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The Best Nursery Rhymes Everyone Should Know

10 of the most classic children’s rhymes

For most of us, nursery rhymes are the first poems we ever encounter in life. They can teach us about rhythm, and about constructing a story in verse, and, occasionally, they impart important moral lessons to us. More often than not, though, they make no sense at all. In this post, we’ve picked ten of the very best nursery rhymes, though this list isn’t designed to be comprehensive, of course. Which ten classic nursery rhymes would you pick to teach to children?

Jack and Jill’. If you read one of these old chapbook versions, you encounter a ‘Jack and Jill’ rhyme that is a whopping fifteen stanzas long, but the most familiar version for modern readers is the two-stanza rendering which details a boy and girl going up a hill to fill their bucket with water (why the well is at the top of a hill is difficult to say), their subsequent accident, and Jack’s ensuing treatment for his injuries. Read the rest of this entry

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A Short Analysis of the ‘Humpty Dumpty’ Nursery Rhyme

The curious origins of a famous rhyme

Humpty Dumpty was originally a drink, then he became an egg in a nursery rhyme. Quite how this happened, nobody seems to know, but it did. The name ‘Humpty-dumpty’ was given to a drink of boiled ale and brandy in 1698, and that’s only the first known reference in print – the name is probably considerably older. By 1785, as Francis Grose recorded in his fascinating collection of contemporary slang, A Classical Dictionary of the Vulgar Tongue, the rhyming term had been applied to people, and was used specifically to describe a ‘short, dumpy, hump-shouldered person’ and, by extension, a clumsy person. But the words ‘Humpty-Dumpty’ mean one thing and one thing alone to most readers: an egg in the famous nursery rhyme which begins, ‘Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall’. What is the meaning of this little rhyme, and what are its origins?

First, before we attempt an analysis of this curious nursery rhyme, here’s a reminder of the words:

Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.

This rhyme didn’t appear until the early nineteenth century, according to Iona and Peter Opie in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford Dictionary of Nusery Rhymes), when it was included in a manuscript that was mysteriously added to a printed 1803 copy of Mother Goose’s Melody. Since the Opies compiled their dictionary in the early 1950s, the rhyme has been traced back to an earlier source, Samuel Arnold’s 1797 work Juvenile Amusements: Read the rest of this entry

A Short Analysis of the ‘Jack and Jill’ Nursery Rhyme

The origins of a classic children’s rhyme

‘Jack and Jill went up the hill’: we all know these words that call back our early childhoods so vividly, yet where did they come from and what does this rhyme mean? It can be dangerous to try to probe or analyse the meaning of nursery rhymes too deeply – much like analysing the nonsense verse of Edward Lear or Lewis Carroll, we are likely to come upon a hermeneutic dead-end. But ‘Jack and Jill’ is so well-known that a closer look at its meaning and origins seems justified.

Jack and Jill went up the hill
To fetch a pail of water;
Jack fell down and broke his crown,
And Jill came tumbling after.

Up Jack got, and home did trot,
As fast as he could caper,
To old Dame Dob, who patched his nob
With vinegar and brown paper. Read the rest of this entry