Monday, 19 January 2009

Nursery Rhyme Time

Childrens rhymes and their origins are also interesting, leading on from the children and dens business.

Oranges and Lemons

"Oranges and lemons", say the bells of St. Clement's
"You owe me five farthings", say the bells of St. Martin's
"When will you pay me?" say the bells of Old Bailey
"When I grow rich", say the bells of Shoreditch
"When will that be?" say the bells of Stepney
"I do not know", says the great bell of Bow
Here comes a candle to light you to bed
And here comes a chopper to chop off your head!

The song is used in a children's party game with the same name, in which the players file, in pairs, through an arch made by two of the players (made by having the players face each other, raise their arms over their head, and clasp their partners' hands). The challenge comes during the final lines:
Here comes a candle to light you to bed.
Here comes a chopper to chop off your head.
(Chip chop, chip chop, the last man's dead.)
On the last word, the children forming the arch drop their arms to catch the pair of children currently passing through, who are then "out" and must form another arch next to the existing one. In this way, the series of arches becomes a steadily lengthening tunnel through which each set of two players have to run faster and faster to escape in time. The game works best with a pianist to play the tune, so that unpredictable changes of tempo can be introduced.
Alternate versions of the game include: children caught "out" by the last rhyme may stand behind one of the children forming the original arch, instead of forming additional arches; and, children forming "arches" may bring their hands down for each word of the last line, while the children passing through the arches run as fast as they can to avoid being caught on the last word.[3]
The origins of Oranges and Lemons are not well known, but are thought to date to at least the 17th or 18th century. A square dance named "Oranges and Lemons" dates to 1665.[2] They may come from a tower in London with the names of all these bells.
The lyrics may reflect trades and activities which took place near the location of the churches mentioned.
Some believe that the rhyme may be a reference to the beheading of King Charles I, as all the church bells rang to mark his execution, and the final lines may refer to capital punishment. The tenor bell of St Sepulchre-without-Newgate was rung to mark executions at Newgate prison.[2]
The BBC's editable reference site mentions a possible sexual meaning to the rhyme, focused on the last few lines: the "candle to light you to bed" is thought to refer to the newlyweds going off to bed to consummate the marriage, while the "head" to be removed is the bride's "maidenhead". Other phrases in the extended version of the rhyme are also interpreted to refer to other aspects of sexuality and the wedding night. [3] This interpretation also appears in Heavy Words Lightly Thrown (by Chris Roberts, 2003), a book about the meanings of common nursery rhymes. [5]

Ring a Ring a Roses

Ring a Ring O' Roses,
A pocketful of posies,
Atishoo! Atishoo!
We all fall down!

Ashes in the water
Ashes in the sea
We all jump up with a one, two, three!

It is sometimes suggested that the rhyme relates to the Black Death - the bubonic plague that spread through Europe in the 1340s, or to the Great Plague of London, 1665/6. The plausible-sounding theory has it that the 'ring' is the ring of sores around the mouths of plague victims, who subsequently sneeze and fall down dead. Others suggest it was in existence in different forms before then.

Hush a Bye Baby

Hush a-bye baby in the tree-top,
When the wind blows the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,
Down will come cradle, baby and all
"Hush a-bye Baby" was reputably written by a boy who sailed with the Pilgrim Fathers to America in 1620 and was the first English poem written on American soil. It is said to have been inspired by the Native American custom of popping babies' cradles in the branches of trees.

Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Mary, Mary quite contrary
How does your garden grow,
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row
The tragic Mary, Queen of Scots is commonly accepted as the heroine of the rhyme, "Mary, Mary quite contrary". The cockle shells and silver bells are supposed to have been ornaments on a dress given to her by her first husband, the Dauphin of France. The pretty maids all in a row were her ladies in waiting, the famous Four Marys.
Another interpretation is that the rhyme could refer to Mary I, 'Bloody Mary'. Mary was a devout Catholic and upon taking the throne on the death of her brother Edward VI, restored the Catholic faith to England, hence 'Mary Mary quite contrary'. The 'garden' in the second line is taken to refer to the country itself. The 'silver bells' were a type of thumbscrew and the 'cockle shells' were also instruments of torture, used on Protestant martyrs to 'persuade' them to change faith. The 'maiden' was an instrument used to behead people (a little like the later French guillotine) and the line 'pretty maids all in a row' is taken to refer to the mass execution of Protestants during Mary's reign.

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