Little Robin Redbreast

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"Little Robin Redbreast"
Roud #20612
Written by Traditional
Published c. 1744
Written England
Language English
Form Nursery rhyme

‘Little Robin Redbreast’ is an English language nursery rhyme, chiefly notable as evidence of the way traditional rhymes are changed and edited. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20612.

Lyrics[edit]

An illustration for the rhyme from The Only True Mother Goose Melodies (1833)

This rhyme is one of the most varied English nursery rhymes, probably because of its crude early version. Common modern versions include:

Little Robin Redbreast
Came to visit me;
This is what he whistled,
Thank you for my tea.[1]


Little Robin Redbreast
Sat upon a rail;
Niddle noble went his head,
Widdle waggle went his tail.[1]

and:

Little Robin Redbreast
Sat upon a tree,
Up went the Pussy-Cat,
And down went he;
Down came Pussy-Cat,
Away Robin ran,
Says little Robin Redbreast—
Catch me if you can.
Little Robin Redbreast jumped upon a spade,
Pussy-Cat jumped after him, and then he was afraid.
Little Robin chirped and sung, and what did pussy say?
Pussy-Cat said Mew, mew mew,—and Robin flew away.[2]

Origins[edit]

The earliest versions of this rhyme reveal a more basic humour. The earliest recorded is from Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book (c. 1744), which has the lyric:

Little Robin Red breast,
Sitting on a pole,
Nidde, Noddle, Went his head.
And poop[3] went his Hole.[1]

By the late eighteenth century the last line was being rendered 'And wag went his tail,' and other variations were used in nineteenth-century children's books, in one of the clearest cases of bowdlerisation in nursery rhymes.[1]

Fingerplay[edit]

The rhyme has been used as a fingerplay. A version from 1920 included instructions with the lyrics:

Little Robin Redbreast
Sat upon a rail,
(Right hand extended in shape of a bird is poised on extended forefinger of left hand.)
Niddle noddle went his head,
And waggle went his tail.
(Little finger of right hand waggles from side to side.)[4]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 371-2.
  2. ^ Anon, The Only True Mother Goose Melodies (Munroe and Francis: Boston MA, 1833), p. 14.
  3. ^ the meaning of this word subsequently changed, towards the start of the 20th century
  4. ^ W. B. Forbush, H. T. Wade, W. J. Baltzell, R. Johnson, and D. E. Wheeler, ed., Boys and Girls Bookshelf; a Practical Plan of Character Building, Volume I (New York, NY: University Society, 1920), p. 10.