Sing a Song of Sixpence

Sing a Song of Sixpence

Sing a Song of Sixpence is a well known English nursery rhyme, at least as old as the eighteenth century.
Roud 13191.


: Sing a song of sixpence, : a pocket full of rye.: Four and twenty blackbirds, : baked in a pie.

: When the pie was opened, : the birds began to sing.: Wasn't that a dainty dish : to set before the king?

: The king was in his counting house, : counting out his money.: The queen was in the parlour, : eating bread and honey.

: The maid was in the garden, : hanging out the clothes,: When down came a blackbird : and pecked off her nose!

: There was such a commotion: that little Jenny wren: Flew down into the garden: and put it back again


The final line of the fourth verse is sometimes slightly varied, with a greater degree of alliteration, as follows.

: "Along" came a blackbird : and "nipped" off her nose!

The fourth line is also sometimes varied, this time with less alliteration.

: Wasn't that a "lovely" dish : to set before the king?

The fourth line is also sometimes varied:

Was not that a dainty dishto set before the king?


The rhyme's ultimate origins are uncertain. It first appeared in print in Volume II of "Tommy Thumb's Pretty Song Book", published around 1744 [ [ Straight Dope Staff Report: What's the nursery rhyme "Sing a Song of Sixpence" all about? ] ] . The claim that it was written by the literary critic George Stevens [ [ Faringdon Tour ] ] , to satirize the poetry of Henry James Pye (British Poet Laureate, 1790–1813) [ [ Harrow, including Pinner - The growth of the hamlets | British History Online ] ] [ [,5753,-26667,00.html I know that many nursery rhymes, such as "Mary, Mary Quite contrary", "Little Jack Horner", "The Grand Old Duke of York", had origins in historical fact. Is there any such explanation for "Sing a Song of Sixpence?" | Notes and Queries | Guardian Unlimited ] ] , is ruled out: the rhyme predates Pye's birth. However, Byron plays on the rhyme in the scornful Dedication of his "Don Juan" to the next Laureate, Robert Southey.

The Straight Dope, in its analysis of the rhyme::according to the "Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes", an Italian cookbook from 1549 (translated into English in 1598) [The work in question is Giovanni de Roselli's "Epulario, quale tratta del modo de cucinare ogni carne, ucelli, pesci..." (Venice 1549), of which an English translation, "Epulario, or the Italian Banquet," was published in 1598 (Mary Augusta Scott, "Elizabethan Translations from the Italian" no. 256, p 333f.).] actually contains a recipe "to make pies so that birds may be alive in them and flie out when it is cut up." The ODNR also cites a 1723 cook who describes this as an earlier practice, the idea being that the birds cause "a diverting Hurley-Burley amongst the Guests."

The wedding of Marie de Medici and Henri IV of France in 1600 contains some interesting parallels. "The first surprise, though, came shortly before the starter—when the guests sat down, unfolded their napkins and saw songbirds fly out. The highlight of the meal was sherbets of milk and honey, which were created by Buontalenti." [ [ Blow out! History's 10 greatest banquets - Features, Food & Drink - The Independent ] ]

The rhyme may be a reference to pie birds, a culinary device; but it is uncertain whether these were actually well known at the time the rhyme originated. Conversely, if the rhyme came first, it may have caused the naming and common design of the pie birds.

Popular references

The line “The maid was in the garden” was used by James Joyce in Ulysses (novel), chapter “Calypso”.

Agatha Christie's 1953 Miss Marple mystery "A Pocket Full of Rye" features the rhyme. Her 1960 short story collection The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding contains a story called Four and Twenty Blackbirds.

A. J. Cronin's 1964 novel, "A Song of Sixpence", and its sequel, "A Pocketful of Rye" (1969), take their titles from the rhyme.

Elvis Costello's song "Pills and Soap" is based on the rhyme, including some verses of the song.

Mike d'Abo's Handbags and Gladrags, later popularized by Rod Stewart and as the themesong to The Office uses the first verse.

An origin posted on the "Lost Legends" section of - that the song was originally used by Blackbeard's pirates to attract new members - was actually created by Snope's, and has no factual basis, [ [ Urban Legends Reference Page: Lost Legends (A Pocket Full of Wry) ] ] but was an excerise, like the other "Lost Legends" in advising against false authority. [ [] and False Authority]

ee also

* Subtlety, an elaborate form of dish common in Europe, particularly England and France, during the late Middle Ages
* Compare the lyrics of the Beatles song "Cry Baby Cry", from "The Beatles".
* Lyrics of the Tom Waits song "Midnight Lullaby", from the 1973 album "Closing Time"


External links

* [ straightdope's explanation of the rhyme's history]
* ['s fake article on the origin of the song]
* ['s explanation of the hoax]
* [ The Stooges' short film "The Stooges... Sing a Song of Six Pants"] at

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