Nursery Rhyme Reasoning

Title: Nursery Rhymes Have Reasons. Image: Wide-eyed orange horse holds arm of humpty dumpty in pieces on the ground.I’ve always enjoyed those cute little nursery rhymes that I heard as a small child. I never put much thought into those stories, but now that I’m older, I have started to rethink some of them. Call me a maverick, but as I examined the verses, things just didn’t add up. Who were these characters; and, what was their motive for what they were doing? It seemed crazy to me. As a once-long-ago psychology major, I decided to delve into the psyche of these poetic stories to provide an in-depth analysis that could very well explain some of these baffling questions that I had.

Little Jack Horner Sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie;
He put in his thumb,
And pulled out a plum,
And said ‘What a good boy am I!

Is it me or is something not right with this boy? Hey Jack, can’t you do something normal like… go outside and play with the other kids? There’s an eerie oddness about him just sitting in a corner and playing with a pie. Did he not get any toys for Christmas? Something tells me he often talks to himself and to fruits. I’m going to guess that he lives in reality most of the time. I have feeling there’s a wonderful land of make-believe in his head.

Is he really a good boy? No mother would give her child a whole pie… even at Christmas time, so one has to assume that this Horner kid took that pie without parental permission (I’m going to guess it was on the window sill cooling with the plum aroma floating throughout the place and Jack was drawn to it. Maybe there were several pies and Jack figured no one would miss just one. But, that’s a conjecture and not really important). The pie stealing theory seems very plausible, because this boy just comes across as the type that gets extremely hopped up on sugar and bounces off the ceiling driving his mom crazy. So, at best, the mother would most likely only give him a sliver of the tart.

What is important here is that Jack has the audacity to label himself “a good boy.” Really? A good boy? You just stole an entire pie, punk. Does he also twirl cats around by their tails and claim to be a “kind boy” to animals? Also, let’s not forget that “good boys” don’t sit in the corner. They’re there for a reason. I can hear the mother now, “Jack, have you seen the Christmas pie that was on the window sill?” And ol’ Jack is sitting in the corner with his face covered in plum sauce, smiling in his sugar excitement, chiming, “I’m a good boy!”

My only hope is that Miss Horner was able to get Jack into therapy before he became an adult. He has the makings of a liar, thief, and wife beater.

Little Miss Muffet
Sat on a tuffet,
Eating her curds and whey;
Along came a spider
Who sat down beside her
And frightened Miss Muffet away.

Well, I think it’s safe to assume that nothing good ever comes from sitting on a tuffet. You never want to sit on anything that rhymes with your name (Ask Fred, who sat on a bed, only to wake up dead). A tuffet is more or less a footstool that usually goes in the living room. Miss Muffet should certainly know that the kitchen is the place for one to be dining in. And why the curds and whey? These are lumps of liquid found in cottage cheese. They taste disgusting! Prison guards won’t even serve curds and whey to starving people in a Beijing prison. I’m always leery of people who like weird foods. At least Jack Horner went for the plum pie. That I can understand.

Maybe Muffet had never tried curds and whey? Perhaps some mean school kids told her, “You’ve never had curds and whey? They’re the best! You have to try ‘em!” As luck would have it, the spider helped her out. Muffet ought to thank the creepy crawler for chasing her away from that dreadful lunch.

There is something very cute and endearing about Miss Muffet. She seems

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quiet and perfectly content with her meal; just sitting there, minding her own business. Maybe the spider wasn’t a bad guy either. He didn’t attack her. He politely sat down beside her. Perhaps he was just curious. Maybe he enjoys the curds and whey. We just don’t know. But it’s very possible that the little girl shrieked when she ran away leaving the bewildered spider to ponder, “What did I do?” And, most likely, gave him a complex for the rest of his life.

Muffet did develop a phobia of, not on only spiders, but the refusal to enter any room with a tuffet, because it brought about severe anxiety. Strangely, later in life, Muffet killed three husbands by poisoning their curds and whey dinners with arsenic. Here’s the kicker, she’s was known in London as the “Black Widow.”

