Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Morbid Nursery Rhymes

I bid on this antique children's plate at the auction on Saturday.

The nursery rhyme was new to me and I had to look it up.
Why on earth would anyone fill a child's head with 
killing birds as they ate each meal?  lol....
Well, here's what I found....

It's an English nursery rhyme coming from the story
written in 1508 by John Skelton.  The story is also 
depicted in the stained glass window at Buckland Rectory
in Gloucestershire, showing the poor dead robin with
an arrow in his heart.  (so the poor kids in Gloucestershire
thought of murdered birds while they ate their meals AND
while they were in church? oh my! haha).

Who Killed Cock Robin?

Who killed Cock Robin?
I, said the Sparrow,
with my bow and arrow, 
I killed Cock Robin.

Who saw him die?
I, said the Fly, 
with my little eye,
I saw him die.

Who caught his blood?
I, said the Fish,
with my little dish,
I caught his blood.

Who'll make the shroud?
I, said the Beetle,
with my thread and needle,
I'll make the shroud.

Who'll dig his grave?
I, said the Owl,
with my little trowel,
I'll dig his grave.

Who'll be the parson?
I, said the Rook,
with my little book,
I'll be the parson.

Who'll be the clerk?
I, said the Lark,
if it's not in the dark,
I'll be the clerk.

Who'll carry the link?
I, said the Linnet,
I'll fetch it in a minute,
I'll carry the link.

Who'll be chief mourner?
I, said the Dove,
I mourn for my love,
I'll be chief mourner.

Who'll carry the coffin?
I, said the Kite,
if it's not through the night,
I'll carry the coffin.

Who'll bear the pall?
We, said the Wren,
both the cock and the hen,
We'll bear the pall.

Who'll sing a psalm?
I, said the Thrush,
as she sat on a bush,
I'll sing a psalm.

Who'll toll the bell?
I, said the Bull(finch)
because I can pull,
I'll toll the bell.

All the birds of the air
fell a-sighing and a-sobbing,
when they heard the bell toll
for poor Cock Robin.

There is also an alternate ending in which the sparrow who killed
the cock robin is hanged for his crime.

It occurred to me that this isn't the only morbid nursery rhyme.    
 What about Humpty Dumpty?  Poor thing cracked to
pieces without any hope of being repaired.  Jack and Jill with
Jack's poor head cracked open.  Even Found A Peanut with a
sick stomachs.  haha!  What on earth!?  And the clincher for me 
is a prayer I was taught to say as a child, "Now I lay me down
to sleep......if I should die before I wake...."  Seriously?
Who fills a child's head with the idea that they may die when they
  fall asleep?  It's a wonder any child ever fell asleep at all!

We sang Alouette in music class in school but were never taught the
 translation, which talks about plucking the head off of a lark!

Three Blind Mice, Peter Pumpkin Eater, London Bridge,
Rock-a-bye Baby.  No wonder we all have issues today! ha.
Maybe Mother Goose was really a sick witch.

I think we should stick to Mary Had A Little Lamb
and One, Two, Buckle My Shoe.


  1. I know I know, they are horrid if you really listen to the words, they fool us sometimes with their catchy tunes and rhyming words, lol, Garry and I were just saying the other day how creepy some of the nursery rhymes are, our Gracie memorizes everything and my gosh some of them are down right wrong for kids, lol, scary, dark, wow!!!

    1. We were just cracking up last night thinking of all of the horrible rhymes! How very strange. This bird one was especially weird to me, maybe because I wasn't indoctrinated with it as a child. haha.

  2. Scary stuff Betsy!
    My favorite is "maresy dotes"....nothing scary there!
    Miss V and I sing it in the car....as well as "you are my sunshine"....
    Enjoy your evening....if you are not too scared! Hahaha!
    Linda :o)

    1. Ah, what a smart grandma you are!~ although I cried when my mom sang You Are My Sunshine to me....I was sad that she would be sad if I was taken away!

      I hadn't thought of mairzy dotes in ages ...mares eat oats and does eat oats and little lambs eat ivy...haha...so cute.

    2. Yes...you got it!
      My Mom always sang that to me....love it!
      Sunshine isn't sad to me....I love the words!

    3. I like Sunshine, too and sang it to my kids. I even have a charm of it on my charm bracelet. But as a child, I was imagining someone taking me away from my mother and it scared me.

