One for Sorrow (nursery rhyme)
|"One for Sorrow"|
"One for Sorrow" is a traditional children's nursery rhyme about magpies. According to an old superstition, the number of magpies one sees determines if one will have bad luck. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 20096.
There is considerable variation in the lyrics used. A common modern version follows:
One for sorrow,
Two for joy,
Three for a girl,
Four for a boy,
Five for silver,
Six for gold,
Seven for a secret,
Never to be told.
Eight for a wish,
Nine for a kiss,
Ten for a bird,
You must not miss.
The rhyme has its origins in superstitions connected with magpies, considered a bird of ill omen in some cultures, and in Britain, at least as far back as the early sixteenth century. The rhyme was first recorded around 1780 in a note in John Brand's Observations on Popular Antiquities on Lincolnshire with the lyric:
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth,
Three for a funeral
And four for birth
One of the earliest versions to extend this was published, with variations, in Michael Aislabie Denham's Proverbs and Popular Saying of the Seasons (London, 1846)
One for sorrow,
Two for mirth
Three for a funeral,
Four for birth
Five for heaven
Six for hell
Seven for the devil, his own self
In popular culture
A version of the rhyme became familiar to many UK children when it became the theme tune of an ITV children's TV show called Magpie, which ran from 1968 to 1980. The popularity of this version is thought to have displaced the many regional versions that had previously existed.
Ashe Corven recites a version of the rhyme in the 1996 film The Crow: City of Angels, with crows in place of magpies.
The rhyme is in part 5 of Monday, January 12 in the mystery Through the Evil Days by Julia Spencer-Fleming when a crow caws once in a tense winter scene, leaving a character who is visualizing a grim outcome to hope for a second caw.
The novels in the John, the Lord Chamberlain series of historical mysteries, taking place in Justinian's Constantinople, all have titles derived from the nursery rime, the first one (published in 1999) being named "One for Sorrow". The belief that the number of magpies one sees give an indication of one's future is attributed to a knight of King Arthur's Round Table visiting Constantinople in the first volume - which might be an anachronism.
British folk group the Unthanks include the song "Magpie" on their 2015 album Mount the Air, with lyrics containing portions of this rhyme. The song is featured in the final scene of the first episode of the third season of Detectorists, backing a time-warp scene with multiple visual clues to the lyrics. The group Death by Chocolate (band) included the song "Magpie" on their 2001 Album Death By Chocolate, with lyrics containing the rhyme.
The opening two-part episode of the 2015 season of Lewis was titled "One for Sorrow", and involved a stuffed magpie.
The anthology Charmed Destinies (2003) contains a story by Mercedes Lackey called "Counting Crows", in which several verses of the rhyme are given.
It is also referenced multiple times (either in part or as a whole) in the best-selling psychological thriller novel The Girl on the Train (2015), by British author Paula Hawkins; the line "three for a girl" is used as, perhaps, an umbrella theme for the entire book, which deals with the mysterious disappearance of a woman, as narrated/gradually unfolded from the perspectives of three other female characters.
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- Binney, Ruth (2004). Wise Words and Country Ways: Traditional Advice and Whether It Works Today. David & Charles. p. 223. ISBN 0-7153-1846-2.
- The Crow: City of Angels. 1996.
One For Sorrow, Written By Mary Downing Hahn