Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

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This article is about the English nursery rhyme. For the film of the same name, see Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son (film).
"Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son"
Roud #19621
Written England
Published 1795
Form Nursery rhyme
Writer Traditional
Language English

"Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son" is a popular English language nursery rhyme. It has a Roud Folk Song Index number of 19621.


Modern versions of the rhyme include:

Tune for Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son

Problems playing this file? See media help.
Tom, Tom, the piper's son,
Stole a pig, and away did run;
The pig was eat
And Tom was beat,
And Tom went crying [or "roaring", or "howling", in some versions]
Down the street.[1]

The 'pig' mentioned in the song is almost certainly not a live animal but rather a kind of pastry, often made with an apple filling, smaller than a pie.[1]

Another version of the rhyme is: Tom, Tom, the piper's son, Stole a pig, and away he run. Tom run here, Tom run there, Tom run through the village square.

This rhyme is often conflated with a separate and longer rhyme:

Tom, he was a piper's son,
He learnt to play when he was young,
And all the tune that he could play
Was 'over the hills and far away';
Over the hills and a great way off,
The wind shall blow my top-knot off.
Tom with his pipe made such a noise,
That he pleased both the girls and boys,
They all stopped to hear him play,
'Over the hills and far away'.
Tom with his pipe did play with such skill
That those who heard him could never keep still;
As soon as he played they began for to dance,
Even the pigs on their hind legs would after him prance.
As Dolly was milking her cow one day,
Tom took his pipe and began to play;
So Dolly and the cow danced 'The Cheshire Round',
Till the pail was broken and the milk ran on the ground.
He met old Dame Trot with a basket of eggs,
He used his pipe and she used her legs;
She danced about till the eggs were all broke,
She began for to fret, but he laughed at the joke.
Tom saw a cross fellow was beating an ass,
Heavy laden with pots, pans, dishes, and glass;
He took out his pipe and he played them a tune,
And the poor donkey's load was lightened full soon.[1]

Origins and meaning[edit]

Both rhymes were first printed separately in a Tom the Piper's Son, a chapbook produced around 1795 in London.[1] The origins of the shorter and better known rhyme are unknown. The second longer rhyme was an adaptation of an existing verse which was current in England around the end of the seventeenth and beginning of the eighteenth centuries. The following verse, known as "The distracted Jockey's Lamentations" may have been written (but not included) in Thomas D'Urfey's play The Campaigners (1698):

Jockey was a Piper's Son,
And fell in love when he was young;
But all the Tunes that he could play,
Was, o'er the Hills, and far away,
And 'Tis o'er the Hills, and far away,
'Tis o'er the Hills, and far away,
'Tis o'er the Hills, and far away,
The Wind has blown my Plad away.[1]

This verse seems to have been adapted for a recruiting song designed to gain volunteers for the Duke of Marlborough's campaigns about 1705, with the title "The Recruiting Officer; or The Merry Volunteers", better today known as "Over the Hills and Far Away", in which the hero is called Tom.[1]

Cultural references[edit]

  • Tom Tom is a main character in the 1934 Laurel and Hardy film Babes in Toyland.
  • The rhyme is featured in Benjamin Britten's 1954 opera, The Turn of The Screw. The two children, Miles and Flora, sing it in Act I, scene 5, at the window.
  • A segment of The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show (1959-4) provided a mock legal review of the case of Tom stealing the pig.
  • The 1969 experimental film, "Tom, Tom, the Piper's Son", by Ken Jacobs, consists of retouched footage of a 1905 film of the same name. It was placed on the Library of Congress National Film Registry in 2007.
  • Led Zeppelin has a song in their album Houses of the Holy (1973) entitled "Over the Hills and Far Away".
  • The beginning of the Dr. Alimantado song, "I Shot the Barber" contains paraphrased elements of the rhyme.
  • In the manga Kuroshitsuji the character Joker sings the first segment from the longer version of this nursery rhyme. The anime version uses the tune as a recurring theme, since the song is either sang by children, by Joker (episode 7) or as part of the instrumental soundtrack.
  • R. A. Lafferty's 1980 story "The Only Tune That He Could Play" is based on both versions of this song. Tom, the protagonist, is an expert pig hunter and is the son of a piper. He plays a trumpet but is always playing variations on a tune that seems to be searching for something—something that might be found "Over the hills and far away."
  • Tom Tom is mentioned in the chorus of John Holt's reggae/ska hit "Ali Baba".
  • Tom is the main character in Melina Marchetta's The Pipers Son.
  • In Jasper Fforde's The Big Over Easy Thomas Tom, the son of the orchestra's flutist, is a minor supporting character. He is hiding out after a conviction for stealing pigs.
  • In The Tale of Pigling Bland episode of The World of Peter Rabbit and Friends, based on the works of Beatrix Potter, variations of this song can be heard a number of times.


  1. ^ a b c d e f I. Opie and P. Opie, The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford University Press, 1951, 2nd edn., 1997), pp. 408-11.

External links[edit]