As I was searching the source of all modern day knowledge for yesterday’s post to ensure I got the correct words for “Seesaw, Margery Daw,” I came across what that nursery rhyme is all about. Seemingly, a “daw” is a slovenly person and Margery was a common rural name in England during the 18th and 19th centuries. The rest of the rhyme supposedly refers to child labour in the workhouses of the time.
Workhouses were covered in my history classes during Primary School, when we were learning about the Irish Famine. They were truly the last refuge of those without any other options. To think that such an innocuous children’s rhyme could be about such a dismal and awful place. Another source, from the BBC’s H2G2, indicates that the song was originally sung by workers to keep time while sawing logs with a two-man saw. This strikes me as quite likely, before it was picked up by children. I wonder is it from this rhyme then that the word for a “see-saw” originated? I can imagine a see-saw being thrown together by a lumberjack for his children and then the children singing their father’s song as they played on it.
I am wary of any meanings behind nursery rhymes however, having learned that the modern interpretation for “Ring a Ring O’Rosies,” is just a popular misconception, first introduced in the 20th century. The repository of all modern day knowledge covers in more detail in its article the supposed allusions to the bubonic plague in the song. It seems neat and tidy, but again you have to wonder, could a children’s rhyme have such a dark undertone where they all die when “we all fall down.”
A final thought on Nursery Rhymes and that comes from a television program I saw a few months ago where there was a story about how nursery rhymes were dying out as children no longer knew them. I know that I sang lots of rhymes as a child, but I notice that my little cousins don’t use them in their play. So if you want to join the fight to bring back Nursery Rhymes, I’d like to suggest http://www.rhymes.org.uk which includes the lyrics for the kids and the origins for your own entertainment.