THE NURSERY RHYMES

THE NURSERY RHYMES

(Re-written by W. Percy French, with some assistance from Edgar Allan Poe, Longfellow, Tennyson, Byron, Omar Khayyam, Bret Harte, Swinburne, Burns, Aytoun, Kipling, Macaulay, Browning, Wordsworth, Scott and Tom Hood).

(These lines should be declaimed with great gravity and dramatic intensity to get the proper effect).

EDGAR ALLAN POE’S SUGGESTION FOR

JACK AND JILL

Long ago into the mountains

Where the ever-flowing fountains

Sparkle in the summer sunshine

As they did in days of yore,

Sparkle as in days of yore,

Came fair Jill, the Farmer’s daughter,

Came to fetch a pale of water,

And her lover Jack besought her

He might bear the pail she bore,

Bear it now and evermore.

Ere the low reply was spoken

Jack fell down, his head was broken,

And the pail, of toil the token,

Rolled relentlessly before –

Rolled with raucous din before.

Short was Jill’s untimely laughter,

For we find her tumbling after,

And on wings of rhyme we waft her

Through the nursery ever more –

Only this, there’s nothing more.

SING A SONG O’ SIXPENCE

(Amended by Omar Khayyam)

I sing a song of sixpence and a pie,

In which a choir of tuneful blackbirds lie:

And when the pie was opened and they sing,

A dainty dish to greet a monarch’s eye.

The King was in his parlour counting gold,

The Queen’s fair fingers bread and honey hold,

The maid was in the garden spreading clothes

Meanwhile the blackbird pie is growing cold.

So if the King cares not for pigeon pie

And if the Queen heeds not their tuneful cry,

Come then with old Kyam* to some fair mead

And we’ll discuss the dainty thou and I.

LITTLE JACK HORNER

(In the Byronic Style)

Within a windowed niche of that high Hall

Sat little Johnny Horner; he did hear

His hungry comrades from the playground call,

And when they bade him share his Christmas cheer

He met their plaint with cold derisive sneer,

Then smiled a smile on seeing them so glum,

Which stretched his gaping mouth from ear to ear:

With callous finger and remorseless thumb

He seized and ate the sole remaining plum.

OLD MOTHER HUBBARD

(From Professor Aytoun’s point of view)

Come hither, we Magreegor, lad,

And stand beside my knee,

I’ve told thee once of Old King Cole

And of his fiddlers three.

I’ve told thee of the fate they met,

The would-go-wooing frog,

But never have I told thee yet –

Of Mother Hubbards dog.

She sought the cupboard for his meal,

She sought and found it bare,

She little knew the dog could steal

The bone that once was there.

With simulated grief he rolled

Upon the cottage floor

And not a quivering eyelid told

He’d had that bone before.

JACK SPRAT COULD EAT NO FAT

(Done into Lowland Scotch by Rabbie Burns)

Ye ken the tale o’ guid man Sprat,

Wha couldna eat a bit o’fat,

But then his wife made up for that,

So ‘twas nae matter.

What she could eat Jock wouldna hae

And sae the vittles passed away,

The dog and cat the neighbours say

Found empty platter.

LITTLE MISS MUFFET

(A Tennysonian Idyll)

Comrades, leave me on my tuffet,

Leave me to my curds and whey;

Call me by the name Muffet

When ‘tis time to go away.

Unobserving he sat beside her,

Dropping from the linden tree;

He was but a beastly spider,

And the maiden Muffet she.

In her ear he whispers grimly

Let me share your curds and whey,

But the maiden, rising primly,

Left the bowl and fled away.

And the spider fain to follow,

But he thought the safer role,

Was to stay behind and swallow

All he found within the bowl.

HUMPTY DUMPTY

(By Bret Harte.  Colloqual style)

So, stranger, you’ve come

To my store for a chat,

An’ yer settin’ right plum

On the wall whar he sat!

Who sat?

 Why that cuss Humpty Dumpty,

Haven’t they told ye o’ that?

Made no sort o’ fuss,

While he sat on that wall,

But I guess he scart us

When the fool had a fall;

And the way the King sent out his horses

Jes’ showed he was someone – that’s all.

Yas, they tried hard to git him together,

With putty and tin tacks and glue,

But he’d come to the end of his tether,

What’s that you say? – it ain’t true!

Why you Pumpkin!  You sawed-off assassin!

Why Humpty, you horse-theif! It’s you!

TOM HOOD’S VERSION

Take him up tenderly

After his fall,

There let him mend or lie

Low on the wall.

Dropped from security

Into the dust,

All his white purity

Gone when he bust.

All the King’s Cavalry

Came to his aid

As on the gravel he

Sloppily stayed.

Though they may cleverly

Tend to the slain

Humpty may never lie

Heart-whole again.

So when we tell of him

Turn from his fall

Just white shell of him

Only recall.

GOOSEY GOOSEY GANDER

(By various Authors)

KIPLING’S VERSION

And this is the song that the white woman sings,

When her baby begins to howl;

The song of the goose and its wanderings

The song of the fate-led fowl.

The song of the chamber of her whom I loved,

The song of the chamber where –

I met an old reprobate, scented and gloved,

And hurled him down the stair.

And wherever the Saxon speech is heard,

By the pig or the polar bear,

We follow the feet of that wandering bird

As they wobble from stair to stair.

