Ring a Ring o' Roses

Ring a Ring o' Roses

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title=Ring a Ring o' Roses

caption=Musical variations of "Ring a Ring o' Roses", Alice Gomme, 1898. [Gomme, "The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland", p. 108.]
"Ring a Ring o' Roses" or "Ring Around the Rosie" is a nursery rhyme or folksong and playground game. It first appeared in print in 1881; but it is reported that a version was already being sung to the current tune in the 1790s.

Variations and history


The words of Ring a Ring o' Roses differ by region, although the tune remains consistent. The playground game that accompanies these verses also changes by region, but the most common form consists of participants standing in a circle and holding hands, followed by skipping in one direction as they sing the tune that accompanies these verses. At the end of the line "We all fall down", the group usually falls down into a heap. Lyrics to other versions show that the final action was sometimes sitting, stooping, squatting, or even a curtsey, rather than falling. [Opie (1951), 364-5; (1985), 223-5.] In some versions of the game the last down would choose a favourite or take the place of another in the middle of the ring. [Opie (1985), 224.] Ring games which end in flopping to the ground or similar are common throughout Europe. [Opie (1985), 219-35 collects British versions.]


Early attestation

The first printing of the rhyme was in Kate Greenaway’s 1881 edition of "Mother Goose":

A pocket full of posies;
ashes! ashes!
we all fall down.
The rhyme must already have been widely distributed. A novel of 1855, "The Old Homestead" by Ann S. Stephens, shows children playing "Ring, ring a rosy" in New York. [A. S. Stephens, "The Old Homestead" (London, 1855), 215-6 "Then the little girls began to seek their own amusements. They played 'hide and seek,' 'ring, ring a rosy,' and a thousand wild and pretty games". The first lines of the motto to the chapter may allude to the same rhyme (p. 213) "A ring – a ring of roses, Laps full of posies."] William Newell reports two versions in America at much the same time as Greenaway (1883) and says that another was known in New Bedford, Massachusetts around 1790: [Opie (1951), 364; (1985), 223.]
Ring a ring a Rosie,
A bottle full of posie,
All the girls in our town
Ring for little Josie.
There are also versions in Shropshire, collected in 1883, and a manuscript of rhymes collected in Lancashire at the same period gives three closely related versions, with the now familiar sneezing, [Opie (1985), 222.] for instance:
A ring, a ring o' roses,
A pocket full o’posies-
Atch chew! atch chew!
In 1892, Alice Gomme could give twelve versions, including one resembling the current British one (see below). [Opie (1951), 364.]

Current versions

In the United Kingdom, it is usually sung: "Ring a-ring o' roses",
"A pocketful of posies."
"a-tishoo!, a-tishoo!."
"We all fall down".
In the United States it is usually sung: "Ring around the rosy",
"A pocketful of posies."
"ashes, ashes."
"We all fall down!".
In Canada, it is usually sung: "Ring around the rosey",
"A pocket full of posies."
"Hush-a, hush-a."
"We all fall down."
In Ireland, it is usually sung: "Ring a ring o' rosies",
"A pocketful of posies."
"a-tishoo!, a-tishoo!"
"We all fall down."
In Australia and in New Zealand, it is usually sung: "Ring a ring a rosey"
"A pocketful of posies"
"ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo."
"We all fall down."
Followed by:"When our mother calls us,"
"We all jump up!"
In India, it is usually sung: "Ring-a Ring-a roses",
"Pocket full of posies."
"Hush-a, Bush-a."
"We all fall down."
In Louisiana, it is usually sung: "Ring around the rosey",
"Pocket full of posies."
"Upstairs, downstairs."
"We all fall down."
Other verses in the UK: "Picking up the roses,"
"picking up the roses,"
"Atishoo!, Atishoo!"
"We all jump up.
"Picking up the daises,"
"picking up the daises,"
"Atishoo!, Atishoo!"
"We all jump up.
"Ashes in the water,"
"Ashes in the sea,"
"We all jump up"
"With a one-two-three.
"The King has sent his daughter,"
"To fetch a pail of water."
"ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo."
"We all fall down".
"The bird up on the steeple,"
"Sits high above the people."
"ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo."
"We all fall down".
"The cows are in the meadow,"
"Eating buttercups,"
"ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo."
"they all jump up".
"Fishes in the water,"
"Fishes in the sea,"
"We all jump up,"
"With a one, two, three!"
"Down at the bottom of the deep blue sea,"
"How many fishes can you see,"
"We all jump up,"
"With a one, two, three!"
"Sitting at the bottom of the deep blue sea,"
"Catching fishes, for my tea!"
"We all jump up,"
"With a one, two, three!"
Other verses elsewhere:"Cows are in the clover,"
"Eating buttercups,"
"ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo."
"We all jump up!"
"Cows are in the meadow,"
"Eating all the grass,"
"ah-tishoo, ah-tishoo."
"Who's up last?"
"Bringing up the posies,"
"We all pop up!"
"The cows are in the pasture,"
"Sleeping, Sleeping,"
"Lightning, Lightning."
"We all jump up!"
"Mammy in the teapot,"
"Daddy in the cup."
"One, two, three"
"And we all jump up!"
"Cows in the meadow,"
"eating buttercups."
"thunder, lightning"
"We all stand up!"

