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The Dark Side Of Nursery Rhymes

Humpty Dumpty is an example of a nursery rhyme with a dark origin.

image credited to en.wikipedia.org

Humpty Dumpty is an example of a nursery rhyme with a dark origin.

Nick L., Writer

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When I was a little kid, my mom would tell me nursery rhymes, and these melodic words made me smile and giggle. Ring Around the Rosie, Humpty Dumpty, and Jack and Jill were some of my favorites.  At that time, I was oblivious to the literal meanings of these nursery rhymes and descriptive violence.  

Let’s look at Ring Around the Rosie, for example.  This conjures up images of children holding hands in a circle and chanting the words: “Ring around the rosie/ pockets full of posies/ ashes, ashes/ we all fall down.”  On the surface, this may seem like a short, innocent poem about picking flowers.  But, when you delve deeper into the lyrics, you may realize something morbid about this song.  “Ashes, ashes/ we all fall down” sounds suspiciously like it’s referring to a person dying and being cremated.  Some even claim that it’s about the Black Death, which in the 1340s, killed almost half of Europe and China’s population. Next, we’re going to sing to our little ones about the World Wars.

Next is Humpty Dumpty.  This is probably the easiest poem to interpret.  “Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall/ Humpty Dumpty had a great fall/ All the king’s horses and all the king’s men/ Couldn’t put Humpty back together again.”  Humpty was an egg who fell off of a wall and cracked.  Even all of the people of the kingdom working together could not fix this broken egg.  And, although the character probably died, we still sing jauntily about it.  For some reason, our young minds do not visualize the demise of the fragile egg, with the yolk spilling out of its fractured shell.  It’s like a toddler horror movie!

And finally, perhaps the most famous of all nursery rhymes, Jack and Jill.  Multiple movies, companies, and songs have been named after this famous nursery rhyme: “Jack and Jill went up a hill /To fetch a pail of water/ Jack fell down and broke his crown/ And Jill came tumbling after.”  This poem is about a man and woman whose sole goal is to fetch water from a well.  But, in this everyday task, Jack falls down and breaks his crown (his head), and they both come tumbling down a hill.  
So, how is any of this funny, entertaining, or soothing?  These are terrible rhymes that illustrate cremation, broken skulls, and head trauma.  These aren’t the only nursery rhymes like this.  Just go look at Goosey Goosey Gander, London Bridge is Falling Down, and Rock-a-Bye Baby.  Again, somebody probably tumbled to their deaths in these nursery rhymes.  Yet, we’re laughing and smiling about them.  So, before our generation enters parenting, perhaps we should rethink a better bedtime story.  Hunger Games, maybe?

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The Dark Side Of Nursery Rhymes