Ring a Ring o' Roses

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"Ring a Ring o' Roses"
Roud #7925
RingARingORosesMusic1898.png
Musical variations of Ring a Ring o' Roses, Alice Gomme, 1898.[1] About this sound Play Marlborough , About this sound Yorkshire , About this sound Sporle A , & About this sound Sporle B 
Music by Traditional
Published 1881
Written England
Language English
Form Nursery rhyme

"Ring a Ring o' Roses" or "Ring Around the Rosie" is a nursery rhyme or folksong and playground singing game. It first appeared in print in 1881, but it is reported that a version was already being sung to the current tune in the 1790s and similar rhymes are known from across Europe. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 7925. Urban legend says the song originally described the plague, but folklorists reject this idea.

Lyrics[edit]

The cover of L. Leslie Brooke's, Ring O' Roses (1922), shows nursery rhyme characters performing the game

Common British versions include:

Ring-a-ring o' roses,
A pocket full of posies,
A-tishoo! A-tishoo!

We all fall down.[2]

Common American versions include:

Ring-a-round the rosie,
A pocket full of posies,
Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down.[2]

The last two lines are sometimes varied to

Hush! Hush! Hush! Hush!

We've all tumbled down.[2]

Early attestation[edit]

Kate Greenaway's illustration from Mother Goose or the Old Nursery Rhymes (1881), showing children playing the game

The first printing of the rhyme was in Kate Greenaway's 1881 edition of Mother Goose; or, the Old Nursery Rhymes:

Ring-a-ring-a-roses,
A pocket full of posies;
Ashes! Ashes!
We all fall down.[3]

A novel of 1855, The Old Homestead by Ann S. Stephens, describes children playing "Ring, ring a rosy" in New York.[4] William Wells Newell reports two versions in America a short time later (1883) and says that another was known in New Bedford, Massachusetts around 1790:

Ring a ring a Rosie,
A bottle full of posie,
All the girls in our town
Ring for little Josie.[5]

There are also versions from Shropshire, collected in 1883, and a manuscript of rhymes collected in Lancashire at the same period gives three closely related versions, with the now familiar sneezing, for instance:

A ring, a ring o' roses,

A pocket full o' posies-

Atishoo atishoo we all fall down.[6]

In 1892, folklorist Alice Gomme could give twelve versions.[7]

Other languages[edit]

Illustration by Jessie Willcox Smith, from The Little Mother Goose (1912)

A German rhyme first printed in 1796 closely resembles "Ring a ring o'roses" in its first stanza[8] and accompanies the same actions (with sitting rather than falling as the concluding action):[9]

Ringelringelreihen,
Wir sind der Kinder dreien,
sitzen unter'm Hollerbusch
Und machen alle Huschhuschhusch!

Loosely translated this says: "Ringed, ringed row. We are three children, sitting under an elder bush. All of us going hush, hush, hush!" The rhyme is well known in Germany with the first line "Ringel, Ringel, Reihe" (as the popular collection Des Knaben Wunderhorn gave it); it has many local variants, often with "Husch, husch, husch" (which in German could mean "quick, quick") in the fourth line,[10] comparable to the "Hush! hush! hush! hush!" of the first printed English version. Notable also this popular variant:[11]

Ringel, Ringel, Rosen,
Schöne Aprikosen,
Veilchen blau, Vergissmeinnicht,
Alle Kinder setzen sich!

The translation is "A ring, a ring of roses. Beautiful apricots. Blue violets, forget-me-nots. All children sit down." Swiss versions have the children dancing round a rosebush.[12] Other European singing games with a strong resemblance include "Roze, roze, meie" ("Rose, rose, May") from The Netherlands with a similar tune to "Ring a ring o' roses"[13] and "Gira, gira rosa" ("Circle, circle, rose"), recorded in Venice in 1874, in which girls danced around the girl in the middle who skipped and curtsied as demanded by the verses and at the end kissed the one she liked best, so choosing her for the middle.[14]

Meaning[edit]

Illustration by L. Leslie Brooke (1862–1940) for "All Tumble Down" from Anon, Ring O' Roses (1922)

The rhyme has often been associated with the Great Plague which happened in England in 1665, or with earlier outbreaks of the Black Death in England. Interpreters of the rhyme before the Second World War make no mention of this;[15] by 1951, however, it seems to have become well established as an explanation for the form of the rhyme that had become standard in the United Kingdom. Peter and Iona Opie, the leading authorities on nursery rhymes, remarked:

The invariable sneezing and falling down in modern English versions have given would-be origin finders the opportunity to say that the rhyme dates back to the Great Plague. A rosy rash, they alleged, was a symptom of the plague, and posies of herbs were carried as protection and to ward off the smell of the disease. Sneezing or coughing was a final fatal symptom, and "all fall down" was exactly what happened.[16][17]

