Mother, May I Go to Swim
DESCRIPTION: "Mother, may I go out to swim? Yes, my darling daughter. Hang your clothes on a hickory limb But don't go near the water."
EARLIEST DATE: 1939 (Randolph); before 1870 (see NOTES)
KEYWORDS: floatingverses clothes nonballad river
FOUND IN: US(SE,So) Canada(Ont)
REFERENCES (7 citations):
BrownIII 325, "Mother, May I Go to Swim" (1 text)
Randolph 873, "The Alphabet Song" (6 texts, 6 tunes, the "A" text has this verse)
Opie-Oxford2 360, "Mother may I go and bathe?" (2 texts)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #879, p. 327, "(Mother, may I go out to swim?)"
Dolby, p. 171, "Mother, May I Go Out to Swim?" (1 text)
DT, (DRLDAUGH -- probably a composed song borrowing this stanza)
ADDITIONAL: Henry Randall Waite, _Carmina Collegensia: A Complete Collection of the Songs of the American Colleges_ first edition 1868, expanded edition, Oliver Ditson, 1876, pp. 30-31, "Jack and Gill" (a combination of "Jack and Jill," "Old Mother Hubbard," and "Mother, May I Go to Swim," with a "Never Get Drunk" chorus)
May Kennedy McCord, "The Singing Alphabet" (AFS; on LC12 -- the recording cited by Randolph)
cf. "Alphabet Songs" (floating lyrics)
cf. "Mother, can I pick a rose? (Defiance)" (question form)
NOTES [190 words]: This is primarily a floating verse, but apparently exists also independently (as in Brown), so here it files. Most of the entries listed are songs borrowing the verse.
The Baring-Goulds quote Ditchfield to the effect that this goes back to the sixth century writer Hierocles. The joke may be the same, but I strongly doubt literary dependence. Most versions mention a hickory limb, and as Dolby notes, hickories are American trees, not European.
We can at least show that the verse was proverbial before 1870. The great Union general George H. Thomas once commented on the caution of fellow general George McClellan, saying that his method "was like that of the woman who 'consented to have her daughter learn to swim, but warned her not to go near the water'" (quoted in Glenn Tucker, Chickamauga: Bloody Battle in the West, Konecky & Konecky, 1961, p. 327). The form of the quote varies somewhat; Benson Bobrick, Master of War: The Life of General George H. Thomas, Simon & Schuster, 2009, p. 163, cites it as "It was like the poor woman who warned her daughter not to go near the water yet consented to have her learn to swim." - RBW
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