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
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?
Pocketful of posies
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.