Ring Around the Rosy – Example

Ring a ring o’roses

A pocketful of posies


We all fall down.

The King has sent his daughter

To fetch a pail of water

ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo

We all fall down.

The bird upon the steeple

Sits high above the people

ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo

We all fall down.

The cows are in the meadow

Lying fast asleep

ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo

We all get up again.The historical context of this rhyme dates back to the Great Plague of London in the late 1600s. During this time it is said that victims of the plague would be sealed in their houses. These houses would be identified by a red cross painted on the door and the phrase “God have mercy.” None of the victims would be allowed to leave the home and no one was allowed to enter. Unfortunately, this did not bode well for the other family members confined with the victim, who ended up catching the disease as well. According to Linda Alchin, “the death rate was over 16% and the plague was only halted by the Great Fire of London in 1666 that killed the rats that carried the disease which was transmitted via water sources” (41).

 In this rhyme the phrase ring around the rosy is said to refer to the plague symptom of a rosy red rash in the shape of a ring on the skin. In addition, it was believed by many that the disease was transmitted by bad smells. To ward off the risk of catching the disease, some folks would carry pockets or pouches filled with sweet-smelling herbs, such as posies. It is also thought that the phrase ashes, ashes was a reference to the cremation of all the dead bodies. In the English version, the phrase A-tishoo! A-tishoo! seems to be referencing the violent sneezing that was another symptom of the disease (Alchin 41).


Works Cited

Alchin, Linda. The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes. New York, NY: Nielsen,        2013. Print.