Okay so, I started writing a ghost story a few days ago, and I needed a nursery rhyme. Naturally, Ring around the rosy came to mind. We use to sing in Elementary, never knew what it meant but we knew to fall at the end. So, I decide to look of the meaning behind one of America’s favorite nursery rhymes.
“Ring around the Rosy
Pocket full of Posy
We all Fall Down”
Just another innocent and meaningless rhyme? It depends on your definition of innocence, for this song was born during a time so terrible it constituted a loss of innocence for the whole of Europe.
It is quite old… in fact it is more than five centuries old. But even though it is ancient, the origin of this song can be pinpointed very precisely within a 3 year period: 1347 – 1350.
Between these three years, fully one third of Europe’s population is estimated to have perished in what was called
The Black Plague
Children are resilient and ever adaptable. Imagine the children of the day, coping with the horror… and you can imagine the games they would play…
Ring around the Rosy
One of the first visible signs of infection were red rings surrounding a rosy bump, all over the victim’s body.
Pocket full of Posy
A common belief of the time was that the plague was borne on “foul air.” The rationale was that people could protect themselves from the bad air by keeping their local air smelling sweet. That, and it also helped them deal with the smell of death…
On the other hand, another sign of infection was the foul stench that would begin to emanate from the victim’s body as their lymph system began filling with blood. Those still mobile endeavored to mask their stench and avoid detection by carrying flowers on their person.
In the terminal phases of the disease, victims would be hemorrhaging internally, sometimes triggering sneezing as it irritated the breathing passages. “Ashes” is a child’s approximation of a paroxysm of sneezing. In this weakened state, a victim could, and often did, sneeze their lungs out.
We all Fall Down
By now, this one should need little explanation…
See, this also got me thinking about another nursery rhyme. I know people use to sing rock a bye baby. If your parents didn’t sing it to you then, girls I know at least sung this rhyme to their dolls at least once.
“Rock a bye baby – in the tree top…”
A soothing childhood lullaby, right? You probably had it sung to you when you were an infant.
(But what’s a cradle doing in a tree top? Is that safe?)
“When the wind blows – the cradle will rock…”
Heck, you probably sang it to your siblings, dolls, or your own children.
(A rocking cradle, nice soothing image.)
“When the bough breaks – the cradle will fall…”
But did you ever listen to the words?
(When the bough breaks!? Hey, wait a minute! This is getting serious!)
“And down will come baby – cradle and all!”
What exactly is it we are supposed to be teaching our children with this little gem of a song? Doesn’t it seem a bit strange to plant such images subconsciously?
(And they wonder why kids have nightmares…)
If this interested you at all, I strongly suggest that you look up some of the songs that were sung to you as a child, you might be surprise at the meaning behind most of them. I was.