Looking at Ring Around the Rosy in a Deadly Way

I was doing an observation of a student teacher in a grade eight social studies class. The topic  for the day was the Black Plague which swept through medieval Europe between 1348-1350 killing millions of people.  I learned something interesting about the popular children’s song Ring around the Rosy during the lesson.  Although the verse appears in Mother Goose collections of nursery rhymes starting in 1881 there is a widespread belief that the ditty is much older than that and refers to people afflicted with the plague. 

Ring around the rosy

A patient would have swollen lymph nodes and this swelling was often circular forming a ring. The center of the ring was surrounded by a red rash referred to as a rosie. 

A pocket full of posy

As plague victims became ill they gave off a horrible odor and posies of herbs and flowers were carried by healthy people as a form of protection and to cover up the smell of the disease.

Hush a, Hush a we all fall down. 

“Falling down” refers to the fact that plague victims eventually died. 

I was intrigued by the student teacher’s explanation but found out later that the theory the nursery rhyme originated with the Black Plague only appeared after World War II. Folklorists say had the poem been around in the 1300’s written copies of it would have appeared long before 1881.  Records of it being sung in various forms only date back to the 1790’s.

Regardless of whether the connections to the Black Plague are authentic or not, I don’t think I will ever listen to the children’s song in exactly the same way again. 

Other posts about childhood…..

Remembering the Children of Sichuan

Technology and Family Time

My Mother’s Button Box


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Filed under Childhood, Culture, History

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