Jack Sprat could eat no fat.
His wife could eat no lean.
And so between them both,
You see,
They licked the platter clean

Have these two no couth? Licking the platter clean? You gotta be kidding me. Both of them! Usually, it’s the uncivilized man who is engaged in this kind of behavior. God created women to elevate man. Not Mrs. Sprat, she joins right in with the barbaric fun. My guess is that these two animals lived in a trailer somewhere in the woods. I can hear the hick-like voices through the trees now. “I ain’t doing the dishes! I always done do the dishes! You kiss my ass! What the hell you do with my chicken bone?” But, you just never know with any couple what goes on behind closed doors. Maybe this is just a little something they do that brings them closer to one another? They could wear each other’s underwear. Who are we to cast aspirations? It’s not our place to judge. But, I’m sorry, it just seems odd.

“Honey, I just finished my meal,” Jack says with a content smile. “Oh wonderful, I hope you liked it,” his wife responds. “Do you mind if I lick the platter clean? You know how much I like them gravy juices?” “Only if I can join ya, sweetie,” Jack chimes.

My question is… was this an every night thing or just a one-time deal? Perhaps neither of them likes to do the dishes. I wonder if their pets were doing that slight head tilt as they watched the bizarre pair. The dog looks at the cat and says, “You seeing what I’m seeing?”

I don’t blame Jack for not wanting to eat that fat. That’s a third world country meal. It’s quite obvious that Mrs. Sprat is by no means a health nut. Lean meat, like chicken and turkey, is good for you. Something tells me that she likes to stuff her face with big old bacon cheeseburgers. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that she’s got to be a steak and potato princess.

The Sprats lived a long, happily married life. Townspeople claimed that the couple did everything together, from taking baths and to sharing a toothbrush. Maybe the key to a blissful marriage is to spend quality time with your spouse, just doing the simple things like… licking a platter clean.

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

There was no need for Jill to go up the hill. Jack should have been able to fetch a pail of water by himself. It’s not rocket science. Besides, it’s a man’s job to lift the heavy stuff. Jill should have been in the kitchen making… some curds and whey, because I’m sure Jack would be hungry when he got back… probably not thirsty though. But, this is all predicated on the assumption that Jack could handle the task. Doubtful. By all appearances, Jack seems like a bit of clumsy stooge… and Jill doesn’t seem to be at the top of the class either. Jack needs some medical assistance, but instead of running over to check on him, she tumbles after him. You have got to be kidding me. I can hear Jack now. “A little help here. I think my crown might be broken.” Jill just tumbles by him, most likely, giggling. This is not playtime, Jill. Jack seems to be seriously injured, and your response is… to roll by him after he has just broken his crown. Show some love for Jack. Run up and kiss his crown and ask if he’s all right. Maybe you don’t love him. Maybe it’s all about you. Don’t be surprised if you catch ol’ Jack one night in some cottage bed with Miss Tuffet. A man needs to know that his girl cares for him.

I don’t know, whatever happened to this couple, it just sounds like they weren’t good for one another. How could they survive if they couldn’t handle a simple task of going up the hill and getting some water? They certainly sound like they’d have trouble planning a wedding, which is not easy. It’s just not something you… tumble into.

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!

Let’s start with the name, Humpty Dumpty. Tell me this guy wasn’t teased in school. I blame mother Dumpty for this travesty. I just feel that choosing a name like Humpty invites turmoil into the boy’s life. Bob, Carl, or even Henry Dumpty would have giving the kid a fighting chance. Names can bring feelings or images of people. “Humpty” seems to suggest that this is someone who had trouble controlling his sexual urges. It makes me wonder what was he doing up on that wall; catcalling, peeping, stalking, and preparing to pounce on something? Perhaps he was doing something innocent, like watching the royal parade. After all, we do know that the king’s men and horses were in the vicinity.

There is no doubt that this was an extremely high wall, which is why it is described as a “great fall.” So great that there were pieces of Humpty scattered everywhere. It must have looked like a war zone with body parts strewn all over the premises. The absurd thing is that horses, yes horses, were attempting to put the poor lad back together again. Common sense dictates that maybe, just maybe, the king’s doctor would be summoned for the task. We’re talking major surgery here. It’s hard enough to get a horse to prance and now you want them to attempt to suture a body?

