Mother Goose has long been part of the culture in English-speaking countries, especially the United Kingdom, the United States and Australia. Her rhymes have been a staple in the lives of millions upon millions of children for several hundred years, ever since Mother Goose stories were first published in the United Kingdom during the 18th century. However, most people don’t realize that Mother Goose rhymes and stories were already popular, as individual stories and rhymes before they were published which is why Mother Goose rhymes became well-loved almost instantly upon their publication.
Though there is some disagreement as to whether or not one person was the original Mother Goose, it is believed that the many great rhymes attributed to Mother Goose, including “Ring around the Rosie”, “London Bridge” and “Little Jack Horner” came from a variety of sources. The Mother Goose rhymes were published as collections of traditional rhymes and tales passed down from generation to generation. There are similar rhymes and stories in every language throughout the world which are part of our folk lore and our heritage. The question is, why are Mother Goose rhymes so popular? The simple answer is because they are part of who we are and, because we know and love them, we pass them down to our children and they will pass them down to their children, continuing the tradition.
Rhymes and stories teach us lessons about behaving properly, learning how to tell the difference between good and bad and, of course, learning about certain people and situations that we should avoid. For example, “The Three Little Pigs”, taught us that bricks are a much better, stronger building material than hay. Rhymes can also teach us about historical events; for example “Jack and Jill” is about the beheadings of King Louis XVI and Queen Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution in the 18th century. As well, some Mother Goose rhymes and stories are just plain fun and nonsensical, completely devoid of any hidden meaning. These rhymes are meant to entertain us and can be chanted or shared to pass the time and entertain others.
Mother Goose rhymes probably weren’t written by an individual, though there are many legends about the identity of Mother Goose. Some people say that Mother Goose was a housewife, also known as either Elizabeth or Mary Goose, who lived in Boston during the 18th century and that her son-in-law gathered the stories and the rhymes that she told to her grandchildren, and published them. Others claim that Mother Goose refers to a long-dead French queen who was the wife of King Robert II who enchanted people with her stories. However, there is no solid evidence pointing to Mother Goose as an individual person; instead, the term Mother Goose has long been used in both France and in England to refer to stories and poems that are fanciful and connected to folklore, with no semblance to truth and no known author.
Mother Goose rhymes often have an underlying meaning referring to a historical event. For example, we know “Ring Around the Rosie” as a poem to which we skip around in a circle and then fall down at the end. Actually, the lyrics supposedly refer to the Black Plague. Ring around the rosies refers to the rings that formed around the sores and the boils that were suffered by those who contracted the Black Plague. A pocket full of posies refers to the flowers that people carried around to ward off the stench of death and rotting bodies and, legend has it, to protect themselves from contracting the plague, as it was supposedly spread through bad smells. Ashes, ashes is about bodies felled by the plague which were burned because there was nowhere to bury them and we all fall down is about how everyone fell down and died from the plague, as was typically the case.