It was when I was reading Louise Penny’s latest book Glass Houses that I discovered that in some parts of the world – mainly the ‘new world’ – the words to Ring a ring o’ roses are slightly different with the word ‘ashes’ being substituted where atishoo should be. It’s a bizarre word to choose I think and makes no sense, but that’s what happens as things evolve, a sort of Chinese whisper ensues.
At school we were all taught that what seems like a charming nursery rhyme is actually about the Black Death/Plague as it describes the different stages of the disease.
The ‘ring of roses’ is the red rash that appeared on victim’s skins, usually at the top of the leg to begin with before moving on to under the arm and all over. So the pocketful of posies is describing the rash.
Atishoo atishoo (not ashes) – the next stage is sneezing and a chill, followed by fever, breathing problems and –
We all fall down is – death.
A cheery subject for a nursery rhyme – not. But that’s par for the course. Mary, Mary, quite contrary is about Bloody Queen Mary (Tudor) who had thousands of non-Catholic people executed after Henry VIII’s death.
Most fairy tales in their original guise are quite terrifying, but they’re all warnings of what can happen to children if they don’t take care. For instance Rumpelstiltskin is about the need for young girls to keep away from old men, that needle that they might get pricked with was something much more dangerous – a rumpled stilt in a skin in fact!
I would normally avoid putting children on here but as the clip below has been put on You Tube by a nursery group, I’m still not sure if that’s a good idea. Anyway, they get the song right.