Monday, January 27, 2014

Revisiting Nursery Rhymes

Most of us have grown up on nursery rhymes (we, in India grew up on those from Britain - quite obviously owing to the cultural influx that the rule had brought in) or the Mother Goose rhymes (a more popular term in the US). 
These traditional poems and songs are meant to introduce babies and children to language through easy rhymes - not just language alone, these introduce them to the world of literary imagination, numbers, social behavior - in a very light and fun way. 

However, as I revisit these rhymes for Manya, I cannot but shrug my shoulders and roll my eyes on the inappropriateness of so many of these. I didn't even know them very well, up until now, because my mom had apparently censored them off, which I think I will repeat for M too.
Many argue that these rhymes are not to be taken seriously and are not really educational tools. I feel even if not taken seriously, they do send subtle messages to impressionable minds and even if you want to continue singing these to your little ones, be prepared for explanations! Other experts argue that these rhymes offer a means of catharsis by way of imaginative violence and exploration, preventing real life extreme behavior. :o :O 

Now, I am not here to debate any of these studies, however, would like to share with you what I found objectionable in some of these rhymes! By the way, before I start, I just want to tell you that if you have the time, try researching on the historic origins of the nursery rhymes you know - you will be fascinated by all the historical contexts!

So let's start:

Goosey Goosey Gander
Goosey goosey gander,
Whither shall I wander?
Upstairs and downstairs
And in my lady's chamber.
There I met an old man
Who wouldn't say his prayers,
So I took him by his left leg
And threw him down the stairs.

Re-read the italicized portion. Even if we discount the rumors that this poem is reminiscent of the propaganda against the Catholic Church during King Henry VIII's reign, isn't there something very wrongly self-righteous about the verse? Why should anybody's religious beliefs be anybody else's business?

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 fall baby
Cradle and all.

A mommy friend also echoed my sentiments when she posted on FB that the seeming violence in the poem may just be the reason her daughter refuses to sleep :).

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe

There was an old woman who lived in a shoe.
She had so many children, she didn't know what to do;
She gave them some broth without any bread;
Then whipped them all soundly and put them to bed.

Go figure out what's wrong with this poem on your own :P.

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 sight in your life,
As three blind mice?

This verse apparently refers to the execution of three protestant Bishops by Queen Mary I of England. Obviously, when you read this poem all that you can think of is a knife dripping with blood, no?

Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe,
Catch a tiger by the toe.
If he hollers, let him go,
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe.

I am surprised that all the animal activists with all those save the tiger campaigns, haven't got this one banished from the Rhyme Book!

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater

Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had a wife but couldn't keep her;
He put her in a pumpkin shell
And there he kept her very well.
Peter, Peter pumpkin eater,
Had another and didn't love her;
Peter learned to read and spell,
And then he loved her very well.

Not only does Peter practice polygamy, he has no clue how to behave with the wives either!

What are little boys made of?

What are little boys made of?
What are little boys made of?
Slugs and snails
And puppy-dogs' tails,
That's what little boys are made of.
What are little girls made of?
What are little girls made of?
Sugar and spice
And everything nice,
That's what little girls are made of.

Don't even get me started on this one. I can cry myself hoarse pointing our the gender bias and the limitations that it puts on children even at that young age. What if a boy is scared of dogs and a girls despises sugar?

Little Polly Flinders 

Little Polly Flinders 
Sat among the cinders, 
Warming her pretty little toes. 
Mother came and caught her, 
And whipped her pretty daughter 
For spoiling her nice new clothes

Now, now, who wants whipping mothers?

Sing a song of sixpence

Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye.
Four and twenty blackbirds,
Baked in a pie.

Apart from the sheer insensitive violent imagery, who really bakes birds for desserts?

Georgie Porgie

Georgie Porgie pudding and pie
Kissed the girls and made them cry.
When the boys came out to play,
Georgie Porgie ran away.

So, what are we saying that kissing girls makes them cry? Or is this an early induction for our girls, boys are jerks and make you cry by kissing you? Whatever happened to the innocent abandonment of childhood?

Ring-a-Round a Rosie

Ring-a-round a rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down.

The verse itself is not very telling but ever since I read about its reference to the Great Plague that killed millions, and also to refer to child killings in Nazi camps, I find it a little morbid to recite it to M.

Sorry for killing the fun of these particularly verses. I swear there are so many more that do not give me the creeps and I gladly sing them (in my completely out of tune voice) to M so many times in a day.
So, which are your favorite ones and which do you abhor?


  1. Bang on Yuvika. I felt the same way about Goosy goosy gander, Peter Peter pumpkin eater and Three blind mice. Thank God, I haven't heard or come across the other ones.. I like for myself, the lollipop rhyme, "One fine day in early spring" Write another blog on M's favourite rhymes, would love to know.

    1. Hey Vasuda I like that one too! ANd so does Manya. Her favorites keep changing. Though her all time favs are Five Little Monkeys, Three little kittens, BINGO, Little Boy Blue and Row, row your boat!


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