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Did Mary Really Have A Little Lamb?

By now you may have realized that there are two of us who write the blogs for our library. One is sensitive, considerate, and insightful. The other one is me. Today's subject is about Nursery Rhymes. You might ask, “What do nursery rhymes have to do with a library?” Ok, maybe it’s a little stretch but they’re kind of like literature, right? And the stories behind some of the rhymes are actually pretty interesting.

Little Jack Horner

Sat in a corner

Eating his Christmas pie

He stuck in his thumb

Pulled out a plum

And said, what a good boy am I

Some think that this rhyme is actually about Thomas Horner who was an agent deputized to deliver a pie to Henry VIII back in the 1500’s. This pie wasn’t filled with plums, however. It contained deeds to a bunch of manors and was a bribe from a Catholic abbot. If you recall, Henry decided Catholicism was not for him because he wanted to get his divorce(s), dagnabit! The abbot was trying to save his monastery by bribing old Hank with the deeds. Anyway, as the story goes, Horner reached into the pie and took out one of the deeds for himself, thus ending up with his own manor – Mells Manor. His descendants insist he paid for it honestly, of course, and were sufficiently outraged at the suggestion that he was a ne’er-do-well. I don’t know, I think it would be kind of cool to have a nursery rhyme about my nefarious relative that lasted centuries, all the while living in some nice manor in England.

Jack Sprat could eat no fat

His wife could eat no lean

And so, between them both, you see

They licked the platter clean

There are many speculations for the meaning of this one. It originated around 1639, apparently at a time when there was a shortage of platters. One of the explanations is that this is about King Charles I who, along with his wife, dissolved parliament and sent some of the members to prison. They weren’t happy with parliament because they didn’t support his huge tax increases. See people thought Charles said, “No new taxes” but he actually said, “No – New Taxes!” But back to the Sprats - I wonder if Mrs. Sprat ever asked Jack if she looked like she was gaining weight.

Ring around the rosie

A pocket full of posey

Ashes, ashes

We all fall down!

I wasn’t going to include this one because I saw a few explanations that said it referred to the black plague and that just hit too close to home right now. But then I found another, brighter, explanation that these lyrics don’t mean anything at all. Ha! It is just a little ditty for kids to sing while they skipped because they weren’t allowed to dance. Um - what? No dancing?! That’s still really ghastly if you ask me.

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on her tuffet

Eating her curds and whey

Along came a spider

And sat down beside her

Scaring Miss Muffet Away

I found so many explanations for the meaning of this one that my head was spinning. Here is what I do know:

1. Curds and whey are a real thing – it’s curdled milk. Ugh that sounds terrible. Any way you look at it, Miss Muffet wasn’t having a good day

2. Her tuffet sounds nicer than her rear end which wouldn’t have rhymed anyway

3. I hate spiders

In all seriousness, I looked at a lot of nursery rhymes and so many of them had dark beginnings. It leads me to question why parents would want to recite these to their children. But then I think about the lullaby, Rock-A-Bye Baby, which has terrible lyrics yet I was certainly guilty of singing it to my own kids. Maybe our brain ends up filtering out the bad stuff and just focuses on the nice things – like the tune or the rhyme.

You know, right about now – I like that explanation a lot.

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