The nursery rhymes you learned as a child may sound cheerful, but in fact many of today’s favorites are full of dark, cynical humor originally written for adult sensibilities.
Here’s the real story behind some of them:
Humpty Dumpty. Some believe the rhyme was written to poke fun at a nobleman who fell from favor with Richard III.
Little Jack Horner: According to legend, a church official sent Thomas Horner to deliver a Christmas pie to Henry VIII. Inside the pie were land deeds to 12 manor houses, which were meant to persuade the king not to seize church land. On his way to deliver the pie, Horner reached into the pie and pulled out a “plum”-the deed to Mells Manor, which he kept for himself.
Ring Around the Rosie: Written about the Bubonic Plague, which killed more than 70,000 in London from 1664 to 1665. The first line describes the first symptom of the plague: a red rash that circled the body. “Pocketful of posies” refers to herbs and flowers people kept in their pockets to ward off the “breath of demons,” which they believed caused the disease. “Ashes! Ashes!” was originally “A-tishoo! A-tishoo!” signifying the sneezing fit a victim suffered just before his collapse. And, of course, “we all fall down” describes the victim’s demise.