Rhymes, Jingles, Song and Poetry-Out of Fashion or What?

By Evans, Janet | NATE Classroom, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview

Rhymes, Jingles, Song and Poetry-Out of Fashion or What?


Evans, Janet, NATE Classroom


Ever since there has been language people have played with it. Archaeologists have found funny rhymes scratched on the walls from Ancient Roman times and all over the world people have made up tongue twisters, riddles, puns and all sorts of wordplay.'

Michael Rosen, from Walking the Bridge of your Nose,

Some people think that poetry is not as popular as it once was but when we look at how it has changed over time, how the jingles and popular nursery rhymes of up to 2500 years ago have evolved to become poetic song lyrics, rap and parodies of poems often appropriated by the young children of today, I think it is evident that poetry is still very much alive and kicking!

From the very oldest nursery rhymes such as 'Rain, rain go away, come again another day' to Shakespeare and rhyming verse, poetry and song have long been part of our heritage. Nursery rhymes have always been popular with children--but why? They don't relate to our contemporary life (except in some of the parodies that are created from the original versions) and they frequently don't seem to make any sense at all. However, the rhythm and the rhyme of the sentences, the simple storylines, the humorous innuendo and wordplay all make them good fun to listen to and sing along with. Many nursery rhymes were never written down, they were passed orally from generation to generation and some of them are known to date back as far as 500BC. The apparent nonsense and innocence of many of these verses can sometimes belie their more sombre origins: cautionary tales, links with fatal diseases, political tensions, religious unease, executions and protection against evil. Despite these concerns we are often led to believe that in Victorian times babies went to sleep while gentle lullabies were sung to them.

Where did nursery rhymes, jingles and songs come from and why do they exist?

Throughout history people have recited, chanted and sung short songs, rhymes and poetry to their children who in turn have passed them onto their children. Thus many nursery rhymes have been kept alive for hundreds and even thousands of years. An historical time line from 500BC to 1800AD shows many rhymes with their dates; many have evidently been in existence for over 2500 years.

'Rain, rain, go away' is one of the oldest rhymes and was in existence five hundred years before Christ was born. It was chanted because it was thought that children could influence the weather.

   Rain, rain, go away,
   Come again another day, Little
   Johnny wants to play

Why were nursery rhymes created, chanted and sung?

Cultural, moral and social issues often formed the backdrop to their existence. Nursery rhymes have always been popular. The rhymes don't relate to our modern life and they often make no sense at all and yet the rhythm of the verses and the rhyme of the words have long been attractive to parents and children alike and many have been passed on from generation to generation.

Sadly however, not all parents and carers currently share them with their children; consequently there are increasing numbers of youngsters who do not know these traditional rhymes. Although many of the rhymes seem to be nonsense they do in fact have stories to tell and often the stories are as extraordinary as the rhymes themselves. As well as making links with political and social changes, many of them provide links with the past; they recall incidents and social conditions in history that may otherwise have been forgotten. In fact they may be described as the 'poetry of the ages'. (See Origins of Rhymes, Songs and Sayings by J Harrowven).

Take the lullaby, arguably 'the germ of all song'. Through the ages many fortunate youngsters have drifted off to sleep while nursery rhymes and songs were sung to them. Rock a bye baby must be one of the oldest known cradle songs, it refers to the ancient custom of hanging babies in rush baskets on branches of trees, to be rocked to sleep by the wind. …

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