Ring A Ring O' Roses - The Nursery Rhyme Collections

The Nursery Rhymes Collections 1-4 contain a total of 277 children's songs. Each double CD album showcases the highest quality children's music ever recorded with a total playing time in excess of 10 hours!

Ring A Ring O' Roses (Full Audio and Lyrics)

Ring a ring o' roses
A pocketful of posies
"a tissue, a tissue
We all fall down!"

Ring a ring o' roses
A pocketful of posies
"a tissue, a tissue
We all fall down!"

Words & Music: Traditional
Arrangement: Ian J Watts/Rick Benbow

Origin and background

We have already pointed to the website http://www.snopes.com, the authors are Barbara and David P. Mikkelson. The whole site is about strange ideas and theories, that become “true“ because they have been repeated millions of times. Concerning traditional folk songs, the problem doesn’t seem to be very important, nobody is hurt if a widely spread idea about the meaning of a nursery rhyme is wrong. In other circumstances, it is a good idea to check if a rumour is plausible.

If you investigate the meaning behind the nursery rhyme Ring A Ring O' Roses you will be confronted with the theory that this song deals with the black plague (bubonic plague), caused by the Yersinia pestis bacterium and spread through fleas jumping from rodents to human beings. Europe was hit by this epidemic several times, the most important outbreaks in England and Scotland were in the years 1382 - 1384 (The Fourth Pestilence) and 1665 - 1666 (The Great Plague, which killed 20% of the population of London). The rumours about the black plague being the historical origin of the song affirm that "Ring a Ring o'Roses" refers to a symptom of this epidemic disease.

The symptoms of the plague included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin (Ring around the rosy).

source: http://www.rhymes.org.uk/ring_around_the_rosy.htm

Actually, this is not a symptom of the bubonic plague. The most notable symptoms of the bubonic plague are the painful, swollen lymph glands, called buboes. The symptoms described in the song fit with some kinds of tick bite, but not with the bubonic plague. There is, beside that, no evidence that people used pocketful of posies to ward of the disease. Another argument against this theory is the fact that the song was first published in 1881, in other words 220 years after the last outbreak of the black death.

Although it must be admitted that there is no way to find out the original meaning of the song, we must say that things become even more complicated, when we compare this song with a German nursery rhyme that is sung to the same melody:

Ringel, Ringel, Reihe,
wir sind der Kinder dreie,
wir sitzen unter'm Holderbusch
und machen alle husch, husch, husch.

Ringel, Ringel, Row
we are three children
sitting under an elder bush
making all hush, hush, hush

Regarding the German version, there is no doubt that Ringel, Ringel, Reihe doesn’t have any meaning - similar fantasy words are very often used when children dance in a round but also don’t have a meaning. The melody is the same compared to the English version and the idea is almost the same. In the English version the children let themselves fall down (“We all fall down“), in the German version they run away (“und machen alle husch, husch, husch“). Not having been able to resolve the first problem, what is the meaning of the song, we present another problem. It is quite obvious that there is a relationship between these two songs - Ring a Ring o Roses sounds very similar to Ringel, Ringel, Reihe. But what happened? Is the German version a copy of the English version or vice versa? Or is there a third version, very early in history, and both versions descend from that third one? And if that third version exists, could it throw any light on the origin of this song? There remain more questions than ansers this time!

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