SWINBURNE’S VERSION

Oh whither, oh why, and oh wherefore

Great goose thou art gosling no more,

With none to caress thee nor care for,

Wilt wander from floor to floor?

Is it upstairs thy Gandership’s goal is,

Or dost thou descend from above?

To where in her Holy of Holies

Low lieth my love.

Where I met with the man who is hairless

And holding his left leg in thrall,

Propelled him, all pallid and prayerless,

From attic to hall.

MACAULAY’S VERSION

                ‘Twas Goosey Goosey Gander

Had wandered far away,

From the green steeps

Where Anio leaps

In clouds of silver spray.

This week the stately gander sails

Untended on the tide,

This week the yellow gosling finds

No mother by its side.

This week the large-eyed frog may leap

All careless from the foam,

For Goosey Goosey Gander

Has wandered off to Rome.

But in my lady’ chamber

Is terror and affright,

For news they bring

Of a fearsome thing

That wanders through the night.

Then spake the boy in buttons

Give me the knife and fork,

And I will assail

The spectre pale,

That wanders through the dark.

The knife and fork they bring him,

He rushes forth to slay,

One wild death cry

And giblet pie

Is cheap in Rome to-day.

LONGFELLOW’S VERSION

If you ask me whence the story

Whence the tale and the tradition,

Whence the tale of Goosey Gander,

I would answer “Ask a p’liceman,”

Ask the blue bird the policeman

Whither wanders Goosey Gander?

From its home in Nursery Rhymeland,

Till it reach my lady’s chamber,

Where it disappears abruptly

And for ever from my story.

For a man becomes the hero,

Who, renouncing his devotions

Is subjected by the author

To the most outrageous treatment.

– And I could go on forever

In this very simple metre,

But the reader mightn’t like it,

So perhaps I’d better drop it.

LITTLE BOY BLUE

(By Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

Tell me not in mournful numbers

That the cow is in the corn,

If it is Boy Blue that slumbers

Let him wake and blow his horn

 If the cow has left the shadow

Of the tree where if had lain,

If the sheep is in the meadow,

Let the echoes wake again.

Cows are real – cows are earnest,

If he does not chase her now,

He will find ere eve returnest

All the corn is in the cow!

BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP

(A la Rudyard Kipling)

(And this is the song of the black sheep,

And the song of the white sheep too,

And the awk and the armadillo

And the crocodile knows its true).

“Have I wool?” said the Baa Baa Black Sheep.

“you may ask me if I have wool?

When I yield each year

To the shepherd’s shear

As much as three bags full.”

“Have I wool?” said the Baa Baa Black Sheep.

“Go forth to the frozen zone,

And my wool they wear

Where the polar bear

And the walrus reign alone.”

“Have I wool?” said Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Examine the sailor’s socks,

Retaining their heat

Through the driving sleet,

And the gales of Equinox.”

(And this is the song of the Black Sheep,

And the song of the white sheep too,

And they make up this song

As they wander along

And it’s not very hard to do).

TAFFY WAS A WELSHMAN

(Re-told by Robert Browning)

2that is the bolster, I have hung it where

You others hang some trophy

From the war

Over the mantel – ‘tis an old story – Care

To hear the details of it? – right you are, –

This Taffy was a Welshman and a theif

The terms are not synonomous, my friend –

He may by now have turned a newer leaf,

How runs the saw “ ‘Tis ne’er too late to mend.”

The man was hungry, starving – had no food,

He knew that I had much to eat and drink

And so he came and stole – you know the mood

The act needs no analysis, I think.

Then mark the sequel – Taffy stole my beef

And I, who hold the law’s delays in dread

Caeteris paribus stalked my Cymric theif

And stole the bolster from beneath his head.

He never woke, ah there’s the master hand

To rob a larder – that is not so hard.

Of you should ever want some robbery planned

And executed – then, Sir – that’s my card.”

LITTLE BO PEEP

BROWNING’S VERSION

Gone! while Bo-peep in a day-dream was pondering,

Gone! where the grasses were green to the eye,

Over the hills and the valleys a-wandering,

Scent in the clover, and sun in the sky.

Feel no remorse for them – they’ve not confessed any!

Give them no thought as they wander and wind,

Home they’ll return – to return is their destiny –

Tails all dejectedly hanging behind.

WORDSWORTH’S VERSION

I walked with her upon the hill,

Her grief was very deep,

Her tears were running like a rill,

For she had lost her sheep.

“What were they like, my gentle maid,

Were they some special kind?”

“They all had heads in front,” she said,

And all had tails behind!

“Their bodies were between the two,

Their mouths were full of teeth,

And – this, perhaps, may prove a clue –

Their legs were underneath.”

“If they have legs,” I cried with joy,

“Your tears you may refrain,

For ‘tis their legs they will employ

To bring them home again!”

RIDE A COCK HORSE

SIR WALTER SCOTT’S VERSION

“Ride on,” he cried, nor slackened rein,

Until above the wooded plain

He saw the market-cross again

That Banbury’s burghers made,

And there to gaze on fair Elaine

His wooden horse he stayed.

In sooth she was a goodly sight,

She rode a steed of snowy with,

With rings her fingers were bedight

With bells upon her toes.

At every movement, howe’er slight,

Soft melodies arose.

French, Percy. (1980) ‘Prose, Poems & Parodies.’  Dublin, Helicon Limited