The line Ashes, Ashes in colonial versions of the rhyme is claimed to refer variously to cremation of the bodies, the burning of victims' houses, or blackening of their skin, and the theory has been adapted to be applied to other versions of the rhyme.[18] In its various forms, the interpretation has entered into popular culture and has been used elsewhere to make oblique reference to the plague.[19]

Several folklore scholars regard the theory as baseless for several reasons:

  1. The plague explanation did not appear until the mid-twentieth century.[14]
  2. The symptoms described do not fit especially well with the Great Plague.[17][20]
  3. The great variety of forms makes it unlikely that the modern form is the most ancient one, and the words on which the interpretation are based are not found in many of the earliest records of the rhyme (see above).[18][21]
  4. European and 19th-century versions of the rhyme suggest that this "fall" was not a literal falling down, but a curtsy or other form of bending movement that was common in other dramatic singing games.[22]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ Gomme, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland, p. 108.
  2. ^ a b c Delamar (2001), pp. 38-9.
  3. ^ "Mother Goose or the Old Nursery Rhymes". Gutenberg.org. 2007-12-10. Retrieved 18 October 2012. 
  4. ^ A. S. Stephens, The Old Homestead (London, 1855), pp. 215–6: "Then the little girls began to seek their own amusements. They played 'hide and seek,' 'ring, ring a rosy,' and a thousand wild and pretty games". The first lines of the motto to the chapter may allude to the same rhyme (p. 213) "A ring – a ring of roses, Laps full of posies".
  5. ^ Opie and Opie (1951), p. 364; Opie and Opie (1985), p. 223.
  6. ^ Opie and Opie (1985), p. 222.
  7. ^ Opie and Opie (1951), p. 364.
  8. ^ The one commonly sung according to Böhme (1897), p. 438.
  9. ^ Böhme (1897), p. 438, Opie and Opie (1985), p. 225.
  10. ^ Böhme (1897), pp. 438–41, Opie and Opie (1985), p. 227. Other rhymes for the same game have some similarity in the first line, e. g. "Ringel, ringel, Rosenkranz", less in other lines – see Böhme (1897), 442–5.
  11. ^ "Deutsches Kinderlied und Kinderspiel. In Kassel aus Kindermund in Wort und Weise gesammelt von Johann Lewalter" (Kassel 1911), I Nr. 12. Hermann Dunger, "Kinderlieder und Kinderspiele aus dem Vogtlande" (Plauen 1874), p. 320. Böhme (1897)
  12. ^ Böhme (1897), p. 439, Opie and Opie (1985), p. 225.
  13. ^ Opie and Opie (1985), p. 227.
  14. ^ a b Opie and Opie (1985), p. 224.
  15. ^ Opie and Opie (1985), pp. 221–2.
  16. ^ Opie and Opie (1951), p. 365.
  17. ^ a b Compare Opie and Opie (1985), p. 221, where they note that neither cure nor symptoms (except for death) feature prominently in contemporary or near contemporary accounts of the plague.
  18. ^ a b Mikkelson, Barbara; Mikkelson, David P. (2007-07-12). "Ring Around the Rosie". Urban Legends Reference Pages. Snopes. Retrieved 2007-01-10. 
  19. ^ Opie and Opie (1985), p. 221, citing the use of the rhyme to headline an article on the plague village of Eyam in the Radio Times, 7 June 1973; title of "Ashes" in the New Scientist review.
  20. ^ J. Simpson and S. Roud, A Dictionary of English Folklore (Oxford: OUP, 2000), p. 296.
  21. ^ Opie and Opie (1985), pp. 222–3: "The following are the seven earliest reports known from in Britain ... In only four of these recordings is sneezing a feature". The point becomes stronger when American versions are also taken into account.
  22. ^ See above, and Opie and Opie (1951), p. 365, citing Chants Populaire du Languedoc: "Branle, calandre, La Fille d'Alexandre, La pêche bien mûre, Le rosier tout fleuri, Coucou toupi – En disant 'coucou toupi', tous les enfants quie forment la ronde, s'accroupissent", roughly translated: "The peach well ripe, the rose all blooming, cuckoo humming - When 'cuckoo humming' is said, all the children forming the circle crouch down".

References[edit]

  • Böhme, F. M., Deutsches Kinderlied und Kinderspiel (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1897).
  • Delamar, Gloria T., Mother Goose, From Nursery to Literature (1987, Lincoln, NE, 2001).
  • Gomme, Alice Bertha, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland (London: David Nutt 1898).
  • Opie, Iona and Opie, Peter, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: OUP, 1951).
  • Opie, Iona and Opie, Peter, The Singing Game (Oxford: OUP, 1985).