History Of Nursery Ryhmes When you think of nursery rhymes, do you think of innocent, silly games you played as a child? Think again. Most of the nursery rhymes that have become so popular with the children were never intended for them. Most began as folk songs or ballads sung in taverns. These songs (rhymes) all most always were written to make fun of religious leaders or to gossip about kings and queens (Brittanica pars. 1-5). Nursery rhymes are being studied the past few decades as a way to help children learn their alphabet and numbers. These rhymes have been proven affective in helping children’s language skills improve.
As I began to explore different nursery rhymes, I found that they opened up and disclosed some of the secrets, light and dark of the persons, animals, or familiar places they were written about. The Encyclopedia Britannica define nursery rhymes as verses that are customarily told or sung to small children. The oral tradition of these rhymes are ancient some dating back as early as the 1500’s, but most date form the 16th, 17th and most frequently the 18th centuries. ( Brittanica pars. 1-5).
Nursery rhymes have been around for centuries, but the name has not. According to the World Book Encyclopedia the phrase Nursery Rhymes did not originate until 1824 in a Scottish periodical called Blackwoods Edinburgh Magazine. Before this time, rhymes were referred to as ditties or songs. Many scholars believe that parts of these rhymes were taken from ballads, prayers, proverbs, street chants, or tavern songs. Some people believe that these rhymes may even have once been used for certain rituals or customs. Most were based on real people, places or things.
These rhymes were mainly used to entertain adults and only ones pertaining to the alphabet or counting were meant for children. Many of these rhymes did not come about until the 1600’s, but there is evidence of some being around earlier. There are eight categories of rhymes: Lullabies (Rock-a-bye Baby,) singing games (London Bridges,) nonsense (Hey Diddle Diddle), riddles (Humpty Dumpty), counting (One, Two, Buckle my Shoe), tongue twisters (Peter Piper), verse stories (Queen of Hearts), and cumulative rhymes (House that Jack Built) (Pars. 5). According to the World Book Encyclopedia the earliest known published collection of nursery rhymes was Tommy Thumb’s SongBook in 1744, but in 1697 there was a book published in France called Tales of Mother Goose. This book contained eight fairytales including Cinderella, Little Red Riding Hood, and Sleeping Beauty.
The most influential collection was Mother Goose’s Melodies: or Sonnet’s for the Cradle published in 1781 (616-617). More than two hundred years since the first book of rhymes was published, interest in children and fantasy is again running high. The nursery rhyme now represents the oral history of hundreds of years and how understanding the struggles of authority and occasional mischief by the common people made with moral conventions and emotional expectations as well as with language. Often anonymous, such rhymes share interesting characteristics both in content and in linguistic patterning across a huge range of cultures. The origins and purposes of many nursery rhymes have evolved over time, and many people do not realize what the original intentions of the authors were. The term Mother Goose had became synonymous with the phrase nursery rhymes in the 1700’s (Sandin pars.5). No one is sure if Mother Goose was a real person or not, but there are many arguments about who she might have been.
Kristin Sandin writes down the three theories about who she really was. One idea is that she was actually Queen Sheba of biblical times. Another theory is that she is Queen Bertha, the mother of the medieval military leader Charlemagne. She was nicknamed Queen Goose-foot because she was web footed or pigeon toed. Queen Bertha died in 783. Many people on the East Coast believe that the real Mother Goose was Elizabeth Vergoose.
She lived in colonial times in Boston. Elizabeth entertained her grandchildren with rhymes and chants that she remembered from her own childhood. On her grave is a monument of the fictional character Mother Goose seen on the cover of the popular nursery rhyme books. No one can ever prove who she really was or where she came from, but in many people’s opinion she is a combination of some real live characters and some fictional characters as well. Sandin states that No matter how suppressive or scolding a patriarchal society is, it can not eliminate our need for the divine feminine (Pars.5).
Many of the rhymes from Mother Goose take the political opinion of the common people of the time. Some examples as found in Maeschilde’s writings show Mother Goose’s political tongue. Gorgie Porgie, Pudding Pie Kissed the girls and made them cry. This rhyme was attributed to a promiscuous monarch of the day. Another thyme that has political implications is Jack Spratt: Jack Spratt could eat no fat, His wife could eat no lean, And so between them both, You see, they licked the platter clean. This rhyme is a commentary of a fat, and greedy churchman, an Archdeacon named Pratt (Pars. 12-13). Back in those times people could only keep a third of their income because the state and the church took a third each (sometimes more) as well. Many other popular nursery rhymes were folk songs or ballads sung in taverns.
According to Teresa Lightfoot one rhyme in particular Pop! Goes the Weasel was a song sung in a popular pub in England called the Eagle. The original rhyme goes as follows: All around the mulberry bush The monkey chased the weasel. The monkey thought ’twas all in fun. Pop! Goes the weasel. A penny for a spool of thread, A penny for a needle.
That’s the way the money goes. Pop! Goes the weasel. Up and down the city road, In and out of the Eagle. That’s the way the money goes. Pop! Goes the weasel.
Half a pound of tuppeney rice, Half a pound of treacle, Mix it up and make it nice, Pop! Goes the weasel (Pars.1-3). After knowing that this rhyme originated as a tavern song it is easily seen as an adult entertainment. People can just picture a bunch of drunkards sitting around drinking and singing this tale and it is easily imagined how the money goes in and out of the Eagle. Most children’s first encounter with poetry is through the rhymes they learn at nursery school or in the playground. These are usually humorous rhymes that are repetitive and easily remembered.
Others are specifically designed to help children learn to count, such as One, two, buckle my shoe For as long as we have had an alphabet we have needed tricks to help us memorize the odd order in which the letters are arranged. The repetition of the nursery rhymes helps children to remember counting and the letters of the alphabet. The education community is beginning to recognize nursery rhymes as an effective way to build vocabulary and reading skills and other educational purposes because of their attractiveness to children. In an article in the Times Educational Supplement, Hillary Robinson points out an example of this new use for nursery rhymes. In this instance a mother wrote a picture book about a girl spider and this helped her daughter overcome her phobia of spiders.
Robinson also points out that some rhymes, such as Little Miss Muffet helped contribute to these fears of children, like arachnaphobia (B19). In the past nursery rhymes were often recited by elders in the community to children as a way to transmit history and social values through the oral tradition. It is a proven method that if children are interested in the topic they are hearing about, that it will stick in their minds and will be more understood by them. These historical events are often recited as silly rhymes, thus making learning fun. The rhyme I recall singing and dancing around in circles to is Ring Around the Rosie.
This rhyme is believed to have significant meaning to the social history of the past. The origin and purpose of this rhyme is the most controversial between the scholars of today. There are three versions of the origins of this rhyme that are most commonly believed. The first and most wildly spread version is that the rhyme describes or was used as an incantation to ward off either the Black Death of the 14th century or the great Plague of London in the 17th century. This version of the origins of rhymes is what I had learned in school and programs I had watched on the History Channel.
The original rhyme of this version as written down in the web site by Terresa Lightfoot is as follows: Ring-a-ring o’roses, A pocket full of posies, A-tishoo, a-tishoo! We all fall down. The basic interpretation is that the first line refers to the rosie-red, round rash that were the fist signs of the plague. The second verse refers to the superstitious method that the flower posies either would cure or ward off the disease, so that people would stuff their pockets full of the flowers. The third verse is the sound of sneezing and that too is a sign of the plague. The final verse We all fall down, most believe refers to t …