Other languages

A German rhyme first printed in 1796 closely resembles "Ring a ring o’roses" in its first stanza [The one commonly sung according to Böhme (1897), 438.] and accompanies the same actions (with sitting rather than falling as the concluding action): [Böhme (1897), 438, Opie (1985), 225.]

Wir sind der Kinder dreien,
sitzen unter'm Hollerbusch
Und machen alle Huschhuschhusch!

[sometimes spoken after the sung stanza] Setzt euch nieder.
Loosely translated this says: ‘Ring a ring a round dance. There are three children, sat in an elder bush. They all call: Mush, mush, mush! Sit down.’ The rhyme is well known in Germany with the first line ‘Ringel, Ringel, Reihe’ (as the popular collection "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" gave it); it has many local variants, often with ‘Husch, husch, husch’ (which in German could mean "quick, quick") in the fourth line, [Böhme (1897), 438-41, Opie (1985), 227. Other rhymes for the same game have some similarity in the first line, e. g. ‘Ringel, ringel, Rosenkranz’, less in other lines - see Böhme (1897), 442-5.] comparable to the ‘Hush! hush! hush! hush!’ of the first printed English version. Swiss versions have the children dancing round a rosebush. [Böhme (1897), 439, Opie (1985), 225.] Other European singing games with a strong resemblance include "Roze, roze, meie" (‘Rose, rose, May’) from Holland with a similar tune to "Ring a ring o’ roses" [Opie (1985), 227] and "Gira, gira rosa" (‘Circle, circle, rose’), recorded in Venice in 1874, in which girls danced around the girl in the middle who skipped and curtsied as demanded by the verses and at the end kissed the one she liked best, so choosing her for the middle. [Opie (1985), 224.]

In Japanese, it can be rendered several ways including [Japanese wikipedia: [http://ja.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ring-a-Ring-o%27_Roses ] ] :A similar traditional game (with different rules) played in Japan is called Kagome Kagome.

In Italian it goes "Giro giro tondo, casca il mondo, casca la terra; tutti giù per terra.". Roughly translated as "Round and round a ring, the world falls, the ground falls; all fall down. "

In Greek it goes "Giro giro oli, sti mesi o Manolis, heria podia sthn avli, kioli kathonte sti gi kio Manolis sto skamni." Roughly translated as "Round round everyone, in the middle is Manolis, hands feet in the yard and everyone sits on the ground and Manolis on the stool." All kids form a circle and there is one kid in the middle who sits on the last verse.

Is Serbian there are a number of variations of the rhyme known as "Ringe Raja" (untranslatable words of no meaning): "Ringe ringe raja, Došô čika Paja, Pa pojeo jaja. Jedno jaje muć, A mi, deco, čuč!" It is roughly translated as "Ringe ringe raja, Here came uncle Paul, And ate the eggs. One egg cracks, And we kids, squat!" "Ringe ringe raja" had become known worldwide from the soundtrack by Goran Bregovic to Emir Kusturica's award-winning film "Underground."

