DESCRIPTION: Shepherdess Bo-peep can't find her sheep. When she finds them they are without their tails. One day she finds the tails hung on a tree to dry. She "tried what she could, as a shepherdess should, To tack again each to its lambkin"
EARLIEST DATE: 1806 (Monthly Literary Recreations, according to Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes)
KEYWORDS: humorous talltale sheep shepherd injury dream
FOUND IN: Britain(Scotland(Aber)) US(MW)
REFERENCES (8 citations):
Greig/Duncan8 1659, "Little Bo-Peep" (2 texts, 2 tunes)
McIntosh-FolkSongsAndSingingGamesofIllinoisOzarks, p. 107, "(The autumn is Bo-peep)" (1 short text, a game song, much changed from the standard version)
Heart-Songs, p. 207, "Little Bo-Peep" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 66, "Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep" (1 text)
Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #112, p. 93, "(Little Bo-peep has lost her sheep)"
Jack-PopGoesTheWeasel, p. 100, "Little Bo Peep" (1 very full text)
Dolby-OrangesAndLemons, p. 73, "Little Bo-Peep" (1 text)
cf. DT, MERRYLND
cf. "Simon Brodie" (theme: animal returns by itself, with its tail "behind")
NOTES [270 words]: The Baring-Goulds note occurrences of the name "Bo-peep" before the 1810 edition of Gammer Gurton's Garland, which is the first date they mention. But no one seems to be able to trace the song earlier than this.
I'm amazed no one has tried to find a political interpretation. Were the piece earlier, one would be tempted to the English Civil War and Restoration. Or maybe the Stuart monarchy and the Jacobite rebellions. Given the early nineteenth century date, one thinks of the French Revolution, the guillotine, and perhaps Bonaparte's restoration of monarchy.
Or not. I don't really believe it. But it sounds so "folk-plausible." Even the name is right.... - RBW
Maybe "Little Bo-Peep" parodies a shorter song where the only verse is the first. Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes says, "Several of the verses are based on pieces that seem to have been current in the 1760s, amongst them:
Our Jemima's lost her Mare
And can't tell where to find her,
But she'll come trotting by and by
And bring her Tail behind her."
Also, see "Simon Brodie" where the animal -- always a cow, but sometimes also a dove -- does return. - BS
To my amazement, it seems my English Civil War suggestion has been anticipated. Jack-PopGoesTheWeasel mentions a suggestion that this is about smuggling in the time of Charles I (reigned 1625 until his execution in 1649). I still don't believe it, though. Dolby-OrangesAndLemons mentions a link to Mary Queen of Scots, which is equally implausible.
Heart-Songs, p. 207, attributes this to J. W. Elliott, but I think that means either the tune or the arrangement, not the original text. - RBW
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