Tag Archives: Classic Music

What Does It All Mean? (Nursery Rhymes, that is)

Sometimes an egg is just an egg. And sometimes it’s a cannon.

I am currently in love with this fantastic book about the meaning of nursery rhymes: Half for You and Half for Me by Katherine Govier.HalfForYou

As a children’s librarian, I love all things to do with children’s literature. Nursery rhymes hold a special place in my heart, though, from the many recitations by my mother at bedtime; the impromptu plays my siblings and I would concoct based on the rhymes found in our dog-eared and much loved Real Mother Goose anthology; and the hours now spent repeatedly singing these rhymes with my two-year-old son.

So when I came across this book, I was immediately besotted. A nursery rhyme book that divulges its secrets and that is both beautifully illustrated and Canadian (Albertan!) to boot! Yes, please!

Back to the egg. We are all familiar with Humpty Dumpty. But did you know that while some think Humpty Dumpty is a riddle rhyme, with the answer being ‘Humpty is an egg’, others believe Humpty actually refers to a cannon on a castle wall used to protect the royalists during sieges?

Or that Rock-a-Bye Baby has sometimes been credited as the first poem produced in North America? (Apparently, one of the pilgrims arriving on the Mayflower saw Aboriginals suspending their babies in birch bark cradles in the trees to be rocked by the wind. Ingenious!)

But this next one blew my mind. Many people have often said that Ring Around the Rosie is actually a rather depressing rhyme about the plague. But Govier sets us straight, explaining that the rhyme is probably not old enough to be able to reference the Great Plague we thought it was describing. This rhyme doesn’t appear in history until the late nineteenth century – a full two centuries after the 17th century plague it supposedly describes. Rather than falling dead in the line ‘we all fall down’, it is believed the children are really just curtsying. Isn’t that a much nicer way of imagining this rhyme as we sing it with our children?

I love reading about the multitude of theories surrounding the origins of nursery rhymes. Is there one that you’ve always wondered about? Send us a message and we’ll see if we can find some answers for you!