- Sing a song of sixpence,A pocketful of ryeFour-and-twenty blackbirdsBaked in a pie.
Nursery rhymes. Full of rhyme and rhythm and odd images. Not so full of sense.
- Rock-a-bye baby in the treetopWhen the wind blows the cradle will rockWhen the bough breaks, the cradle will fallAnd down will come baby, cradle and all.
- 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 BAnd 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 shoeThree, four, knock at the doorFive, six, pick up sticksSeven, eight, lay them straightNine, 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 origin.
- Hey-diddle-diddle, the cat and the fiddleThe cow jumped over the moonThe 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:
- Then out went th' old woman to bespeak 'em a coffin,And when she came back, she found 'em all a-loffeingnote
Newer Than They Think 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).
- 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. Lampshaded in Five Little Pigs, in which Poirot is downright irritated that the list of suspects is reminding him of a nursery rhyme again.
- In Devon Monk's 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.
- Mother Goose Treasury might as well be Nursery Rhyme: The Show. It is all about the title character's interaction with Nursery Rhyme characters.
- Mother Goose often features in pantomime, albeit as a real woman (honest) who has had children and happens to own a very large goose note .
- In Dorothy L. Sayers' The Emperor Constantine, Sayers used the legend that Helena was the daughter of King Coel — the original "Old King Coel". She then used the rhyme in the opening act.
- 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.