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11-16-2012, 08:00 PM,


With the sad condition this old world is in—wars, famines, floods, hunger, —we are hard put to see anything positive going on; such as laughter and other feelings that give us good vibes and make life worth living.

But I will never forget how our four daughters’ eyes would light up as they listened intently to mother as she read them nursery rhymes, and then laugh as I, the family clown, would act out the rhymes for visual impact

Sugar on my oatmeal, sugar on my bread.
I’ll turn into a sugar stick someday, my grandma.

This wasn’t the only verse that made our kids laugh. There was also: “It’s raining, it’s pouring, the old man is snoring.” and “Tom, Tom, the piper’s son, stole a pig and away he run.” and “Jack Sprat could eat no fat, his wife could eat no lean.” and “Four and twenty blackbirds sitting on a fence.” And on and into the shadows of poetic history.

As I thought about these literary expressions, I wondered where and why nursery rhymes originated; and what rib-tickling mystery had kept them alive for centuries. What I discovered made me smile all over again.

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall
All the king’s horsemen and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

Humpty Dumpty was the name given to a huge cannon used in the English Civil War of 1642. It sat on top of St. Mary’s Church in Colchester. The church was hit by enemy fire and the top was blown off, sending Humpty to the ground. The king’s men tried to fix it but it was broken beyond repair…like an eggshell.

Jack be nimble, Jack be quick,
Jack jump over the candle stick

Each November 25th, lace makers in Buckinghamshire celebrated the feast of their patron saint, St. Catherine. They sang love songs, and served caraway buns. Afterward, they played “leap candle.” A lighted candle was set on the floor, and jumping over it without extinguishing the flame meant good luck the following year.

Rock-a-bye-baby on the treetop
When the wind blows the cradle will rock

The author of this lullaby was reportedly a pilgrim sailing on the Mayflower. The Wampanoag Indians who befriended the colonists carried their infants in cradleboards on their backs. In good weather, they suspended the cradles from tree limbs so passing breezes could rock their babies.

Ride a cock-horse to Banbury Cross
To see a fine lady upon a white horse

Lady Godiva’s husband, Leofric, imposed heavy tax on his subjects. Godiva was touched by their hardship and she pleaded her case. Her husband offered her a dare: “Ride naked through Coventry, and I’ll do as you ask.” He thought his wife would never commit such an act. But Godiva galloped naked through town on a handsome white steed, while the town folks stayed indoors with shutters closed and locked. Godiva’s husband lifted the tax.

If these rhymes brought back memories and you find their origins fascinating, go to Google and type in “History of Nursery Rhymes.”
Several hundred rhymes will come up that will make you smile
and maybe think you’d never see them again. But there they are. Forever.

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