Who Killed Cock Robin?
DESCRIPTION: "Who killed Cock Robin? I, said the sparrow, with my little bow and arrow." "Who saw him die? I, said the fly, with my little streaky eye." Various creatures, mostly birds, describe their parts in the death and burial of Cock Robin
EARLIEST DATE: c. 1744 (Tom Thumb's Pretty Song Book volume II)
KEYWORDS: bird death burial
FOUND IN: US(Ap,MA,SE) Britain(Scotland(Aber))
REFERENCES (18 citations):
Greig/Duncan8 1679, "Cock Robin" (1 fragment, 1 tune)
Sharp-EnglishFolkSongsFromSouthernAppalachians 213, "Cocky Robin" (4 texts, 4 tunes)
Sharp/Karpeles-EightyEnglishFolkSongs 74, "Tommy Robin (Cock Robin)" (1 text, 1 tune)
Brown/Schinhan-FrankCBrownCollectionNCFolklore4 315, "Cock Robin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Morris-FolksongsOfFlorida, #226, "Who Killed Cock Robin?" (1 text, 1 tune)
Carey-MarylandFolkLegendsAndFolkSongs, pp. 116-117, "Cock Robin" (1 text)
Fuson-BalladsOfTheKentuckyHighlands, pp. 56-57, "Who Killed the Robin?" (1 text)
Ritchie-FolkSongsOfTheSouthernAppalachians, p. 66, "The Death of Cock Robin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Wolfe/Boswell-FolkSongsOfMiddleTennessee 88, pp. 140-141, "Cock Robin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Roberts-SangBranchSettlers, #92, "Cock Robin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Lomax-FolkSongsOfNorthAmerica 87, "Cock Robin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Chase-AmericanFolkTalesAndSongs, pp. 177-178, "Cock Robin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Abrahams/Foss-AngloAmericanFolksongStyle, pp. 69-70, "Who Killed Cock Robin" (1 text, 1 tune)
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes 110, "Who killed Cock Robin?" (1 text)
Baring-Gould-AnnotatedMotherGoose #22, pp. 36-37, "(Who did kill Cock Robbin?)"
Jack-PopGoesTheWeasel, p. 233, "Who Killed Cock Robin?" (1 text)
Dolby-OrangesAndLemons, p. 114, "Who Killed Cock Robin?" (1 text)
Edith Harmon, "Who Killed Poor Robin?" (LC AAFS 2907 A2, 1939)
Buell Kazee, "Cock Robin" (on Kazee01)
New Lost City Ramblers, "Who Killed Poor Robin?" (on NLCR17, NLCRCD2)
Poor Jude, or the Death of the Judiciary (Lawrence-MusicForPatriotsPoliticiansAndPresidents, p. 173)
NOTES [412 words]: Wild theories swirl about this piece -- e.g. that it is linked with political ministry of Robert Walpole (which ended in 1742), or describes the English King WIlliam II Rufus (reigned 1087-1100, which I would consider sufficient reason to reject that idea), or that it is a retelling of the Norse Balder legend (!). A legend of St. Kentigern says that, after others at his monastery decapitated a robin, he restored it to life. However, there are European analogues to the piece, and earlier illustrations which may belong with the story, so any theory must be considered speculative at best. Chase-AmericanFolkTalesAndSongs reports that it is a Shoshone night chant.
The Baring-Goulds argue that the piece must go back to Middle English times, because it rhymes "owl" and "shovel." This, however, appears to be in error on two counts: First, the ancient spelling "shouel" was not pronounced "showel" (in Old English, it's "scofl"). And there are English dialects which confuse "v" and "w." The Opies note that there are still people who pronounce the word "showel."
Opie/Opie-OxfordDictionaryOfNurseryRhymes #109, "Cock Robin got up early, at the break of day," describes the courtship of Cock Robin and Jenny Wren (who are traditionally linked as husband and wife although this is of course physiologically impossible). The Opies mention a speculation that this was published as a prequel to "Who Killed Cock Robin?" It is certain that the folk tale of their marriage is ancient; see "The Marriage of Robin Redbreast and Jenny Wren" on pp. 542-543 of volume A.2 of Katherine Briggs, A Dictionary of British Folk-Tales in the English Language, Part A: Folk Narratives, 1970 (I use the 1971 Routledge paperback that combines volumes A.1 and A.2).
Williams/Maden/Green/Crutch: Sidney Herbert Williams and Falconer Madan, revised and augmented by Roger Lancelyn Green, further revised by Denis Crutch, The Lewis Carroll Handbook (earlier editions titled A Handbook of the Literature of the Rev. C. L. Dodgson, 1932, 1961, 1970); Dawson Books, 1979 , pp. 112-113, lists "A MS political parody in eleven 4-line stanzas, beginning 'Who caused the Boer Rebellion'" and referring to Gladstone as "the people's Willy" as being sent by Charles Dodgson to Edith (Hutchinson) Shute in 1887. A shorter text was found in the papers of H. Rider Haggard. It is likely that one or the other wrote it, and certain that both knew it, so this odd piece certainly made its way around. - RBW
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