Wicked Nursery Rhymes

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I will always remember the day I learned nursery rhymes aren’t always, well, fit for the nursery.


Uno was fretful and I wanted to sing her a song. Reaching back into my memories I began to sing:


“Rock-a-by-baby, in the tree tops,

When the wind blows the cradle will rock.” (I was swaying with her, it was a sweet, moment and she was calming. I kept singing, the words coming from memory rather than volition…)

“When the bough breaks the cradle will fall,

And down will come baby, cradle and all.”


What?! The words dripped from my mouth without thought. Surely I had it wrong! Who would ever sing a song about a baby plummeting from a great height as a soothing song for an infant?!


That was the start of it all, the beginning of my disillusionment with the traditional nursery rhymes. I get chills when I look at most doll babies, too.


(For the record, I ended up changing the words of Terri Clark’s Poor, Poor Pitiful Me as Uno’s soothing song. Dos got I’m in the Lord’s Army, and Tres’ song is a version of The Addam’s Family theme.)


Today I read an article that reminded me of the sketchiness of kid’s songs. As if Wiggle’s and Barney and Yo Gabba Gabba aren’t creepy enough, we have these macabre rhymes handed down!


In addition to the ones mentioned by Evonne Lack (It’s Raining, It’s Pouring, Three Blind Mice, There Was An Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly, London Bridge is Falling Down, and All the Pretty Little Horses), here are some more songs for the kiddos possessing an undeniable goose bump factor:


Wee Willie Winkie


Wee Willie Winkie runs through the town,
Up stairs and down stairs in his night-gown,
Tapping at the window, crying at the lock,
Are the children in their bed,
for it’s past ten o’clock?


ug: There’s a man scampering through the night in his night gown, tapping at windows and trying to break in. This is the stuff of nightmares for me. Can anyone else say pedophile creeper?!


Humpty Dumpty


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!


ug:  No, this is not the rhyme associated with Digital Underground and the Humpty Hump, though that association certainly increases the ick factor when you consider we’re talking about rhymes for infants! This old ode actually refers to a cannon that fell off a wall. (During those times people also called the obese humpty dumpties, just in case you were wondering.) But as a kid, weren’t you confused about why an egg was hanging out with horseman at all?


Senor Don Gato


Oh Senor Don Gato was a cat.
On a high red roof, Don Gato sat.
He was there to read a letter
Meow, meow, meow
‘Cause the reading light was better
meow, meow, meow
‘Twas a love note for Don Gato.


ug: I loved this song as a 5th grader! I sang it con gusto and howled the “meow, meow, meow” bits with joy. Turns out it’s a song about a cat who reads a love letter from his beloved and falls off the roof, dies, and his funeral. Nice, huh. Meow, meow, meow doesn’t really make that better.




In a cavern, in a canyon,
Excavating for a mine
Dwelt a miner forty niner,
And his daughter Clementine.

Oh my darling, oh my darling,
Oh my darling, Clementine!
Thou art lost and gone forever
Dreadful sorry, Clementine.


ug: Take the time to read the entire lyrics of this twangy song and you’ll find they’re crooning about a gal who drowned. Depending on the lyrics you sing, the dad may be 100% creepy or just bummed. Either way, it’s a song about a kid who drowns. Not exactly chipper.


Ring Around the Roses


Ring around the roses, a pocket full of posies,

Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.


ug: This one used to be on my creepy list. But today my friends checked it with Snopes and it turns out it’s not a song about the Black Plague after all! It really is just a happy tune where kids can skip around and possibly bruise their backsides during the grand finale. So, hey, who’s going to stand in the way of that kind of fun? Certainly not me!


Do you have any kid songs that now freak you out as an adult?

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2 thoughts on “Wicked Nursery Rhymes

  • March 18, 2012 at 9:36 am

    Yeah, creepy, right? What about fairy tales…the real ones, not the “sanitized” Disney versions. I understand that many of them were intended to teach children lessons (like “stay close to home” and “don’t take candy from strangers”), but some of them are just downright scary.

    For the record, I changed the words of “Rock-a-bye, Baby” when I started singing it to my kids…
    Rock-a-bye, Baby, in the treetop
    When the wind blows, your cradle will rock.
    When the bough bends, your cradle will sway
    And off into dreamland, you’ll drift away.

    (Corny, I know. But, hey…at least it’s not talking about Baby getting a concussion from falling out the tree.) 🙂

  • March 18, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    I was singing Three Blind Mice to Logan when I realized how creepy it was. Suddenly, I wondered how those mice ended up blind in the first place. I don’t know how much I trust that Farmer’s Wife.


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