How Many Miles to Babylon?

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"How many miles to Babylon"
Nursery rhyme
Published1801
Songwriter(s)Unknown

"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 miles and ten.
Can I get there by candle-light?
Yes, and back again..
If your heels are nimble and your toes are 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.

[2]

Various places have replaced Babylon in the rhyme, including London town, Barberry and Berry Bright.[3]

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.[4] 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 the sixteenth century. In the 1824 edition of The Scottish Gallovidian Encyclopedia there's a description of the rhyme and the game, giving the distance as "six, seven or a lang eight".

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.[3] The game seems to have fallen out of use in the twentieth century.[5]

In popular culture[edit]

In literature

  • The opening line is used in Robert Louis Stevenson's poem 'Envoys'.[6]
  • It is referenced in Rudyard Kipling's, Rewards and Fairies.
  • It appears in the novel Sylvie and Bruno by Lewis Carroll.
  • It is referred to in the novel Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor. (1944)
  • It is sung to Mary, Queen of Scots, by Francis Crawford of Lymond, in the fictional historical novel Queen's Play, the second book of the Lymond Chronicles, by Dorothy Dunnett.
  • The rhyme is used in They Came to Baghdad by Agatha Christie.
  • It prefaces the essay Goodbye to All That by Joan Didion.
  • It is the title of a family saga by Jennifer Johnston (1974).
  • It is the title of a children's book by Paula Fox (1967) D. White Co., New York OCLC 300829
  • It appears in the novel Deep Secret by Diana Wynne Jones.
  • It appears in the novel The Other by Tom Tryon.
  • It appears in Neil Gaiman's novel Stardust and its film adaptation, which each show methods of travel involving a "Babylon Candle."
  • It gives the title to Julius Horwitz's novel of London during World War II, Can I Get There by Candlelight?[7]
  • It is used as a plot point in C.E. Murphy's Urban Shaman.
  • It appears in the foreword of the spy novel Twelve Trains to Babylon by Alfred Connable (1971)
  • It appears in the first story of the short story collection Moon Mirror by Andre Norton.
  • It is used in "The Story of the Amulet" by E. Nesbit.
  • It is used as a plot point in An Artificial Night by Seanan McGuire.
  • It appears in Denise Levertov's poem "Candles in Babylon"
  • It is referenced in the children's book Can I Get There by Candlelight? (1982) by Jean Slaughter Doty.
  • It is used in the novel How Many Miles to Babylon? by Jennifer Johnston.
  • It is used in the short story Babylon 70M (1963) by Donald A. Wollheim, appearing in the first issue of Robert A. W. Lowndes' Magazine of Horror.[8]
  • The rhyme appears in the novel Hawksmoor (1985) by Peter Ackroyd.

In film

In music

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ I. Opie and P. Opie (1997) The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, 2nd edn.,(revision of 1951 edition) pp. 73-5.
  2. ^ I. Opie and P. Opie (1997), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford, Second Edition, pp. 73-75.
  3. ^ a b E. H. Linscott and J. M. Carpenter, Folk Songs of Old New England (Courier Dover, 1993), p. 18.
  4. ^ I. Opie and P. Opie (1997), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford, Second Edition, pp. 73-75.
  5. ^ I.Opie and P. Opie (1997), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford, Second Edition, pp. 73-75.
  6. ^ I.Opie and P. Opie (1997), The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford, Second Edition, pp.73-75.
  7. ^ Can I get there by candlelight. London: Panther Books. 1971. ISBN 0586020942.
  8. ^ "Magazine of Horror". #1. August 1963. Initiated by Robert A. W. Lowndes for Health Knowledge Inc.