The Nurseries Darker Side


I was reading over an earlier post of mine, “The Old Church Door” and as I read about remembering a song my mother sang to me and her mother as well, a thought struck me. The thought was, “What the hell! That’s a terrible song to sing to a child!”

It’s a song about orphaned children who die on the steps of a church, but upon further thought began to realize that our “fine sensibilities” are in fact a more recent development.

Virtually all our nursery rhymes and fairy tales have been edited to suit a new gentler society. Let us take Snow white. It’s graphic enough with a jealous stepmother who first employed a huntsman to murder her, when he couldn’t, she made three more murderous attempts.

In the end, the wicked stepmother goes to Snow Whites wedding. While she’s there, they stick a pair of iron shoes into burning coals and force the Queen to put them on and she has to dance in the smoldering shoes until she dies!

In “Cinderella”, the evil stepsisters cut off their toes and heels trying to make the slipper fit and later have their eyes pecked out by doves. (I’m also noting how stepmothers are recurrently getting a bad wrap. And don’t get me started on Hansel & Gretel.)

The nursery rhyme, Mary Mary Quite Contrary explores the homicidal nature of Queen Mary I of England, also known as Bloody Mary. During her reign, she executed hundreds of Protestants. Silver bells and cockle shells weren’t garden flowers. They were torture devices.

This brings us to Ring Around the Rosie. This sing song nursery rhyme is about the 1665 Great Plague of London. “The rosie” was the rash that covered the afflicted, the smell from which they attempted to cover up with “a pocket full of posies.” The plague killed nearly 15 percent of the country’s population. They would’ve burned the bodies thus “Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down.” That brings us to the morbid little songs I grew up with….

Two Little Orphans

Two little children, a boy and a girl
Sat down by an old church door
The little girl’s feet
Were as brown as the curl
That fell on the dress that she wore
The little boy’s clothes were all tattered and torn
They shone beneath his blue eyes
“Why don’t you go home
To your mommy, ” I said
And this was the maiden’s reply
“Mommy’s in heaven
Angels took her away
Left Tim and I all alone
We’ve no one to love us
And daddy is dead
And our darling mother is gone”
Mommy got sick
Angels took her away
To dwell in those mansions so bright
She said she would come
For her children some day
And I guess she’s coming tonight
The sexton came early
To ring the church bell
And found them
Beneath the snow white
The angels made room for the orphans to dwell
Up in heaven with their mommy that night
Put My Little Shoes Away
Mother dear come bathe my forehead
For I’m growing very weak
Mother let one drop of water
Fall upon my burning cheek
I’m going away to leave you, Mother darling
And remember what I say
Do this, won’t you please, dear Mother
Put my little shoes away
Santa Claus, he brought ’em to me
With a lot of other things
I believe he brought an angel
With a pair of golden wings
Tell my lovin’ little playmates
That I nevermore will play
Give them all my toys, but Mother
Put my little shoes away
I’m going away to leave you, Mother darling
And remember what I say
Do this, won’t you please, dear Mother
Put my little shoes away
Sweet Dreams!
©Laura M. Bailey, All the shoes I wear & writing down the Bones, 1990–Present. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Laura M. Bailey with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


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