Top 10 Most Famous Nursery Rhymes

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Some of my earliest childhood memories include learning nursery rhymes in the play school and then reciting them reluctantly in front of my parents, neighbors, uncles, aunts, brothers, sisters, other uncles, other aunts. Yeah, I had a huge fan following then. Good old times. But to recite a long four line English poem every time you met someone was not an easy task, I tell you. That too, poems as difficult as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and Johnny Johnny Yes Papa, can you imagine?

In the evenings, all my friends and I would go running around the streets yelling at the top of voice our Hindi favorites  poshampa bhai poshampa, Lakdi ki kathi, chanda maama door ke, Machchli jal ki raani hai, Akkad bakkad bambey bo..hmm, the list is endless.

Even now, as an adult, I remember each and every line of them and it always gives me delightful pleasure to watch little kids reciting their favorite nursery rhymes in their cute singsong voice. Even more cute is to watch them make those beautiful hand gestures trying to explain the meaning of their difficult poems to us dumb adults.

It is interesting that nursery rhymes other than being fun and engaging are in fact a great way of teaching the little ones to read and to help them learn what the discreet – separate parts of sound are, by developing their phonetic awareness skills!

Here I have compiled a list of the top 10 most famous nursery rhymes worldwide. Pick out your favorite.

10. LONDON BRIDGE IS FALLING DOWN

london bridge is falling down

“London Bridge is falling down, falling Down, falling down.

London Bridge is falling down, my fair lady.”

This is a popular traditional English rhyme that probably depicts the difficulties experienced while construction of London Bridge over river Thames. However, there are several other theories depicting its origin. To me, it brings back a sweet childhood memory. When I was a kid, I used to dismantle the “palace” that my brother made from the playing cards and to tease him, I used to sing aloud “London bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down”. ha. nostalgic !

9. ONE TWO BUCKLE MY SHOE

one two buckle my shoe

“One, Two, Buckle my shoe, Three, Four, Open the door,

Five, Six, Pick up sticks, Seven, Eight, Lay them straight,

Nine, Ten, A big, fat hen” …. and so on.

A very popular English rhyme and indeed a very clever way to teach counting to the otherwise reluctant children. This poem dates back to the 18th century and has been used in quite lot of movies (like A nightmare on Elm Street) and cartoon serials (like Loony Tunes). This famous poem was also used by Agatha Christie in the title and story structure of her novel “One, Two, Buckle My Shoe”.

8. RAIN RAIN GO AWAY

rain rain go away

“Rain rain go away,

Come again another day,

Little Johnny wants to play.”

Personally, I love playing while it is raining. It is like a harbinger of excitement. But Little Johnny seems to hate getting drenched in the rain. There are many versions of this popular English rhyme in which Little Johnny asks rain to come on Saturday, on April day, on Christmas day and so on. The oldest version goes back to the 17th century!

7. JOHNNY JOHNNY YES PAPA

johnny johnny yes papa

“Johnny Johnny, Yes Papa.

Eating sugar? No Papa.

Telling lies? No Papa.

Open your mouth, ha ha ha”

This is probably the cutest English rhyme ever, depicting a little kid caught in the act of stealing the sugar and eating it. Sounds familiar? Well a lot of us have been there, done that. Anyways, what makes this poem even more funny is the way kids do “hahaha” in the end while reciting it. Strangely not much is known about the origin of this poem.

6. THE ITSY BITSY SPIDER

The itsy bitsy spider

“The Itsy Bitsy Spider crawled up the waterspout.

Down came the rain, and washed the spider out.

Out came the sun, and dried up all the rain,

And the Itsy Bitsy Spider went up the spout again.”

This rhyme describes the adventures of a spider when it gets washed out of a gutter system! I find it really cute when kids recite it mainly because it is accompanied by a sequence of gestures that mimic the words of the song. For the first (and last) line, alternately touch the thumb of one hand to the index finger of the other. For “Down came the rain” hold both hands up and wiggle the fingers as you lower the hands (the rain). For “washed the spider out” sweep the hands to the side. For the third line bring both hands up and then to the sides to sweep out a semicircle (the sun). Then wiggle the fingers upwards (to show the rain drying in the sun), and repeat the thumb/index finger movement to indicate the spider climbing up the spout. Overdose of sweetness indeed !!

5. HUMPTY DUMPTY

humpty dumpty

“Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall.

All the king’s horses and all the king’s men,

couldn’t put Humpty together again.”

The subject in this rhyme is actually an Egg, though the poem does not explicitly state  this fact probably because it was originally a riddle. However now since the answer is so well known, this poem is no longer posed as a riddle. A very interesting fact about this rhyme is that the Second law of thermodynamics can be demonstrated using this rhyme. After falling, the entropy of Humpty Dumpty is so high that it can never be put into “order” again. Crazy correlation !

4. JACK AND JILL

jack and jill

“Jack and Jill went up the hill,

To fetch a pail of water.

Jack fell down and broke his crown,

And Jill came tumbling after.”

This rhyme dates back to the 18th Century and exists with different number of verses each with a number of variations. This rhyme has traditionally been seen as an illogical rhyme. After all, Why do Jack and Jill go up the hill to fetch the water which is commonly found at the bottom of the hill? True origin and true interpretation of this rhyme are not known, however there are various theories.

3. RING AROUND THE ROSIE

ring around the rosie

“Ring around the Rosie, A pocketful of posies.

Ashes, ashes, We all fall down.”

Seriously ? These are the lyrics ? And for all my childhood, I thought it was

“Ringa Ringa roses, pocket fulla pozez,

Hushaa Bushaa, we all fall down”

My bad. And that is not all. Other fact that I didn’t know about this poem is that it has an ominous hidden origin and this poem is actually about black plague!! When people got the plague they had a rash where they were bitten by the fleas that had a red mark with a red ring around it. Now Who would have thought, eh?

2. BAA BAA BLACK SHEEP

baa baa black sheep

“Baa, baa, black sheep, Have you any wool?

Yes, sir, yes, sir, Three bags full;

One for the master, And one for the dame,

And one for the little boy who lives down the lane”

This poem has various versions. I have listed the modern version here. It has the same tone as the “alphabet song”. The main reason for it being a very popular nursery rhyme is that it is relatively easy for little kids to master because of its trochaic metre in which a stressed syllable is followed by the unstressed one. Yeah, your sharp mind was not the only factor that helped you learn it in such a short time.

1. TWINKLE TWINKLE LITTLE STAR

twinkle twinkle little star

“Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,

How I wonder what you are.

Up above the world so high,

Like a diamond in the sky.”

This is a very popular English lullaby and probably the first poem every child is taught in school. The lyrics are from famous poet Jane Taylor’s English composition “The star”. Although the poem has five stanzas, only the first one is widely known. (Thank God! Who would have learnt the whole poem?) Anyways, the main reason for it being so famous is that its origins are linked to Mozart and it uses the same tone as the “alphabet song”.

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    Tony Wilson