When I was a munchkin, I’d often sing this song:
Ring around the rosy,
Pocketful of posy,
We all fall down!
We’d dance in a circle and fall down at the end, smiling and laughing, then get back up and do it all over again.
A popular theory of the origins connects this nursery rhyme with the Bubonic Plague.
People reason thusly:
When you have the bubonic plague, red circular rashes form on the body, connected to “ring around the rosy”.
A “posy” is a bouquet or small handful of flowers. People would often stuff their pockets full of herbs, in hopes that they wouldn’t catch the bubonic plague.
“Ashes to ashes” is representation of cremating all the dead plague victims’ bodies.
Obviously, the whole world seemed to be falling down at the time. Everyone everywhere was dying!
In reality, the rhyme has nothing to do with the plague.
The bubonic plague struck in the 1340s. This rhyme is first recorded in writing in 1881. Folklorists have a hard time believing it survived orally this long before anyone decided it was cool enough to write down anywhere, ever.
So what on earth does it mean?
My best guess?
Someone has a pocket of flowers.
Ashes to ashes is a popular phrase, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust”, touching on how when we die we end up as dust, eventually. I have no idea if that’s what it means, but it’s the first thing that comes to my mind. Then again, I do write fantasy and horror and my mind instantly goes to fear, love, or food… so….that could simply be me.
If not, what are the ashes talking about? Ashes only come once something or someone has been burned. Ashes of your dead loved one? Ashes of your burned down home? Any way you throw this one, it doesn’t seem all that perky.
“We all fall down” gets me. We’d go from dancing merrily in a circle to falling down. Is this a comment on how no matter how beautiful life is, we all die? Or regardless of how positive a life we live, we’ll all fall down at some point – the otherwise positive feel of the rhyme edging us on to get back up and start dancing again?
As for ringing around a rosy – you got me there.
Honestly, I’ve never really thought about it before.
I thought the bubonic plague theory was kinda cool, as it was spooky.
Once I found out it wasn’t connected to the plague, I never thought to try to piece the rhyme to anything sensical.
Personally, I like the metaphorical meaning that we should move through life with happiness stashed in our pockets, and though terrible things happen and mistakes are made, get back up and keep on singing and dancing through our life, as best we can.
What does this rhyme mean to you?