which background is the true one. Hopefully, Part 2 shouldn't be far away.

      • The0NatureBoy profile image

        Elijah A Alexander Jr 

        4 months ago from Washington DC

        Very interesting, my brother, thanks for sharing them, you being European descent would have a better knowledge of those meanings. I will be waiting for more "History" from you.

        The only ending I knew to "Ring Around the Roses" was "the last one squat has to tell who they like" so your three interpretations make more sense with what I knew the "Poses" were.

        I had no knowledge as to what "Georgie Porgie" was about, thanks for the info but if what you said about King James' bestowings is true your ending may be that he was what is termed today "bisexual".

        I had heard the concept of people being buried under "London Bridge" to supposedly strengthen it.

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Thanks for revisiting your childhood for a few minutes to read these Paula. Now I bet you can't get them out of your head. Peace.

      • fpherj48 profile image

        Paula 

        4 months ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

        Jodah.....These Nursery Rhymes bring us back a long, long way.....yet I can still remember them all. London Bridge and Ring Around the Rosy were big in my group of friends!! LOL I appreciate the history you have shared,. It's always fascinating to hear the back stories,

        Well...back to the adult world again! Peace, Paula

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Thanks for reading Flourish. Glad you enjoyed the article, but you'll never know who is buried in those bridges :)

      • FlourishAnyway profile image

        FlourishAnyway 

        4 months ago from USA

        Throughly enjoyed this! Now you have me wondering about those ancient bridges!

      • Jodah profile imageAUTHOR

        John Hansen 

        4 months ago from Queensland Australia

        Thank you for being the first to read this Harish. If that practice of "immurement" was in fact involved in the building of London Bridge it is very scary indeed. I did read that there is no archaeologic evidence so far uncovered to prove it.

      • Harishprasad profile image

        Harish Mamgain 

        4 months ago from New Delhi , India

        Very interesting history behind the popular rhymes ! The one behind the London bridge involving entombing of humans alive is really very scary , but then history cannot be written back. Looking forward to read what comes next.

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