3 Unexpectedly Metal Nursery Rhymes


Despite the best efforts of parents to gloss over centuries old children’s stories and songs to make them more suitable for children, these days most people are painstakingly aware that everything they loved as a kid is secretly terrifying or at the very least far more sexually charged than anything that should be aimed at a demographic that has yet to grow pubes should be.

Everyone knows Disney managed to slip more than a few adult jokes into their films that went completely over our underdeveloped minds and that every fairy tale that was ever read to us before bedtime has an older, grosser, and more what-the-fuck version that would have made sleep a thing of the past. For everything you hear about dirty jokes in nineties cartoons and graphic violence from the Brothers Grimm you hear considerably less about the disturbing adult nature of nursery rhymes.

Sure, pretty much everyone knows by now that Ring Around The Rosie was about the bubonic plague, but largely we tend to write nursery rhymes off as a bunch of cutesy nonsense. It’s not wrong to think so considering how much they’ve been tweaked over the years to trick you into believing that by coddling parents. The reality is that nursery rhymes were originally an oral tradition used to pass on information, protest, and gossip between adults. When you do a little research behind the historic origins of nursery rhymes you find that most of the silly little songs your mommy recited for you while she rocked you to sleep in her arms without a second thought were actually metal as fuck. Silly little songs like…

1. Sing A Song Of Sixpence (Black Birds Baked In A Pie) Inspires The Birds

Sing a song of sixpence a pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds baked in a pie.
When the pie was opened the birds began to sing,
Oh wasn’t that a dainty dish to set before the king?
The king was in his counting house counting out his money,
The queen was in the parlour eating bread and honey
The maid was in the garden hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird and bit her on the nose!

It turns out most peoples parents weren’t as thoughtless in reiterating this particular rhyme as my mother was. Apparently most people are more familiar with the censored closing line which until researching for this post I had no idea even existed. Congratulations. Your mother was less neglectful of your psychological well being than mine was.

I guess it could have been worse.
I guess there were more terrifying stories she could have read me.

I’ve heard my mother sing this particular rhyme many times over the years and she never failed to end the song with the original ending ‘When down came a black bird and pecked off her nose’. A tiny but huge difference. In the censored version most kids grew up with the blackbird as just a dick but in the original it becomes very clear that these songbirds are out for bloody vengeance.

Apparently this was something people actually did back in the day. In medieval times and through the middle ages song birds were put into large pies as entertainment. The chef industry has been competitive long before Hells Kitchen aired and the cooks of nobel men and royalty were always trying to top each other on the extravagance meter, edibility be damned!

When this was done the crust would be cooked first with the top and bottom as two separate pieces so the birds would be added later but there’s some speculation on whether or not this rhyme is based on an incident in which the cook called in sick and the dish washer got stuck trying to bullshit his way through the meal which resulted in the birds literally being baked into the pie. It’s been suggested that ‘dainty dish’ was meant with the utmost sarcasm and ‘began to sing’ is a euphemism for ‘the stank of scorching feathers seeped out’ in a joke that only the british in all their dry wit could have come up with this theory does seem contradicted however by the Hitchcock film that becomes it’s third act. 

That would make it more of a M. Night Shyamalan ending.

Most interpret the king and queen referenced are King Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn respectively. King Henry, best known as the king who let his dick do his thinking for him, is counting up the massive wealth he acquired from the Dissolution of The Monasteries and Boleyn’s eating bread in honey is an implication that she’s enjoying a life of decadence while the common people starve. She was not well liked to say the least. The maid hanging up the close is thought to be a reference to King Henry’s infidelity which resulted in him twice marrying the maids of his previous wives.

To me the song is a revenge fantasy by King Henry’s poor subjects. A tale of a selfish monarchy’s desire for lavish decadence turning feral and eating their noses. A bit of poetic justice.

2. Mary Mary Quite Contrary‘s Garden is A Graveyard

Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.

Here we go! A cute little poem about gardening! What could possibly be sinister about that? Well, if I told you that Mary wasn’t a doe eyed maiden sniffing flowers in the garden but Mary Queen of England?

If you know anything about the History of England you know now is the time to cue the
If you know anything about the History of England you know now is the time to cue the scary ambience music. 

After her father, the above mentioned King Henry VIII, died with only a sickly boy as his heir who inevitably also died, it was Mary who underwent the task of saving england from the cluster-fuck that was her syphilis ridden, “playboy”, father’s mismanagement. Despite only holding her throne for five years before her death Mary Tudor made a lasting impression on the world. What her rein lacked in longevity it made up for in violence. The way she saw it the best way to fix shit in England was to reinstate Catholicism. In order for that to happen a whole bunch of protestants had to die. Like more than three hundred protestants burned at the stake under charges of heresy. There were so many dead protestants more and more graveyards began popping up to accommodate.

The Graveyards were her gardens, the corpses were the seeds, and the fear is what she sowed.

Of course burning people wasn’t Mary’s only method capitol punishment otherwise her nickname would be “Burning Mary” rather than “Bloody Mary”. In addition to taking out anyone who undermined the Catholic Church Mary also had to worry about near constant plots to have her dethroned due to the theological civil war raging in England. Those accused of treason where subjected to extensive torture from a range of colourful devices which included silver bells (thumbscrews that would crush thumbs and fingers when tightened) and cockleshells (a device that would be attached to your most sensitive areas).

The pretty maids she grew in the rhyme is actually a tool for execution. The Maiden is the prototype for the guillotine and it had more than a few bugs to work out. It never took off anyone’s head in one clean sweep requiring several re-dos, sometimes as many as eleven.

3. Goosey Goosey Gander Endorses Throwing Priests Down Stairs

Goosey Goosey Gander where shall I wander,
Upstairs, downstairs and in my lady’s chamber
There I met an old man who wouldn’t say his prayers,
I took him by the left leg and threw him down the stairs.

As our previous rhyme was about catholics killing protestants our next one is about protestants killing catholics. If that isn’t religious tolerance I don’t know what is.

At first glance this poem makes no fucking sense. It seems to be about a pervy goose who goes to a woman’s bedroom to do some peeping but instead of a voluptuous bosom he finds a sagging pair of balls instead. This pisses the gander off so much that he throws the poor bastard down the stairs.

Considering what we know about ducks this doesn't seem impossible.
Considering what we know about ducks this doesn’t seem entirely impossible.

The rhyme however is not about sexually predatory poultry but the prosecution of catholics post English Civil War. In fact there is no goose or gander involved at all and instead the opening line likely refers to Thomas Cromwell’s (King Henry VIII’s right hand man before his execution) soldiers who’s march was a “goose step” whatever the fuck that means. Either way our gander is really a man tasked with finding hiding catholics, mainly priests, and disposing of them. It’s in the soldier’s perspective the poem is told.

He check’s the lady’s chamber of a house of a suspected sympathizer and finds a priest likely hidden in a ‘priest hole’ which I promise is a small room or cubby and not any part of a young boy. The priest’s refusal to say his prayers is more him saying the wrong prayers (read: latin) then say any prayers at all and so is thrown down the stairs likely followed by the aforementioned lady of the house and her family as anyone found harbouring a catholic priest was headed for execution.

2 thoughts on “3 Unexpectedly Metal Nursery Rhymes

  1. starwarsanon December 5, 2014 / 12:50 pm

    Oh those fairy tales. Gosh, they are so fun to sing though.


    • ellemorgan December 6, 2014 / 4:54 pm

      And that’s why they endure despite their questionable subject matter.


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