There is No Fate But What We Make: Ringa Ringa......

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Ringa Ringa......

Ringa Ringa Roses
Pocket full of Poses
Husha Busha!
We all fall down!

As a parent, I get the immense pleasure of watching my child play with the other children of my apartment complex. I particularly like the "Ringa Ringa" games children play - where they go round and round singing this poem and at the end they all, sort of, fall down on the ground together. Having grown up in mofussil towns, I had never done this as a child. So, it was fascinating when I watched this for the first time. Turns out that this simple poem has a poignant history.

This rhyme has its origins in the time of the great plague attack in Europe in the 17th century. Symptoms of this plague included a ring shaped rosy red rash ("Ringa Ringa Roses"). Sweet smelling poises (placebos, really) were put in pockets ("Pocket full of Poses") to prevent the spread of the disease, since it was believed that the disease was spread through bad smell. The other symptom was constant sneezing ("Husha Busha!"). Since medicines weren't effective against the plague, almost no one survived this disease ("We all fall down!").
Made me sad! Could never enjoy this game after that.

But it's very interesting to read about the origins of nursery rhymes. The "Yankee Doodle went to town" rhyme is very interesting too. It goes like this...

Yankee Doodle went to town
Riding on a pony
He stuck a feather in his hat
And called it macaroni.

Yankee Doodle keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.

Father and I went down to camp
Along with Captain Gooding
And there we saw the men and boys
As thick as hasty pudding.

Yankee Doodle keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy

There was Captain Washington
Upon a slapping stallion
Giving orders to his men
I guess there was a million.

Yankee Doodle, keep it up
Yankee Doodle dandy
Mind the music and the step
And with the girls be handy.

Usually, children learn to sing the first two stanzas only. I could never have guessed that this poem has such an interesting story behind it. It deals with the American war of independence from Britain. The rich and the powerful English were mostly settled around the New England area. They looked down upon the country folks. "Yankee" itself was a derogatory term, which evolved from the Dutch version of "John", implying a simpleton. This wasn't the America of today. The class hierarchy was fierce those days.
The cultured, rich and powerful English aristocracy slapped “Yankee doodle” appellation on the country folks. During the independence war, the Americans turned this insult on its head by making it their war song - something they sang to cheer themselves. By using the British coined term ("Yankee Doodle"), to refer to themselves, the Americans were signaling that they no longer were affected by such insults. In fact, Americans completely mocked the aristocrats for their snootiness by making fun of their high airs. "went to town" indicates becoming urbane. However, Americans didn't care about the snobbishness of Horse carts. They went to town "riding on a pony". "Macaroni" was a headgear worn by the aristocrats. This hat which had lots of bird feathers on it, originated in Italy and was lapped up by all rich Europeans. In this song the Americans mock them by saying the simpleton just "stuck a feather in his hat and called it macaroni". In other words, Americans are saying that they are breaking all rules of what's considered acceptable by the English.

Singing this, and other such songs, American troops stormed city after city and forced the mother nation to grant freedom to America!

I wonder if today's world is creating songs that will be sung by children centuries later.


At Tuesday, January 31, 2006 8:06:00 AM, Blogger praveen said...

Really informative...never got to know before about this!

At Monday, April 10, 2006 6:19:00 AM, Blogger Samar Dhaliwal said...

Not only informative, but insightful also. You did quite a home work for it. Didn't you? Will you be kind enough to cite some source of your information? sometimes it is good to cross-check, you know.
Samarbaldev Dhaliwal

At Thursday, May 08, 2008 3:08:00 AM, Blogger Chris said...

quite an eye opener. come to thnk of it there are actually many such nursary rhymes that we have learnt and even enjoyed as a kid but now if we try to carefull think about the wordings in the poem, many a times you'll feel that somethng is not making sense or like...wht does it really imply/mean?!
anyway....nice pece of informaton.
And about poems being wrtten by ppl now for the kids of tomrow, commercially am nt sure but if trust me there's enough poetic potential out there, maybe somewhere in cyberspace some website/blog may have a may nver know!!! :)

At Tuesday, June 03, 2008 1:43:00 PM, Anonymous Travel & Travel... said...

Twinkle Twinkle little star...

Jack & Jill went up the hill...

Memories arent memories after reading this post.

At Monday, May 11, 2009 12:56:00 AM, Blogger Arpit said...

Good Information I am searching for that :)



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