    4. A kid'll eat Ivy too....
      Wouldn't you?

  3. I haven't thought of "Mares eat oats" in eons! I loved that one. But I also love all the scary ones too. I think the sanitised versions that they feed kids these days is just that. Too sanitised. We all seemed to have turned out fine... more or less! No, I don't think children should be scared witless... but it's how we learn about good and evil and that the world does hold scary things. It's also why I love Edward Gorey and his wonderfully twisted art. Maybe I am just a little twisted too. :-)

    1. yes, I'm glad Linda brought that one up...I'm not sure I would have ever thought of it again! It was so fun to sing!

  4. Oh... and I was brought up on Cock Robin but have not seen it in its entirety in ages. Are you putting the plate in the shop perchance?

    1. I'm not sure about the plate. I bid on it because I thought it was beautiful and didn't know the rhyme! I still love it.

    2. Hey...Suzanne. Earthworms and Daffodils has posted again. Aw...I love to see updates on that little Tavin. Go have a look!

    3. I will! I love following that story too. Thanks for letting me know.

  5. You have a valid point, Betsy . . . lol
    I knew the first verse of cock robin . . . . and I take the point about Humpty Dumpty and co.
    I'd better be selective regarding the nursery rhymes I sing to Peter . . . lol
    It's very strange how some of these originate . . . . . :)

    1. I think most of these rhymes were created to show children what could happen if they didn't "toe the line". In other words to frighten then into being good. I know I was frightened by some when I was a child (That was a long time ago!)

    2. I think you're right....the sparrow did the bad deed and made everyone sad and he was punished...lesson learned!

  6. You are right...they are down right morbid....and I loved them and my kids did. Yikes..glad I turned out OK and so did my kids. I didn't have an idea Who Killed Cock Robin had all those verses.

    1. I had never heard the cock robin one....morbid for sure, but I love the plate! ha.

  7. I can remember a dish that I had to eat my porridge out of as a child and it had a picture of the woodcutter from Little Red Riding Hood chopping the head off the big bad wolf with a horrified girl in a red coat looking on. Blood all over the place! My mother wondered why I never ate the last bit of porridge; I didn't want to see that picture! True.

    I still see it in my dreams sometimes, now I've mentioned it I'm not going to bed tonight!

    1. Oh my word...that is something! I wonder if you could find one of those on ebay.

    2. I saw an old one recently in a charity shop, but it had Goldilocks and the Three Bears in it.

    3. I loved that story when I was a child. No blood, either! haha.

  8. Ring around the rosie, a pocket full of posies, ashes, ashes we all fall down. I have heard that the 'rosies' are the red blistery things on the skin from the Bubonic Plague. and they had to carry posies in their pockets because of the stench of death. Ashes...well you can well imagine that.

    1. and sneezing continually was a symptom of the Plague. That's why people said "God bless you" when they heard someone sneeze, because they knew they were on the way out!

    2. Oh, Kim ...you are right! I had heard that long ago about that song and had forgotten it! And Keith...I didn't know that! Amazing!

    3. Kim - The version I heard was "Ring a ring of rosies, a pocket full of posies, atishoo, atishoo, we all fall down". (dead?). I suppose there are many versions of it.

    4. We sang "Ring-a-round the rosie, A pocket full of posies, Hush! Hush! We all fall down." This also brought back memories of when, as girls, we would play all those clapping games. Boy, could we go fast!

    5. Oh, I did love those clapping games! yes, our hands did FLY, didn't they? So very fun!

    6. Remember this one....?

      Miss Susie had a steamboat, the steamboat had a bell,
      Miss Susie went to heaven, The steamboat went to...
      Hello operator, please give me number nine.....

    7. Miss Susie had a baby
      His name was Tiny Tim
      She put him in the bathtub
      To see if he could swim.
      He drank up all the water.
      He ate up all the soap.
      He tried to eat the bathtub
      But it wouldn't go down his throat......


    8. I can't remember the rest but isn't there a lady with an alligator purse?

    9. Oh my gosh! I had forgotten all about that one... here is the rest of it. Memories!

      Miss Susie called the doctor,
      Miss Susie called the nurse.
      Miss Susie called the lady
      With the alligator purse.

      In came the doctor,
      In came the nurse.
      In came the lady
      With the alligator purse.

      'Mumps' - said the doctor.
      'Measles'- said the nurse.
      'Nothing' - said the lady
      With the alligator purse.

      Miss Susie hit the doctor
      Miss Susie slapped the nurse
      Miss Susie paid the lady
      With the alligator purse

      Out went the water.
      Out went the soap,
      Out went the bathtub,
      That wouldn't go down his throat.

      Out went the doctor,
      Out went the nurse.
      Out went the lady
      With the alligator purse.

