Ring Around the Rosie
DESCRIPTION: Singing game, with lyrics something like "Ring around the rosie, A pocket full of posies, Ashes, ashes, We all fall down."
EARLIEST DATE: 1881 (_Kate Greenway's Mother Goose_, according to Opie-Game)
KEYWORDS: nonballad playparty
FOUND IN: US(MW,NE,SE) Britain(England(All)) Ireland
REFERENCES (10 citations):
Linscott, pp. 49-50, "Ring Around ' Rosies" (1 text, 1 tune)
Pankake-PHCFSB, p. 227, "Ring Around the Rosy" (1 text, tune referenced)
SHenry H48c, pp. 10-11, "Ring a Ring o' Roses" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie-Oxford2 443, "Ring-a-ring o' roses" (4 texts)
Opie-Game 48, "Ring a Ring o' Roses" (13 texts, 1 tune)
Newell, #62, "Ring Around the Rosie" (4 short texts, 1 tune)
BrownSchinhanV, p. 536, "Ring Around the Rosy" (1 short text, 1 tune)
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose #639, p. 253, "(Ring-a-ring-a-roses)"
Jack, p. 180, "Ring-a-RIng o' Roses" (4 texts)
Dolby, p. 146, "Ring-a-Ring o' Roses" (2 texts)
ST PHCF227a (Full)
Pete Seeger, "Ring Around the Rosie" (on PeteSeeger33, PeteSeegerCD03)
NOTES: The words cited here are the ones I learned (I don't remember playing the game, but I've heard the song), and Pankake's text is almost identical. Presumably this is the form most common in the American Midwest. Newell, however, cites older (and presumably more original) forms, and Gomme offers a variety with quite diverse refrains.
Baring-Gould-MotherGoose notes that some have connected this to the Great Plague. But they also observe that this is a very weak link, denied by most who have seriously studied the matter. The Opies merely state that it goes back the *time* of the plague -- and offer no direct proof even of that. The Opies also cite some possible non-English parallels; those which are in languages I can read do not strike me as truly parallel.
John Kelly, The Great Mortality: An Intimate History of the Black Death, the Most Devastating Plague of All Time, Harper Collins, 2005, pp. 20-21, has more explanation than most. According to him, the "ashes, ashes" of the third line are a reference to the bruiseline purple blotches which appeared on the bodies of some victims. These were known as "God's tokens" because they indicated that the sufferer was soon to die. He does, however, point out that this symptom is very rarely observed in modern plague. So this is a pretty weak link. - RBW
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