It all began with a seemingly innocuous rhyme. I can not remember when I first heard it or who I learned it from. All I can remember is that I took to it like a fish to water. And my world changed forever. My love for the English language started then – right there in a playground amidst a group of children prancing to the words of “Ring a Ring o’ Roses…”. And it has only grown stronger with time.
I never gave the rhyme a second thought – passing it on to other friends and children alike. Like most others, I assumed that it was just some playful gibberish with a catchy tune passed down from one generation to the next – much like heirlooms. That was probably because of my presumption that most nursery rhymes were created for the entertainment of children and to foster bonding on the playground. To say that I was mistaken, would be an understatement. My curiousity was first piqued when a television show mentioned that the rhyme may, in fact, have allusions to the Great Plague or the Black Death. And, so my research began. The only thing I was right about was that the rhyme was certainly old. I will avoid relaying facts here as there are several websites (including Wikipedia) which carry a great deal of information about this. And, “Ring a Ring o’ Roses” is not the only one. Apparently, there are a host of other rhymes which are thought to have hidden references including some to death and even slavery. And, while the jury is still out on whether these references are valid, it is needless to say that it provided quite a lot of food for thought.
We often associate childhood with innocence – a time when children are sheltered from the harsh realities of life. It is meant to be the time of Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy. Unfortunately, we seem to have unwittingly passed on some unpleasant truths as part of our endeavour to educate and entertain children. But, even if we know the facts, what should we do? Should we eliminate these nursery rhymes altogether for fear of exposing children to such morbid facts? Or, should we continue the timeless tradition dismissing these references as unsubstantiated allegations? That is a very tough question to answer.