The Dark, Haunting World of Children's Nursery Rhymes
- Article by Michael Cogliano
- August 2, 2011
The closer you get to adulthood, the more you will encounter friends and family members who’ve done the impossible and entered the real world where the weekend is only 2 days and cracking a beer with breakfast seems, somehow, weird. While you need not worry about this strange world just yet, spending time with these sad individuals will likely land a little child in your care for some period of time. If you’re like me, your go-to move with a little child is a good old nursery rhyme. And so, as I launched into “Rock-a-bye baby” I started unraveling just how fucked up our fondest old nursery rhymes truly are. Join me…
Rock-a-bye baby, on the treetop,
When the wind blows, the cradle will rock,
When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall,
And down will come baby, cradle and all.
This tune is usually the background music to a gentle swaying motion that seeks to imitate the relaxing motion of a crib. Hardly relaxing, however, is the traumatic narrative described in the song. What is a poor baby doing on a treetop? And why is there no concern as to the brain damage that’s almost certain to result from a free-fall of that magnitude. At the very least, the baby is looking at some developmental issues and I’d be surprised if it was reading at grade level in 5 years.
Rub a dub dub
Rub a dub dub
Three men in a tub,
And how do you think they got there?
The butcher, the baker,
They all jumped out of a rotten potato,
'Twas enough to make a man stare
I bet you thought Rub a dub dub was nothing more than a pleasant tune for bath time. Wrong. Boldly announced in these lyrics is a knot of confusion and homoeroticism that I can’t even begin to unravel. Among my concerns are the following: Why on earth are there three grown men together in a tub? How big is this tub? Why are we given the professions of these men? Does this give us some clue into the background of their rendezvous in the tub? How much crystal meth does one have to do before it appears that three men are jumping out of a rotten potato? And finally, who exactly is interested in staring at this and why, if he’s in the proximity and enjoying himself, does he not join the men in the tub?
Three Blind Mice
Three blind mice. Three blind mice.
See how they run. See how they run.
They all ran after the farmer's wife,
Who cut off their tails with a carving knife,
Did you ever see such a sight in your life,
As three blind mice?
I can understand the attempt to insert an uplifting story about some individuals with disabilities into the nursery rhyme circuit, but this one seems to have no point but barbarism. As if these poor mice didn’t have enough obstacles being without eyesight, they have now been viciously assaulted with a carving knife. And by the way, the mice are blind, how the fuck do they know if they’re chasing the farmer’s wife or not?
It's raining; it's pouring.
The old man is snoring.
He went to bed and bumped his head,
And he couldn't get up in the morning.
How bleak. How hard did this “old man” bump his head where he was dead by morning? Did the bump cause the death or was the bump just a coincidental precursor to a death by natural causes?
Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.
All the king's horses and all the king's men
Couldn't put Humpty together again.
Is a happy ending too much to ask for in a nursery rhyme? Poor Humpty (which we can only assume from the illustrations is some sort of egg creature) is in all sorts of pieces and with the entire kingdom’s resources at his disposal, seems to be broken beyond repair. Also unclear is what Humpty expected the king’s horses to be able to help with.