    10. Oh yes! Except we said

      I don't like the doctor
      I don't like the nurse
      I like the lady
      with the alligator purse.

      and that's how it ended. So fun!

  9. hahaha I always thought it was funny how many were morbid when thought about a lot
    Or just plain wrong when on to them the words are caught
    First I've heard that one though
    Poor dead bird is sure something for kids to see at their show

    1. It probably wouldn't be nearly as sad to me if a mean ol fox had killed the robin. haha...
      I wonder why the author picked a sparrow. He must not have liked them much.

      oops...forgot to rhyme!
      what a crime!

    2. Not sure why he would pick that
      Maybe he thought it be different than a fox or cat

    3. Yeah...even a hawk or owl would have been more realistic. Didn't he know his birds??? ha.

  10. Replies
    1. Scared them into behaving themselves! ha. I think the plate is darling, though! Maybe I'll hang it in my new kitchen. :)

  11. I have heard this before as my mom used to read to me from a large book of nursery rhymes as a child. Interesting plate. I would have bid on it too!

    1. I was amazed at how old the rhyme was! It would be fun to find it in a book...I'll have to look for one!

  12. I never heard that rhyme - it's a morbid one for sure! I was taught that prayer when I was young. My kids learned a different version!

    1. I think a different version would be better! ha.
      I know...the rhyme is amazing to me. lol....

  13. It really is amazing that most children who have nursery rhymes or traditional fairy stories read to them before bed don't wake up screaming as they can all be pretty gruesome when you stop and think about it. I mean, Snow White, Hansel and Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood just to name a few! Even more amazing that you would put this nursery rhyme on a plate!!! xx

    1. I don't mind the stories with the tension or scary part in the middle...then the happy ending. But the rhymes that are morbid to the end are a little shocking. Ha. I remember liking to be scared as an older child with the make believe stuff....like ghost stories at slumber parties.

  14. LOL! I KNOW!! Pretty grisly business those old nursery stories. blessings ~ tanna

  15. I learned to recite this poem in 2nd grade in the 1950's in Ohio: Robin the Bobbin, the Big Bellied Bin, He ate a Cow, He ate a Calf, He ate a Preacher and a Half, He ate the Church, He ate the Steeple, He ate the Priest and All the People. Lynne in NC

    1. Oh, that is hilarious! haha...I love it. A big robin with an endless appetite.

  16. Hi Betsy - I know all the nursery rhymes ... but moved on quite quickly to fairy stories and in some ways they were worse .. but I don't remember thinking about the killing happening in them ... but what a great find ... and I hope you'll keep it .. it's a great story line ... loved reading it once again - cheers Hilary

    1. I love all those fairy stories, too.....and the scary parts were just fun! There always needs to be a villain and good vs evil.

  17. Now lets end on a more cheerful note.

    Mary had a little lamb,
    Her father shot it dead,
    Now it goes to school with her
    Between two slices of bread.

    Now isn't that lovely?

    1. I don't know why I am laughing at that!

  18. The nursery rhymes and fairy tales were originally political satires. Their original audience was not intended to be children. Maybe this helps.

    1. I wonder why they were called 'nursery' rhymes, then. Do you know? Interesting.

  19. Have you ever read the story called, 'Babes in the Woods'? It's about a boy and girl who go into the woods, get lost and lay down and die. Then all the forest creatures mourn for them! I had (still have) this wonderful book as a child called, Oh What a Busy Day by Gyo Fujikawa, that I LOVED and I would spend hours enjoying all the stories and illustrations, but that story was smack dab in the middle of the book and confused/scared me every time! And I read it to my boys when they were younger and they were pretty weird-ed out, too. Of course, now as teens they'd probably think it was hilarious!

    1. No, I have never heard of that! How strange! This stuff just cracks me up.

  20. Yes, very morbid, but I think a lot of them weren't really intended for children when they were first sung.

    1. That's what Cherdecor said....makes me curious as to how they became only for children.

  21. Fairy tales are pretty vicious, too. All those stories about wicked step-parents, burning witches and eating children. By the way, here's a question for you: How do we know Humpty Dumpty was an egg?

    1. Hmmm....from the illustrations? :)

    2. How did the illustrator know? Ha.

    3. ha....hmm...maybe he wrote the poem, too?

      Something tells me he really wasn't an egg. That isn't morbid enough. It had to be a person, don't you think?....in keeping with the creepiness and all.

    4. They list all sorts of theories in Wikipedia. I guess we'll never know for sure.

  22. We sang who Killed Cock Robin all the time as children. and never gave the meaning a second thought!


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