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The lost meanings behind the songs we sang as children, that your mother may not have taught you...
Mary Mary (Quite Contrary)
Mary Mary, quite contrary, How does your garden grow? With silver bells and cotton shells and pretty maids all in a row.
"Mary" is said to be referring to Queen Mary the First (Bloody Mary) who was strictly Catholic, and killed all who refused to convert. "Contrary" is one word you can use to describe that... The "garden" symbolizes the graveyard that quickly grew with the number of people that had been punished. As well as the "silver bells and cotton shells" that were instruments of torture she used on her victims before they were killed. And lastly "maids in a row" referencing the "maiden" which was a nickname for the guillotine.
Three Blind Mice
Three blind mice, three blind mice. See how they run, see how they run. They all ran after the farmer's wife, who cut off they're tails with a carving knife. Did you ever see such a thing in your life, as three blind mice?
This one also circles back to Bloody Mary. The three blind mice were actually three noblemen who were not Catholic, and were standing up for their beliefs by plotting against the queen, and were punished for it.
Baa, Baa, Black Sheep
Baa, baa, black sheep, have you any wool? Yes sir, yes sir, three bags full. One for the master, one for the dame and one for the little boy who lives down the lane.
The original lyrics were, "And none for the little boy who lives down the lane." Some say this one is in reference to slavery, but its actually referencing the split of taxes in the 19th century. It was split three ways, one third went to the royalty, one third to the church and one to the farmers. The shepherd boy received nothing. Also, back then the black sheep were a sign of bad luck, due to the fact that their wool was useless and couldn't be dyed.
Jimmy Crack Corn
When I was young I used to wait on Master and hand him the plate; Pass down the bottle when he'd get dry, and brush away the blue tail fly. Jimmy crack corn and I don't care...
This one, however, does trace back to the dark times of slavery. It was sung by the Virginia Minstrels and was originally titled Blue Tail Fly. They sang it to the recently emancipated slaves, mockingly. The song refers to the slaves that would follow behind their "master" and swat the flies away from him, while the master was riding horseback. Then, when the horse would buck and he'd fall off (cracking his head open) the slave would kick back and celebrate the master's death with some "Jimmy Crack," which used to be "Jim Crack" (a cheap corn whiskey).
Jack and Jill
Jack and Jill went up the hill to fetch a pale of water. Jack fell down and broke his crown and Jill came tumbling after.
Jack and Jill apparently stand for King Louis the 16th of France and his wife, Queen Marie Antoinette, who were both beheaded on counts of very high treason. "Jack" certainly did not survive to trot home and bound his head with vinegar and brown paper.
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.
Though it doesn't mention in the cutsie little rhyme that Humpty was an egg, it would be easy to misconstrue that fact, I guess. Humpty Dumpty was actually a large cannon used in the english civil war. They placed the cannon on a large stone wall, and when that wall was damaged Humpty fell over. And you guessed it, none of the king's horses and none of the king's men could put it back together again.
Now, you know I hate ruining childhood memories such as these, but then again, maybe I don't?