Ring Around the Rosie

Album: Children's Songs (1881)
  • songfacts ®
  • One of the most popular interpretations of "Ring Around the Rosie" - originally called "Ring o' Roses" - links the lyrics to the bubonic plague that struck England in 1665 (or possibly even the first outbreak of the Black Death in the 1300s).

    A pocket full of posies
    Ashes! Ashes!
    We all fall down

    Over 20 percent of London's population was wiped out by the Great Plague and the rhyme supposedly describes the victim's onset of symptoms and subsequent death. The "ring-a-roses" refers to a rosy rash, the "pocket full of posies" is the handful of herbs and other spices used to ward of disease and the "ashes" are the cremated remains of the dead. Other versions replace "ashes" with "a-tishoo!" to represent another symptom of the disease: sneezing. Folklorists like Iona and Peter Opie, who penned the Oxford English Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes, doubt the grim connection. For starters, it appeared 200 years too late in Kate Greenaway's 1881 edition of Mother Goose.

    The Opies point out a more lighthearted possibility: in Dutch folklore, gifted children are said to be able to laugh roses.
  • Besides being one of the most enduring nursery rhymes, "Ring Around the Rosie" also shares a part of early cinematic history. It inspired a movie short in 1897 that depicted a group of children playing the game (clasping hands and circling around before they "all fall down"). A 2006 horror movie starring Tom Sizemore also bears the same name but has little to do with the actual rhyme. It's biggest claim to fame outside of the storybooks, however, was in 1947's Living in a Big Way when Gene Kelly used it in a song-and-dance number.
  • This rhyme is listed in the Roud Folk Song Index at #7925.
Please sign in or register to post comments.


Be the first to comment...

Glen Phillips of Toad the Wet SprocketSongwriter Interviews

The "All I Want" singer went through a long depression, playing some shows when he didn't want to be alive.

Don Brewer of Grand FunkSongwriter Interviews

The drummer and one of the primary songwriters in Grand Funk talks rock stardom and Todd Rundgren.

Jesus In Pop Hits: The Gospel Songs That Went MainstreamSong Writing

These overtly religious songs crossed over to the pop charts, despite resistance from fans, and in many cases, churches.

Emmylou HarrisSongwriter Interviews

She thinks of herself as a "song interpreter," but back in the '80s another country star convinced Emmylou to take a crack at songwriting.

Charlotte Caffey of The Go-Go'sSongwriter Interviews

Charlotte was established in the LA punk scene when a freaky girl named Belinda approached her wearing a garbage bag.

Who's Johnny, And Why Does He Show Up In So Many SongsSong Writing

For songwriters, Johnny represents the American man. He has been angry, cool, magic, a rebel and, of course, marching home.