Why would he fall? A clue may be found in his last name. Dumpty suggests that one is perhaps overweight, unbalanced, and/or maybe even wobbly at times. Had he been drinking? Was he clumsy? Did the constant teasing of his name or weight drive him to suicide? We just don’t have enough information to go on to make a wise decision.

All in all, it is a tragic story. Humpty may have had a bright future ahead of him. He seemed well connected, well, at least, before the great fall. For the king to use his men and his horses to try and revive the shattered guy tells me that the kid had some importance. Humpty was given a royal funeral and buried in several graves in the royal cemetery.

Mary had a little lamb its fleece was white as snow;
And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.
It followed her to school one day, which was against the rule;
It made the children laugh and play, to see a lamb at school.
And so the teacher turned it out, but still it lingered near,
And waited patiently about till Mary did appear.
“Why does the lamb love Mary so?” the eager children cry;
“Why, Mary loves the lamb, you know” the teacher did reply.

What can you say? It’s just too darn cute. Nobody dies. No creepy spiders. No one steals a pie or licks plates. The religious elements jump off the page. We have the virgin mother Mary with the lamb (of God) who is white connoting innocence and blemished-free purity. Even though this lamb was turned away it shows us that it will wait patiently for people to come to him—like children. Finally, it is through Mary’s relationship with the lamb that we see the importance of love. Would she still love it if it wasn’t as white as snow? I think so. Mary doesn’t seem like the type looking for the bigger, better deal.

I don’t think it was necessary for the teacher to turn the lamb away from the school. A lamb has the right, like anybody else, to learn regardless of his or her barnyard stature. I’m sure the teacher was just glad that Mary didn’t bring a bull to school. There is no mention that it was “Show and Tell” day at the school. So, my only beef with the lamb is that this fluffy animal could very well be a distraction to children who should be focused on their studies which could lead to bhaaaad grades.

Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Pat it and prick it and mark it with “B”,
And bake it in the oven for baby and me.
Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can
Roll it up, roll it up And throw it in a pan!
Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man

Wow, is the customer impatient and rude, or what? He struts into the bakery and expects the baker to drop everything he’s doing to bake him a cake… like now! He doesn’t even make a halfway pleasant demand like, “Hey dude, I need a cake, pronto.” Instead he throws out a grating, irritating, singsong request “Pat-a-cake, pat-acake, baker’s man. Bake me a cake as fast as you can!”

I can see this poor baker rolling dough, beating eggs, and exasperatingly moving as he pulls loaves of bread out of the hot oven. He looks up with flour and sweat on his face saying, “Excuse me?” Then the customer stomping, clapping his hands, and busting out his pissy rhyme, “Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man! Bake me a cake as fast as you can!” The baker releases a sigh responding, “I’m kinda busy right now. I’ve got the Jack and Jill wedding tomorrow. The Sprats want a no fat, no lean cake tonight, and the Miss Horner needs another frickin plum pie, so you’re going to have to wait.” The impetuous customer snaps back, “Roll it up, roll it up. And throw it in a pan!” The baker does his best to remain calm as he replies, “Yeah, you’re not getting it, are you? I have lots of other customers before you so, why don’t you take a number and I’ll get to you.” The customer jumps up and fires back, “Patty cake, patty cake, baker’s man. Make me a cake as fast as you can!”

The nameless obnoxious customer never got the cake. He was later found in the back alley with a rolling pin stuffed up his nose with a big “B” drawn in icing on his forehead.

The human character is complicated and often difficult to examine. One can only assume what these nursery folks were actually like in real life. We don’t know them personally so we must go off the historical accounts. In reality, we only get a snippet of what they were doing in their lives. We do know one thing, for whatever reason, they do stick in our mind and put smiles on our faces.

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by Little Jeff Charlebois

Cartoon Image of Jeff with a mic next to his book, "Life is a Funny Thing".


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