Over-Rethinkning Mother Goose

Dude, that's some heavy stuff.

I love Mother Goose. She's dark.


A lot of of those rhymes go back centuries and deal with some nasty subjects. "Ring Around the Rosy," as you might know, is really about the Black Plague. The "ring" line refers to the nasty red rash that's the first sign of illness. People carried around posies as protection from infection, and to cover up the stench of death. "Ashes" is an onomatopoeia for sneezing, a description of the skin color of the nearly-dead, and a reference to the practice of burning the bodies and houses of victims.

The fact that it's a catchy little rhyme makes it all the more useful. Teaching kids "Ring Around the Rosy" at a young age is a lot cheaper than buying one of those expensive early-detection plague sensors they're always trying to sell you on TV. 

But the lessons Ma Goose teaches are not just for little kids. There are, for example, at least a dozen rhymes warning young maids to keep their buns in their baskets. And when in doubt, put your rooster back in its cage.  

Some of her rhymes are also pretty sophisticated. You've got to put some thought into them. This reminds me of a conversation I once overheard in my college dorm:   


Dude 1: Hey dude [cough]...hey dude

Dude 2: What, man?

Dude 1: Hey dude, I'm bored. What should we do?

Dude 2: Hey man, let's read the Goose.

Dude 1: Cool [shuffling]...here's one: The Lion and the Unicorn

[reads in his best Dungeons and Dragons voice] The Lion and the Unicorn were fighting for the crown/The Lion beat the Unicorn all around the town/Some gave them white bread, and some gave them brown/Some gave them plum cake and sent them out of town. 

Whoa, man, that's heavy...wuddya think it means? Is this like a magical petting zoo? You know, one of those places where you can pet the flying goats for a quarter.

Dude 2: Naw man [cough] it's a political commentary. 

Dude 1: Huh?

Dude 2: It's like a story man. A long, long time ago, see, when there were kings an' stuff,  an' they let kids drink beer 'cuz the water was bad...it's like...um...it's like that time my mom took us to that cool restaurant...

Dude 1: Medieval Times! That was so awesome!...Dude man, your mom is hot.

Dude 2: Shuttup man! ...Anyway, there was, like, these two countries, England an' Scotland, an' each had a king, an' the kings were fighting to see who got to live in the big castle. An' this was long ago, you know, like, before they had words an' stuff, so they used pictures. An' like the English dude...[cough]...had the picture of a lion and the Scottish dude had a picture of a unicorn on these flags. An' they were hittin' each other with the flag poles the an' the England dude kicked the other guy's ass.

Dude 1:  Huh huh huh, you said ass, huh huh huh...But what's the bread an' stuff?

Dude 2: I dunno...

Dude 1: ...Oh, hey man, I got it! Check it out, it's like something I learned in history class or somewhere. The bread part is about money...you know, like they call cash "bread"? Dude, check it out, only rich people could afford white bread cuz' it was expensive, an' the poor people had the brown bread. Bread's made of, like, different kinds of flour, an' the brown stuff was always on sale cuz it had rat poop in it an' stuff--that's why it's brown. So it means that both the rich and poor people were giving the king bread, you know, 'cuz he was hungry, and 'cuz he was, like, this badass dude who killed people with his flag stick.

Dude 2: Cool. So what's this plum cake? Is that like a fruit sandwich or something? ...Dude, I'm hungry, where those Cheetos?...[munch, munch]

Dude 1: [munch, munch]...Yeah, there was this other kind of flour that was, like, made out of Fig Newtons, an' only the really rich, really powerful noble dudes could afford that. So they gave it to the king, and the king ate the cake, but then he was all like, "Now do this! Now do that!" He was, you know, telling the noble dudes what to do, being all rude an' stuff. So I guess the noble dudes were like, "Hey man! We don't care if you're king all, we're gonna kick you outta town 'cuz you didn't say please or thank you and stuff." 

Dude 2: Yeah, manners. They're really important. Please pass the Cheetos...thanks.

Dude 1: You're welcome....hey dude, I wasn't kiddin' when I said your mom was hot. 

The moral of the story? You're never too old, or too stoned, to learn from the Goose. 

Copyright 2013 Paul J. Rasmussen