Prof. Richard Elder
November 24, 2014
Heather Leigh Bradley
“Ring Around The Rosie”
“Ring Around The Rosie” is popular nursery rhyme that first appeared in an English version in Greenaway’s Mother Goose: The Old Nursery Rhymes in 1881 (Greenaway, 2001). The 1881 “Ring Around The Roses” was recited as “Ring-a-ring-a-roses, A pocket fill of posies, Hush! Hush! Hush! Hush! We’re all tumbled down” (Greenaway, 2001). The version I remember as a child growing up was “Ring around the Rosie, a pocket full of posies, Ashes! Ashes! We all fall down.” We would all hold hands in a circle, dancing, and spinning in a circle, chanting the rhyme and at the end we’d all fall down to the ground laughing and get back up.
The nursery rhyme had been recited in Eighteenth Century America and also has been found in Nineteenth Century writings (Keko, 2010). The poem has been to interpreted to be linked to the Fourteenth Century Plague of 1665 and “The Black Death of 1347”. “The Black Death has been cited in historical writings and accounts for thousands of years and can be traced back over 2300 years ago to China” (Berry, 2012).
“The first line, “Ring Around The Rosie” describes the red bubo, which is the swelling of the lymph node. The swelling is circular and leaves red “rings” around the neck of an infected person. The second line “Pocket full of poises” referred to the smell of an infected person as their condition worsened. The infected people would begin to rot even before dying. Health people would use flowers to cover the awful smell of the infected people rotting alive, basically posies are referring to fourteenth century air fresheners” (Keko, 2010). “Because of the devisation of this plague many medical beliefs came about and the posies where also thought of to help protect them from contacting the disease” (Berry, 2012). The third line in the British version was “At-choo, At-choo” which was sneezing and symptoms of the illness. The American version refers to “Ashes, Ashes” which some have related this to cremation, but could simply be the Americanized version (Keko, 2010). The last line “We all fall down” refers to death. When analyzing “We” it denotes apocalyptic nature of the disease and few survive a plague.
The plague or Black Death hit Europe in the Mid-Thirteen Hundreds and killed about 43 million people, about 35% of the population perished. It started in China and was spread into Europe by Mongolian merchants. The bacteria, which are now known at Yersinia Pestis, came from flea infested rats that would infect all the goods being transported to ports and cities in Europe by ships. This disease was highly contagious and the infected people would usually die within four days of showing signs of symptoms. It is believed that unintentionally persist and monks spread the illness the most as they went home to home performing the infected peoples last rights. It is also estimated that because of their willingness to perform last rights and give medical attention to the infected, 90% of persist and monks, and 75% of the physicians became infected and perished. “The plague ran its course in the Fourteenth Century and then reappeared in London in 1665, and Marseille in 1680” (Berry, 2012). In 1894 the disease was confirmed and without a doubt connected to fleas and rats. Being that the Black Death was the worst pandemic in recorded history running from the Thirteen Hundreds well into the Mid to Late Sixteen Hundreds it is possible that the children’s poem was a warning of the symptoms of infection, and death, or could it be a possible form of preserving a horrible epidemic of disease, and death that spared no mercy on anyone. This disease was ruthless taking all, young, and old, rich or poor “We all fall down”.
The actual origin of the poem may never be discovered and rest forever with the Black Death outbreak of