A Short Analysis of the ‘Thirty Days Hath September’ Rhyme

As Groucho Marx once said, ‘My favourite poem is the one that starts “Thirty Days Hath September”, because it actually means something.’ The meaning of ‘Thirty Days Hath September’ is self-evident and straightforward. But what are the origins of this famous rhyme? ‘Thirty Days Hath September’ runs, of course:

Thirty days hath September,
April, June and November;
All the rest have thirty-one,
Excepting February alone.
Which only has but twenty-eight days clear
And twenty-nine in each leap year.

One early reference to ‘Thirty Days Hath September’, from William Harrison in 1577, actually begins, er … ‘Thirty days hath November’:

Thirty dayes hath Nouember,
Aprill, Iune and September;
Twentie and eyght hath February alone,
And all the rest thirty and one,
But in the leape you must adde one.

Numerous Elizabethan and Jacobean writers refer to this rhyme in some variant or other, including a few who refer, in Latin, to the ‘bissextus’ or Bissextile year (i.e. a leap year). Other variants are found in different languages: there’s a French version, De Computo, which dates from the thirteenth century and begins: ‘En avril, en juing, en septembre / A .xxx. jours et en novembre’:

En avril, en juing, en septembre
A .x. jours et en novembre:
Tout li autre ont .xj. jour,
Fors fevriers qi est li plus cour,
En soi que .xxviij. jors n’a,
Ne plus ne meins n’i avra ja
Fors en l’an qe bissextres vient,
Adont en a, einsi avient,
.xxix., de tant est creus,
L’an que bixestres est cheus.

So our English rhyme ‘Thirty Days Hath September’ appears to have been a loose translation and adaptation of this earlier French rhyme.

But it was as ‘Thirty Days Hath September’ that this mnemonic would become memorable – in the most literal sense – for countless generations of schoolchildren. Groucho Marx was right: ‘Thirty Days Hath September’ does mean something. For many of us, it means our childhoods, and our earliest encounters with ‘poetry’ and rhyme.


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Posted on September 11, 2018, in Literature and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 11 Comments.

  1. We have it in Italian, too: trenta giorni ha novembre, con April, Giugno e settembre, di ventotto ce n’è uno, tutti gli altri ne han trentuno. But I think it came from abroad at some point.

  2. I recite this to myself all the time when I need to know how many days in the month… but I don’t actually have the last two lines memorized. I know what to do with February, so I never learned them! I used to recite it so often that it drove my first (now ex) husband crazy. So now I say it in my head. I love seeing all the versions of this. Thanks!

  3. And here I am remembering which summer months are the longer ones by which Roman egotist they were named after – like a savage.

  4. You have made me ponder how many times I have used this poem – it is very useful – I know that!

  5. In elementary school in Ohio, in the Appalachians, we learned it somewhat differently.

    …except for February, which has 28 days in fine
    but each leap year 29.

  6. Reblogged this on newauthoronline and commented:
    I have often wondered about the origin of this rhyme.

  7. I have always used this, but find the last two lines rather clumsy and don’t get that far. As another comment says, we know about February, that’s easy to rememember.

  8. Thank you so much for this delightful article – this is one of my favourite rhymes as it’s so useful:))

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