There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly

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There Was an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly (also known as I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly and There Was an Old Woman Who Swallowed a Fly) is a children's rhyme and nonsense song of a kind known as cumulative. The song tells the nonsensical story of an old woman who swallowed increasingly large animals, each to catch the previously swallowed animal, but died after swallowing a horse. The humour of the song stems from the absurdity that the woman is able to inexplicably and impossibly swallow animals of preposterous sizes without dying, suggesting that she is both superhuman and immortal; however, the addition of a horse is finally enough to kill her. Her inability to survive after swallowing the horse is an event that abruptly and unexpectedly applies real-world logic to the song, directly contradicting her formerly established logic-defying animal-swallowing capability.

There are many variations of phrasing in the lyrics, especially for the description of swallowing each animal. The spider and fly are described in each verse, but the other animals are only described when they are introduced starting with the bird.[1] Three versions of the rhyme were collected in the journal Hoosier Folklore in December 1947,[2] beginning respectively "There was an old lady — she swallowed a fly", "Poor little old lady, she swallowed a fly" and "A little old lady swallowed a fly". All three list the progression from fly to spider, bird, cat, dog and cow, finishing with the horse, with variations to the rhymes for each animal. The definitive version was written by Rose Bonne (lyrics) and Canadian/English folk artist Alan Mills and copyrighted in 1952. At that time it was entitled simply "I Know an Old Lady."[3] A widely distributed version of the song was released on Brunswick Records in 1953, where it was sung by Burl Ives. Ives' rendition appears on his album, Folk Songs, Dramatic and Humorous—which debuted in late summer, 1953.[4] The 1961 illustrated book by Rose Bonne also indicates that the lyrics are hers, whereas the music was composed by Alan Mills.[5][6][non-primary source needed][7]

Lyrics[edit]

The following is one form of the lyrics, that are representative of the nature of this cumulative lyric:

There was an old lady who swallowed a fly;

I don't know why she swallowed a fly - perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a spider;
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!

She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a bird;
How absurd to swallow a bird!

She swallowed the bird to catch the spider;
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a cat;
Imagine that! She swallowed a cat!

She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider;
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady that swallowed a dog;
What a hog, to swallow a dog!

She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider;
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a goat;
She just opened her throat and swallowed a goat!

She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider;
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a cow;
I don't know how she swallowed a cow!

She swallowed the cow to catch the goat,
She swallowed the goat to catch the dog,
She swallowed the dog to catch the cat,
She swallowed the cat to catch the bird,
She swallowed the bird to catch the spider;
That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her!
She swallowed the spider to catch the fly;
I don't know why she swallowed a fly - Perhaps she'll die!

There was an old lady who swallowed a horse;

...She died, of course![1]

Representative renditions[edit]


See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Rhymes.org Staff (2016-06-09). "There was an Old Lady nursery song lyrics". rhymes.org.uk. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  2. ^ "The Little Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly". Hoosier Folklore. 6 (4): 153–156. December 1947. JSTOR 27649913. 
  3. ^ Catalog of Copyright Entries, Third Series, Volume 6, Part 5B, No. 1, January–June, 1952 (US Copyright Office), p. 86. The submission date is given as March 28, 1952. The 1954 edition relists it, providing the same date and giving Alan Mills as a pseudonym for Albert Miller.
  4. ^ Decca DL 5467, reviewed in Billboard, September 12, 1953, p. 36. The record label also indicates the Mills-Bonne credit.
  5. ^ M.B.K. (1961-11-12). "Songs with Pictures [review of I Know an Old Lady, "words by Rose Bonne; music by Alan Mills; illustrated by Abner Graboff…"]" (children's book review). Chicago Sunday Tribune, Magazine of Books (Books for Children). No. Part 4, Section 2. Chicago, IL: Chicago Tribune. p. 34, col. 3. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  6. ^ Bonne, Rose (1961). I Know an Old Lady. Alan Mills, music; Abner Graboff, illustrations. Skokie, IL: Rand McNally. 
  7. ^ a b For a further example remaining in print, see Adams, Pam (1973). There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly. Classic books with holes. Swindon, UK: Child's Play (International). ISBN 0859530213. Retrieved 9 June 2016. 
  8. ^ "Birds, Beasts, Bugs and Fishes (Little and Big) - Smithsonian Folkways". Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. 
  9. ^ "Animals, Vol.1 - Smithsonian Folkways". Smithsonian Folkways Recordings. 
  10. ^ "There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly - The People's Theatre Company". 
  11. ^ Daniel Celano (29 May 2017). "Peter, Paul and Mary - I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly" – via YouTube. 
  12. ^ "Round The Twist - ClassicKidsTv.co.uk". www.classickidstv.co.uk. 

External links[edit]