Monday, December 19, 2016

Ring around the Rosie-Plague or Romance?

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez

Pretty much all of us have played the children’s game “Ring Around the Rosie” when we were younger. Probably even as adults, many who are parents have played it with their young children.

Ring around the Rosie
Pocketful of posies
Ashes, Ashes
We all fall down

For all of you youngsters who have no idea what I’m talking about, the game is where a group of children join hands, dance around in a circle, and at the last line of the rhyme, depending on the version, they either fall down or curtsey. The one who is the last to do it or does it before it everyone else, takes the place as the “rosie” in the center of the circle. And the game starts again. While doing research, I found different versions of the rhyme. In some, the poises weren’t portable. The flowers were in a pot or bottle. Still others, have for the last two lines A Curchey in, A Curchey out, And curchey all together. A curchey is another word for curtsey. The version that I grew up with is the one I put in earlier. So what about the words: Ashes, ashes, we all fall down? Where in the world did that come from? What story of history does this child’s nursery rhyme retell? 

Many have heard the explanation that it is about the plague. And it makes sense! The bubonic plague started roughly in December of 1665 in Britain. The rhyme does seem to describe what happened. Ring around the rosie is the rash on the skin. A pocketful of posies was the package of flowers and herbs kept in the pocket in a superstitious effort to ward off the plague, and yes, they did have pockets in the medieval period. Ashes, ashes, referred to the burning of not only home, house items, and clothing, but the cremation of the dead. We all fall down is talking about those who contracted the sickness, and quite often, died. That explanation doesn’t account for the other versions, including the ones with curtsies in them.

Historians, folklorists and linguistics have found no record of the rhyme after the plague to link it. The first printed record of the rhyme didn’t appear until the late 1880’s. Over 200 years after the plague. The description of the rhyme being connected to the plague actually appeared in the mid-twentieth century. That’s mid 1900’s! So why the time gap? And how do we explain the many different variations? 

Ring-a-around o’roses
Pocketful of posies
A-tishoo!! A-tishoo!
We all fall down!

One explanation is that the rhyme was a fun game for courtship. Just like in almost all of the other beginnings, they circle around, but in this one, instead of falling to the ground, the children curtsey. The one who does that before everyone else, or is the last one, has to fess-up to their love or hug or kiss another child, then take the place in the center of the circle.


A ring, a ring o’roses
A pocketful of posies
One for Jack and one for Jim and one for little Moses
A curchey in and a curchey out
And a curchey all together

Round the ring of roses
Pots full of posies
The one who stoops last
Shall tell whom she loves best

The nursery rhyme has even had a parody of it referring it to the bombing of Hiroshima in 1949. “Ring-a-ring-o’-geranium, a pocketful of uranium”. So, is the theory of the rhyme connected to the plague true? If it is, there has to be some reason why it was not sung about for over 200 years. Or is it just people trying to give an explanation to ashes, ashes, we all fall down because they want one? Will we ever know? Probably not. But it’s a fun answer.

Did you grown up with nursery rhymes? Or did you have some parodies of rhymes? What were they? 

Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Alanna loves the history of the state and relishes in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her first published story, part of a collaborative novella titled Legacy Letters, came out September 2016. Alanna lives with her husband and parents in the Edmond area. She is currently working on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Waterloo, Oklahoma.



  1. An interesting post. Yes, we did Ring Around the Rosie growing up, along with other nursery rhymes being said. Red Rover, Red Rover, please come over was another we play. Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas.

    1. Hello, Marilyn! There are so many rhymes that I feel are being lost in the new generation. What will take their place? I don't even want to think about it. Red Rover, Red Rover is another one I remember on the school playground. And Duck, Duck, Goose! That was a favorite. Thank you so much for reading! And Merry Christmas to you!

  2. An interesting post. Yes, we did Ring Around the Rosie growing up, along with other nursery rhymes being said. Red Rover, Red Rover, please come over was another we play. Thank you for sharing. Merry Christmas.

  3. Hi Alanna, interesting post. I thought I had seen this rhyme linked to the Great Fire of London in the late 1600s, during Charles II's reign. (The "ashes, ashes, we all fall down," referring to the massive destruction that occurred as a result of the fire). It makes sense the way you've explained it being linked to the plague, though, perhaps more sense than the former explanation. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Linore! I had seen that possible link along with the Black Death back in the 1300's. But once again, there isn't that historical proof that confirms those links either. I like your explanation too, about the Great Fire. So many explanations! I don't think we'll ever find out. Thank you so much for stopping by. It means a lot to me, girl! You're awesome!

  4. Thank you for sharing this interesting. I definitely grew up with nursery rhymes and funny little diddies. I remember jumping rope to Teddy bear, Teddy bear, turn around. Ring around the Rosie would be played many times as well as Red Rover. Great times, great memories.

    1. You are welcome, Melanie. I've never heard of the jump rope rhyme before. But that doesn't mean anything. I wasn't good at jump rope (at least not that good) and I'm sure there are regional differences and rhymes just like there are in language. My funny little ditties were parodies. Little miss muffett sat on her tuffett, eating her curds and whey. Along came a spider and sat down beside her and she beat it to death with her spoon.

  5. I grew up with Ring Around the wasn't until I was an adult that I heard about the plague connection. It made me cringe and then I decided not to think of it that way. I play that with my grandchildren and I like to have fun with it and not be sickened by it. LOL
    Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hear you there. Well, if you go along with what historians say, there's no connection, so run with it and have fun! And you are welcome. Thank you for reading!