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.
(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!
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
Though they may cleverly
Tend to the slain
Humpty may never lie
So when we tell of him
Turn from his fall
Just white shell of him
GOOSEY GOOSEY GANDER
(By various Authors)
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.
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.
‘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.
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
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.
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