We all fall down

♪♫ Ring around the rosy

A pocket full of posies

Ashes! Ashes! 

We all fall down! ♪♫

We all are familiar with it. A singsong melody learned before preschool, played in the backyard with Mommy and friends. Dancing in a circle and falling down dramatically fed our little imaginations, and fueled that “need” to move. 

The history of this rhyme is rather more muddled and far less innocent that children dancing and singing in an ever-moving circle.  Most scholars believe the genesis was in the plague years in Europe, more specifically the 1500’s in Britain. 

To get closer to that vision, there is an alternate rhyme that uses a sneezing sound that proceeds “we all fall down”. 

Ring around a rosy: one of the symptoms of the plague was a red spot, often circled by a rash.

Posies, or flower petals were carried by many. It was thought that the plague ( and other diseases) was caused by a miasma in the air, the scent effectively removed the threat of disease.

Ashes, Ashes is a comment on the disposal of the dead by burning.

We all fall down: considered to be the first recorded population disaster, the plague claimed an estimated 60% of the population. No one was untouched, losing family, friends, neighbours and even whole villages.  The plague often caused sufferers to fall to the ground, overcome with pain and weakness: and this was often the first indication of infection. 

We are averse to sharing the more grisly roots of simple children’s staples for many reasons. Most often, people are unaware that an alternate version, or a deeper history is at the genesis of the rhyme or tale.  But, just as you can dissect any other literary work for embedded meaning, symbolism, or even social and anthropological clues: the same can be done here.  

Stories and tales of dangerous things in the dark are not uncommon. In the history of homo sapiens, the tales and stories filled a need to know. That curious facet of the human race that fights against mere acceptance and seeks to create an answer to the why and the how.  Religions and Gods were created and placated to assert some measure of control over the natural world.  Faerie tales and nursery rhymes were created to both entertain and maintain some level of obedience: for the world is and was a dangerous place. Putting a warning into an alliteration or rhyme, setting it to music simply helps the message to be remembered and shared widely. 

The need we have now to sanitize, to make everything “‘correct” and palatable is not a new desire, nor is it completely without it’s good points.  But there is a deeper meaning, a deeper history that we should not lose when looking to simply “entertain” the tots in our midst. 


4 thoughts on “We all fall down

  1. grimm’s fairy tales are a perfect example. more fear and trembling, dread and death than sprites and joyful fairies there.

    “and they lived happily ever after”………really?

  2. there’s a whole series of issues with the disney approach… but the nursery rhymes are far more easy to grab onto at the moment. I’m reading some old and unsanitary tales from Grimm and Aesop and even Andersen, and finding that my imagination prefers the unsanitary versions, while my sense of what I would want to plant in a child’s head while young cringe at the imagery.

    • Exactly. And people have lost, or miss the original information. I used much of the origins of nursery rhymes and faerie tales with my daughter to teach her to look deeper into the material, to take into account the history and age of the pieces, to see them as ‘warning labels” rather than just a bedtime story or a fun playground rhyme.

      I didn’t have to explain to her the plague when she was 4, but when she got older and was more able to process the information – it was something we talked about. And while we appreciated the Disney stuff in our house ( we both love animation ) the idea that you need a pretty dress and a rescuer was not only not an option, but nothing that was even remotely modeled in our house.

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