Ring Around the Rosy, Three Blind Mice and Rock a-bye Baby. We all know and love them, but have you ever noticed how dark and bleak a lot of these childhood favorites are?
I was watching an episode of Criminal Minds when I got the idea for this article. A woman was singing Rock a Bye Baby to her child and the husband says “That’s a little dark, don’tcha think?” And yes, it certainly is if you give it some thought. There are quite a few of our favorite nursery rhymes and childhood songs that have a darer meaning than we ever really considered.
In regards to 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.
“And down will come baby, cradle and all”? Hmm, that doesn’t sound so nice, does it?
Ring Around the Rosy:
Ring around the rosy
A pocketful of posies
We all fall down!
This song refers to the red rings that appeared on the skin when someone was affected with the plague. “Posies” refers to flowers kept in the pockets because some people believed plague was spread through bad odor, and the “ashes” refer to the cremation of the infected dead bodies. Yup, there’s a jolly tune for the young ones.
Three 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?
Even if you look no further in meaning, cutting off the tails of mice with a carving knife seems pretty violent and mean. If you look deeper, it’s thought that this rhyme refers to Queen Mary I and three noblemen which she had burned at the stake.
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.
Another one with references to Queen Mary I. Mary, with her penchant for torture, is the subject of the rhyme. The “Silver bells” are thumb torture devices, “Cockleshells” were devices of genital torture and “maids” is a shortened form of Maiden, an early guillotine. How lovely!
It might do people some good to actually think about the history, origins and true meanings of these nursery rhymes. While many of them have fallen out of fashion, a lot of them are still taught to children even now. These and many other nursery rhymes have far darker and more sinister meanings than most of us would think.
Alchin, L.K. Nursery Rhymes Lyrics and Origins – Retrieved from Rhymes.org.uk