Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocketful of rye
Baked in a pie.
Nursery rhymes. Full of rhyme and rhythm and odd images. Not so full of sense.
Rock-a-bye baby in the treetop
When the wind blows the cradle will rock
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
Nursery rhymes are a form of oral folklore
and overlap with children's songs, lullabies and riddles. They may be connected to Parlor Games
. Counting-out rhymes are a subgroup.
Patty-cake, patty-cake, baker's man,
Bake me a cake as fast as you can.
Roll it and squash it and mark it with a B
And dash it in the oven for baby and me.
The English nursery rhymes specifically are connected with the name of Mother Goose, whence they are also called 'Mother Goose rhymes'. Mother Goose
is an old folklore figure or stereotype — an archetypal elderly country woman, who was originally interpreted as a teller
, or mythical originator of fairy tales
; but her focus shifted to nursery rhymes in the late 18th century. She also figures in a nursery rhyme herself, and is the subject of a traditional pantomime
. She is usually portrayed wearing a tall hat and shawl (the old Welsh peasant costume), except when she is an anthropomorpic goose
One, two, put on a shoe
Three, four, knock at the door
Five, six, pick up sticks
Seven, eight, lay them straight
Nine, ten, a big fat hen.
Characters from nursery rhymes, like Old King Cole, Humpty Dumpty, or Mother Goose herself are Public Domain Characters
that may feature in all kinds of works. The writer may try to explain their rhymes — often enough, with a parody
Hey-diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddle
The cow jumped over the moon
The little dog laughed to see such a sight.
And the dish ran away with the spoon.
Modern lore often attributes macabre and horrifying "origin stories" to nursery rhymes; the most widespread possibly being that "Ring Around the Rosy" is a song about the plague
. While that particular example is most likely Urban Legend
, debate continues for others. The origins of most nursery rhymes are simply not known, and many are in all likelyhood nonsense rhymes that never made much sense. There are, however, more firmly rooted examples demonstrating that this can be Truth in Television
. "There was an Old Woman Who Lived in a Shoe", for instance:
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.
Not only is the rhyme itself openly dark, but its second printed appearancenote
documents an additional, even darker and stranger couplet. Its wording hints at a Shakespearean-era origin, and bolsters a suspicion among folklorists that it has a lost political or allegorical meaning as well:
Newer Than They Think
Then out went th' old woman to bespeak 'em a coffin,
And when she came back, she found 'em all a-loffeingnote
also often applies to this, with people sometimes attributing much older meanings to nursery rhymes that are much more recent ("Pop Goes The Weasel" for example is thought to only be about 150 years old).
Obviously, drawn upon for Ironic Nursery Tune
. May also feature in a Fractured Fairy Tale
. Compare the Playground Song
- Several nursery rhyme characters appear in Fables and even more in the spinoff Jack Of Fables.
- DC Comics supervillain Solomon Grundy is named after a nursery rhyme; "Solomon Grundy, born on a Monday..."
- In "Maid Maleen", the tower inspired children to sing a nursery rhyme as they passed it.
- In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass, Alice meets up with Humpty Dumpty himself and Tweedledee and Tweedledum. Resulting in her being quite Genre Savvy: she knows that the king has promised to send all his horses and men to help Humpty Dumpty, and she awaits the crow with great anticipation, to break up the fight.
- J. R. R. Tolkien wrote several "expanded" versions of nursery rhymes, filling in background to make them "reasonable". The idea is that these are the "original" versions, and what we remember today are just vague fragments that don't make any sense on their own. He attributed them to Bilbo and put one — from "Hey diddle diddle" — in Frodo's mouth in the The Lord of the Rings.
- His rendition of "Hey, diddle diddle" is, in fact, a drinking song. The musical does a rendition of it.
- Jack Spratt of Jasper Fforde's Nursery Crime books is himself a nursery rhyme figure and runs across several others. (Though his ambit includes Fairy Tales as well.)
- Mrs. Wren in John C. Wright's Chronicles of Chaos makes use of rhymes as enchantments. Taffy ap Cyrmu, in the same work, takes his name from one: "Taffy was a Welshman, Taffy was a thief."
- In Neil Gaiman's Stardust, nursery rhymes contain great secrets. One character jeers at the way ordinary people recite them to babies.
- Neil Gaiman's short story "The Case of the Four-and-Twenty Blackbirds" humorously places Mother Goose characters in a parody of crime noir, as "Little" Jack Horner, private eye, attempts to solve the murder of Humpty Dumpty.
- In Diana Wynne Jones's Deep Secret, one of the Deep Secrets of the title is hidden in a nursery rhyme, and the hero has to interpret it in order to save the Love Interest's life.
- Agatha Christie titled several novels after nursery rhymes. In A Pocket Full of Rye, and more famously And Then There Were None, victims are murdered in the manner of a nursery rhyme.
- In Devon Monk's Allie Beckstrom novel Magic to the Bone, Allie uses "Miss Mary Mack" as her mantra
- In the Doctor Who serial Frontier in Space, Jo prevents her hypnosis by reciting nursery rhymes.
- In The Conditions of Great Detectives one episode (called "Nursery Rhyme Murder") evolves around murders following the lyrics of a television station's old nursery rhyme, which told the story of how ten little children died one by one. The fact there's ten verses upsets Tenkaichi because he can't stop the murderer until the rhyme is finished (as it's one of the conditions) but if he lets ten people die his popularity will tumble.
- Thief: Deadly Shadows contains several nursery rhymes, all of them rather disturbing (and accurate foreshadowing).
- Dead Space has the very very very creepy singing of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star in it.
- Mixed-Up Mother Goose, a 1987 Sierra game in which the all the characters have lost their items, and you have to go through the game reuniting them.
- In Fate EXTRA, the embodiment of nursery rhyme, mostly from Alice in Wonderland, is a Caster-class Servant. A representative of children's love for the genre, the Moon Cell thus recognizes the genre itself as the "Hero of Children" and makes a Servant that mirroring its Master's adoration to it. Its Matrix; descriptions of identity, skills, and Noble Phantasm, and its dialogues are written in nursery rhyme.
- This trailer for the upcoming addition to the Amnesia series, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, features an unsettling rendition of "This Little Piggy".
- Cursery are a series of games produced by Blue Tea Games that are a Darker and Edgier spin on the rhymes. "The Crooked Man" and "Humpty Dumpty" are the first ones.
- One episode of U.S. Acres had Aloysius Pig asking the cast to do some of these. Towards the end, they make up their own nursery rhyme about Aloysius.