Ah yes, where was I? Well, I've already given some examples on how nursery rhymes aren't as morally inspiring as many of us think. However, what I've given were merely tidbits, showcasing petty harms. Let's move on now to more destructive and murky rhymes.
How many of us still remember Jack and Jill?
Jack and Jill went up the hill
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
Not only is this gruesome on its own (head injuries, instant death), the roots of this rhyme are just as bad, if not worst. Jack and Jill referred to are said to be King Louis XVI of France - Jack -who was beheaded (lost his crown) followed by his Queen Marie Antoinette - Jill - (who came tumbling after).
Did that turn your tummy? No, how about this one?
A Pocket full of Posies
We all fall Down!
What does this poem mean? Well, it originated from English history. It was during the Great Plague of London in 1665 (bubonic plague) or even before when the first outbreak of the Plague hit England in the 1300's. The symptoms of the plague included a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin (Ring around the rosy). Pockets and pouches were filled with sweet smelling herbs (or posies) which were carried due to the belief that the disease was transmitted by bad smells. Violent sneezing* (A-tishoo, A-tishoo) was another symptom of the disease. The death rate was over 60% and the plague was only halted by the Great Fire of London in 1666 which killed the rats which carried the disease which was transmitting via water sources.
Fancy that! And here we were holding hands and dancing in a circle to that tune. I have tons more to tell you but I'll just show you this last one. It's the best/worst one and I've saved it for the last.
Mary Mary quite contrary,
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockle shells
And pretty maids all in a row.
Be perfectly honest with me, how many of you conjure up the image of a pretty girl in a pretty garden with pretty flowers and pretty maids surrounding her? I did. Until of course, I found out this.
The Mary alluded to in this traditional English nursery rhyme is reputed to be Mary Tudor, or Bloody Mary, who was the daughter of King Henry VIII. Queen Mary was a staunch Catholic and the garden referred to is an allusion to graveyards which were increasing in size with those who dared to continue to adhere to the Protestant faith - Protestant martyrs.
Hold on ladies and gentlemen, there's more. The silver bells and cockle shells referred to in the Nursery Rhyme were colloquialisms for instruments of torture. The 'silver bells' were thumbscrews which crushed the thumb between two hard surfaces by the tightening of a screw. The 'cockleshells' were believed to be instruments of torture which were attached to the genitals!
And guess what?! The "Maids" or Maiden was the original guillotine! Due to problem hacking people heads of with an axe (well, I personally wouldn't stick around to endure 11 blows to my neck to sever it), a mechanical instrument (now known as the guillotine) called the Maiden - shortened to Maids in the Mary Mary Nursery Rhyme was invented.
If you ask me, those nursery rhymes should be bound with red tape and classified as PG-13. Certainly no innocent baby should be subjected to these NURSERY RHYMES fraught with murder, violence and death.
Source from http://www.rhymes.org.uk/index.htm
* Incidentally, when Europe was in the grip of the bubonic plague, the tradition of saying "Bless you" when you sneezed was introduced. After all, one of the first symptoms was a bout of sneezing. People would quickly bless you in case you dropped dead the next minute.