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"
Nursery rhyme
Published 1801

"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.

[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 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

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.