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The True History of Nursery Rhymes

Updated on June 30, 2009

Things are not always as they seem...

Nursery Rhymes seem harmless, right? But if that nursery rhythm was made a while ago, you can count on the fact there is a story behind it. And more likely than not the story is shocking, morbid, and not exactly something you would expect to be exhibited in a rhyme for kids.

Nursery Rhymes were often used to teach kids lessons. Or rather, scare them into doing what they are told. Sometimes people wonder why the rhymes were so different, but these were used to describe life back then, and that is just the way life was. Decapitations were common and plagues ran rampant. The child mortality rate of just a couple hundred years ago was forty percent. Life was riddled with frequent morbidity back then, so why wouldn't their nursery rhymes be too?

The origins of some of the popular nursery rhymes are as follows, as well as the full rhymes.

Jack and Jill

Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pail of water

Jack fell down and broke his crown

And Jill came tumbling after.

Up got Jack, and home did trot

As fast as he could caper

He went to bed and bound his head

With vinegar and brown paper.

Jack and Jill, skipping down the hill, what is more harmless than that? You would never guess what the childrens saying is really about. The nursery rhyme 'Jack and Jill' was started in France. Jack and Jill are said to be King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette, a couple beheaded during the Reign of Terror in 1793. The rhyme was first published two years later, in 1795.

Were you aware of the nursery rhymes origins?

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Little Bo Peep

Little Bo peep has lost her sheep

And doesn't know where to find them.

Leave them alone and they'll come home,

Bringing their tails behind them.

Little Bo peep fell fast asleep

And dreamt she heard them bleating,

But when she awoke, she found it a joke,

For they were all still fleeting.

Then up she took her little crook

But when she awoke, she found it a joke,

For they were all still fleeting.

Then up she took her little crook

Determined for to find them.

She found them indeed, but it made her heart bleed,

For they left their tails behind them.

It happened one day, as Bo peep did stray

Into a meadow hard by,

There she espied their tails side by side

All hung on a tree to dry.

She heaved a sigh, and wiped her eye,

And over the hillocks went rambling,

And tried what she could,

As a shepherdess should,

To tack again each to its lambkin.

Little Bo Peep is a young shepherdess who has lost her sheep, due to dozing off on the job. She finds them eventually, but not without consequences. 'Little Bo Peep' rhyme has been shortened for the present day and sugar coated, like many old nursery rhymes. This rhyme does not seem to be based on a real event in history but rather constructed to teach children that they cannot fall asleep on the job without consequences.

Ring Around the Rosy

Ring around the rosy

A pocketful of posies

"Ashes, Ashes"

We all fall down!

Ring Around the Rosy, a nursery rhyme that was invented amidst the horror of the bubonic plague. It is known that it dates back to the mid sixteen hundreds, but is possible it has been around since 1300. The terms 'ring around the rosy' were named after the rash in the shape of a ring on the bodies of the infected. Pouches of sweet smelling herbs, or posies were carried by sufferers as the disease omitted an odor. 'Ashes' comes from the mass cremations that were done due to the amount of bodies.

Rockabye Baby

Rock a bye baby on the tree top,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock,

When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.

The correct name of Rockabye Baby is actually Hushabye Baby. It comes from a pilgrim boy in America witnessing Native American mothers suspending birch bark cradles from a tree, thus allowing the wind to rock the baby to sleep.

What Did You Think?

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I heard another take on Little bo peep

      some of these nursery rhymes are so old that they might not be nursery rhymes at all like you said!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      @anonymous: Uhmmm, no it's not. That's the edited version of the nursery rhyme. The one on this website is the original version.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      How about Little Boy Blue? He's UNDER the haystack fast asleep?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      uuuuuuum its actually "ring a ring a rosy a pocket full of posies atisho atisho we all fall down"

    • Faye Rutledge profile image

      Faye Rutledge 

      10 years ago from Concord VA

      Great idea for a lens. Very interesting...learned things I never knew!

    • luvmyludwig lm profile image

      luvmyludwig lm 

      10 years ago

      Very nice. I always thought Rockabye Baby was a little morbid.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Cool... I learnt 4 new things today. Thanks for sharing!


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