Monday, May 11, 2009

Topic: Stories Behind Nursery Rhymes

10-second review: If you can find this article on ERIC (, buy it. The legends behind the nursery rhymes.

Title: “Mother Goose—Elucidated.” Margaret Chisholm. Elementary English (December 1972) 1141-1144. Elementary English was the elementary publication for the NCTE that preceded Language Arts.

Summary: The author visited the sites in the British Isles in which different nursery rhymes were composed. She was accompanied by a self-styled “expert” in English literature. This lady, who is not named, described the evidence and the legends behind each of the famous nursery rhymes.

For example:

Mary, Mary Quite contrary

How does your garden grow?

With silver bells and cockle shells

And pretty maids all in a row.

“Mary in this nursery rhyme refers to Mary Queen of Scots, who went to France when she was a young girl to obtain her education. While she was in France, the religion of England changed to Protestant. When Mary returned to England after marrying the French Dauphin, of course, her Catholic religion was contrary to the rest of the country. The reference to bells referred to the call to mass and cockle shells were the symbols worn by those on pilgrimages. The pretty maids all in a row were these “Four Marys,” the maids who were faithful to her until her execution.” p. 1141.

Comment: Well, it sounds like a stretch. Still, the explanations are worth considering and then possibly checking for any other information you can find on the Internet. For example, the first site I visited agreed that the subject of the rhyme was Bloody Mary, but the bells and cockle shells were instruments of torture used in Mary’s reign against the Protestants. With this article as the source, you might have an interesting lesson in one of your high school classes. Check the Internet ahead of time to be sure some of the content is not controversial. The explanation for “Mary Mary” is at least R-rated. RayS.

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