Little Miss Muffet

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"Little Miss Muffet"
("Little Miss Muffet")
Roud #20605
Little Miss Muffet 1 - WW Denslow - Project Gutenberg etext 18546.jpg
William Wallace Denslow's illustrations for "Little Miss Muffet", from a 1901 edition of Mother Goose
Written by Traditional
Music by Traditional
Published 1805
Written England
Language English
Form Nursery rhyme
The "Little Miss Muffet" scenario explained by Denslow
1940 WPA poster using "Little Miss Muffet" to promote reading among children.

"Little Miss Muffet" is a nursery rhyme, one of the most commonly printed in the mid-twentieth century.[1] It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20605.

Lyrics[edit]

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider,
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.[1]

Origins and meaning[edit]

The rhyme first appeared in print in 1805, in a book titled Songs for the Nursery. Like many such rhymes, its origins are unclear. Some claim it was written by Dr Thomas Muffet (d.1604), an English physician and entomologist, regarding his stepdaughter Patience; others claim it refers to Mary, Queen of Scots (1543–87), who was said to have been frightened by religious reformer John Knox (1510–72).[2] The former explanation is speculative and the latter is doubted by most literary scholars, who note that stories linking folk tales or songs to political events are often urban legends.[1] The book and film adaptation Along Came a Spider comes from a verse in the poem.

Alternative lyrics[edit]

There is also an alternative set of lyrics which has been taught in some countries where whey is not a common food stuff.[3] In the nineteenth century the rhyme existed in many alternative versions including: 'Little Mary Ester, Sat upon a tester' (1812); 'Little Miss Mopsey, Sat in the shopsey' (1842). These rhymes may be parodies of whichever is the original.[1]

In 1868, the supposed partner of Walt Whitman, Peter Doyle, allegedly wrote a version of little Miss Muffet that some experts believe could be a metaphorical representation of their relationship.

Little Miss Man
Had a great plan
to get her man to love
Along came the writer
Who sat down beside her
and said "you fit like a glove."

The poem was signed 16.4, which was Whitman's method of concealing Doyle's identity,[4] and is thought to represent the sudden and explosive sexual relationship that is rumoured to have existed between the two.

In the 1960 revue Beyond the Fringe, the English humourist and musician Dudley Moore sang "Little Miss Muffet" in the style of Peter Pears to music parodying Benjamin Britten.

The Eagles referred to the Porsche Spyder and the death of James Dean in the song "James Dean", using the popular poem in the song.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd ed., 1997), pp. 323–4.
  2. ^ 'Was Little Miss Muffet a local girl?'. Brookmans Park Newsletter, retrieved 02/04/09.
  3. ^ A. Sorby, Schoolroom Poets: Childhood and the Place of American Poetry, 1865–1917 (UPNE, 2005), p. 80.
  4. ^ C. Shively, Calamus Lovers: Walt Whitman's Working Class Camerados (San Francisco, CA: Gay Sunshine Press, 1987), ISBN 978-0-917342-18-9.