I remember my mother singing for me when I was a baby “Baa baa black sheep” and “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”, those songs resided in me and I found myself as a mother now singing it to my own child. Slowly I started singing those nursery rhymes all the time by myself without no reason and of course it’s contagious so my husband was doing it as well.
The more I listened to those songs, the more I got confused on what the words actually mean, some don’t really make sense such as:
Three blind mice, three blind mice,
See how they run, see how they run,
They all ran after the farmer’s wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a thing in your life,
As three blind mice?
I decided to research this song and I found out it’s based in English history. The ‘farmer’s wife’ refers to the daughter of King Henry VIII, Queen Mary I whose also known as Bloody Mary. Mary was a very committed Catholic and she forced her beliefs across the country. The ‘three blind mice’ were three noblemen who didn’t agree on her ways so they were convicted of plotting against the Queen but she did not have them dismembered and blinded as inferred in Three blind mice, instead they were burned at the stake. That was an interesting backstory to a children song ? Same as “Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary”, it also speaks about her and her violent rulings. You could read more about those two nursery rhymes here.
One of my son’s favorite songs is Skip to My Lou and reading about this song was a journey by itself. The song is a popular American partner-stealing dance from the 1840s.
“Skip to My Lou” is a simple game of stealing partners (or swapping partners as in square dancing). It begins with any number of couples skipping hand in hand around in a ring. A lone boy in the center of the moving circle of couples sings, “Lost my partner, what’ll I do?” as the girls whirl past him. The young man in the center hesitates while he decides which girl to choose, singing, “I’ll get another one just like you.” When he grasps the hand of his chosen one, the latter’s partner moves to the center of the ring the game. It is an ice-breaker, providing an opportunity for the participants to get acquainted with one another and to get into a good mood.
The “lou” in the title comes from the word “loo”, a Scottish word for “love”.
I’m confused, how is this a children’s song ?
Fly in the buttermilk, Shoo, fly, shoo
Is it a farming related song ?
There’s a little red wagon, Paint it blue
Uh why ?
Can’t get a red bird, Jay bird’ll do
…. okay ?
Cat’s in the cream jar, Ooh, ooh, ooh
Also animal abuse ?
It doesn’t really make sense to me how’s the lyrics correlate with each other basically. Maybe I’m reading too much in this but I’m sure some parents thought about this while singing to their children those songs.
I asked a fellow blogger Karalee (Tales of Belle) to chime in with her opinion since she’s a mom as well and here’s her opinion about this:
A lot of nursery rhymes seem to have a darker meaning, so I researched two my daughter likes: Brother John and London Bridge Is Falling Down. I grew up hearing Frère Jacques in French from my mother, and my daughter knows the English version Brother John. She likes singing “are you sleeping”, which made me wonder if there was a deeper meaning. The nursery rhyme is about a friar who overslept and he needs to ring the bells for the morning pray. The origin is believed to be about Frère Jacques Beaulie who was a Dominican friar in France. Other theories believe the nursery rhyme is about taunting Jews, Protestants, and Martin Luther and also mocking Dominican monks in France for their sloth and comfortable lifestyles. Even though the origin theories are not the brightest, the nursery rhyme itself does not have a dark meaning, which is a nice relief. Now for London Bridge Is Falling Down. I played the game while singing London Bridge as a kid and now I play the game with my daughter. The nursery rhyme is about rebuilding the London Bridge and how difficult it was bridging the River Thames. However, the theories about the origin are disturbing. One theory believes the nursery rhyme is about the destruction of the bridge by Olaf II of Norway while another theory believes children were sacrificed and buried in the foundation of the bridge to prevent it from collapsing. Luckily there is no evidence of children being sacrificed, but the thought is terrifying. A more plausible theory is that the nursery rhyme came about when the London Bridge was damaged by fire then eventually rebuilt and replaced. Even though the child sacrifice theory is disturbing, I am glad it is not proven and the nursery rhyme does not have a darker meaning. The lyrics for these two nursery rhymes are straightforward and do not have a dark meaning, but some of the origin theories are rather dark.
I’d love to know your thoughts about this, have you ever questioned the songs you sing for your children while the seemed innocent and pure ?