Now, in one of my previous incarnations I was a nursery schoolmarm. I relied on the enormous power of rhyme to entertain, hypnotize, and manipulate my tots, but I always wondered what these quaint songs passed to us from ye olde
Now I know that “Ring Around the Rosy” is about the Bubonic Plague (“ashes, ashes, we all fall down!”). “Jack and Jill” refers to the decapitation of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. (“Jack broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after…”) Even “Rain, Rain, Go Away” is, in essence, a war song.
So while adults still rely on nursery rhymes today to lull their babes, historically they’ve served another purpose: to satisfy the human preoccupation with scandal and gore.