In Polish it goes "Stary niedźwiedź mocno śpi,my się go boimy,na palcach chodzimy,jak się zbudzi,to nas zje". This translates to "The old bear is deeply asleep, we are afraid of him, we are walking on tiptoes, if he will wake up, he will eat us". Frequently an adult will play the old bear in the center of the circle of children. Upon singing the last word of the last verse he or she will make an attempt to grab the last child to fall down.

Plague interpretation

Many have associated the poem with the Great Plague of London in 1665, or with earlier outbreaks of bubonic plague in England. Interpreters of the rhyme before the second world war make no mention of this;Opie (1985), 221-2.] by 1951, however, it seems to have become well established as an explanation for the form of the rhyme that had become standard in Britain. Peter and Iona Opie remark [Opie (1951), 365.] : ‘The invariable sneezing and falling down in modern English versions have given would-be origin finders the opportunity to say that the rhyme dates back to the Great Plague. A rosy rash, they allege, was a symptom of the plague, posies of herbs were carried as protection, sneezing was a final fatal symptom , and “all fall down” was exactly what happened.’Compare Opie (1985), 221, where they note that neither cure nor symptoms (except for death) feature prominently in contemporary or near contemporary accounts of the plague.] Variations of the same theory allow it to be applied to the American version of the rhyme and to medieval plagues.cite web| url = http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/rosie.htm| title = Ring Around the Rosie| accessdate = 2007-01-10| last=Mikkelson| first=Barbara| coauthors=Mikkelson, David P.| date =2007-07-12| publisher=Snopes| work=Urban Legends Reference Pages] In its various forms, the interpretation has entered into popular culture and has been used elsewhere to make oblique reference to the plague. [Opie (1985), 221, citing the use of the rhyme to headline an article on the plague village of Eyam in the "Radio Times", June 7, 1973; title of "Ashes" in the New Scientist review: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/health/mg17223184.000] (For 'hidden meaning' in other nursery rhymes see Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary and Cock Robin.)

If true, the modern English version of the song might be reinterpreted in modern vernacular as follows:

"Symptoms of serious illness
Flowers to ward off the stench
We're burning the corpses
We all drop dead."

But folklore scholars regard the theory as baseless for several reasons:
# the late appearance of the explanation means that it has no tradition, only the value of its content;
# the facts described do not fit especially well at least with the Great Plague; [J. Simpson and S. Roud, "A Dictionary of English Folklore" (Oxford: OUP, 2000), 296.] Refutable: see Symptoms of bubonic plague
# the great variety of forms makes it unlikely that the modern form is the most ancient one, and the words on which the interpretation are based are not found in many of the earliest records of the rhyme (see above); [Opie (1985), 222-3: ‘The following are the seven earliest reports known to us in Britain: … In only four of these recordings is sneezing a feature.’ The point becomes stronger when American versions are also taken into account.]
# European and 19th century versions of the rhyme suggest that this 'fall' was not a literal falling down, but a curtsy or other form of bending movement that was common in other dramatic singing games. [See above, and Opie (1951), 365, citing Chants Populaire du Languedoc: 'Branle, calandre, La Fille d'Alexandre, La pêche bien mûre, Le rosier tout fleuri, Coucou toupi' — En disant 'coucou toupi', tous les enfants quie forment la ronde, s'accroupissent’.]
# Neither a rosy rash nor sneezing were symptoms of the plague (or any plague variation)Fact|date = July 2008 Refutable: see Symptoms of bubonic plague. And the earliest recorded words from 1881 were "Ashes, Ashes" in reference to burning things, not "achoo, achoo".


*F.M. Böhme, "Deutsches Kinderlied und Kinderspiel" (Leipzig: Breitkopf und Härtel, 1897), 438-41.
*Alice B. Gomme, "The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland" II (1908), 108-11 (cited in Opie [1985] )
*Gomme, Alice Bertha, "The Traditional Games of England, Scotland, and Ireland", London: David Nutt (1898).
*Iona and Peter Opie, "The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes" (Oxford: OUP, 1951), 364-5.
*Iona and Peter Opie, "The Singing Game" (Oxford: OUP, 1985), 220-7.


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