How Many Miles to Babylon?

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This article is about the nursery rhyme 'How many miles to Babylon'. For the novel by Jennifer Johnston, see How Many Miles to Babylon? (novel).
"How many miles to Babylon"
Roud #8148
Written by Traditional
Published 1801
Written Britain
Language English
Form Nursery rhyme

'How many miles to Babylon' is an English language nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 8148.

Lyrics[edit]

The accepted modern lyrics are:

How many miles to Babylon?
Three score and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, and back again.
If your heels are nimble and light,
You may get there by candle-light.[1]

A longer Scottish version has the lyrics:

King and Queen of Cantelon,
How many miles to Babylon?
Eight and eight, and other eight.
Will I get there by candle-light?
If your horse be good and your spurs be bright.
How mony men have ye?
Mae nor ye daur come and see.[1]

Various places have replaced Babylon in the rhyme, including London town, Barberry and Berry Bright.[2]

Origins[edit]

The rhyme was not recorded until the nineteenth century, but the reference to Cantelon in the Scottish version has led some to conclude that it refers to Caledon in the time of the Crusades.[1] Babylon may be a corruption of 'Babyland', but the city was a common allusion particularly in seventeenth-century England and 'Can I get there by candlelight?' was a common saying in sixteenth century.[1]

As a singing game[edit]

The rhyme was originally accompanied by a singing game in which two lines face each other, with one player in the middle. At the end of the rhyme the players have to cross the space and any caught help the original player in the middle catch the others.[2] The game seems to have fallen out of use in the twentieth century.[1]

In popular culture[edit]

In literature

In film

In popular music

  • It is parodied as "How many miles to Babyland?" on Lenny and the Squigtones- a comedy album by the characters Lenny and Squiggy from the 1970s sitcom "Laverne & Shirley".

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 73-5.
  2. ^ a b E. H. Linscott and J. M. Carpenter, Folk Songs of Old New England (Courier Dover, 1993), p. 18.
  3. ^ Can I get there by candlelight. Reprinted. London: Panther Books, 1971. 1971. ISBN 0586020942. 
  4. ^ Magazine of Horror #1. August 1963.  Initiated by Robert A. W. Lowndes for Health Knowledge Inc.