Little Boy Blue
|"Little Boy Blue"|
1901 illustration by William Wallace Denslow
A common version of the rhyme is:
Little Boy Blue,
Come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow,
The cow's in the corn;
But where is the boy
Who looks after the sheep?
He's under a haystack,
He's fast asleep.
Will you wake him?
No, not I,
For if I do,
He's sure to cry.
Origins and meaning
The earliest printed version of the rhyme is in Tommy Thumb's Little Song Book (c. 1744), but the rhyme may be much older. It may be alluded to in Shakespeare's King Lear (III, vi) when Edgar, masquerading as Mad Tom, says:
Sleepest or wakest thou, jolly shepheard?
Thy sheepe be in the corne;
And for one blast of thy minikin mouth
Thy sheepe shall take no harme.
It has been argued that Little Boy Blue was intended to represent Cardinal Wolsey, who was the son of an Ipswich butcher, who may have acted as a hayward to his father's livestock, but there is no corroborative evidence to support this assertion.
- I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 98–9.