The Meaning of 'Ring Around the Rosie' Will Leave You Dumbstruck

Ring a Ring o' Roses

A pocket full of posies;

Ashes! Ashes!

We all fall down.

All of us must have joined hands together with our friends and ran around in circles singing this popular nursery rhyme. Ring a Ring o’ Roses or Ring Around the Rosie is an old folksong and playground singing game. Children have been singing this rhyme since 1881.Have you ever thought what it could mean? Who came up with this rhyme?
Traditional Meaning
Many people believe that the rhyme first came into being after the horrifying experiences of people with the bubonic plague. Some say it is in reference to the Great Plague of London in 1665.
The poem was in reference to the circular, rose-colored rash seen on the skin of those who were infected by the bubonic plague. A pocket full of posies was in reference to the sweet herbs that were collected in pockets or pouches.
These herbs were carried around to prevent the disease as people believed it was transferred by bad smells. Thus, posies helped ward off evil and protect one against infections.
Ashes, ashes/ we all fall down refers directly to death. These ashes were a direct indication of the dead who were cremated. It was seen that 60% of the population was wiped off by bubonic plague infections. It was the Great Fire of London in 1666 that burned all the rats, which were carriers of the plague, to ashes.
Other Translations of Ring Around the Rosie
The second sentence may have been a reference to one of the following.

  • A way to mask off the ‘stench of death’.
  • It was an item that was usually buried with the dead.
  • It could also be a reference to flowers that were kept on a grave or funeral pyre.
  • It could have been related to the pus or infection under the skin in the sores of infected people.
The interpretation of ashes may have similar multiple meanings.

  • It may represent sneezing sounds of infected victims.
  • It may refer to burning down of the houses of plague victims to prevent spread of disease.
  • It may refer to the black discoloration of the victim’s skin that lead to the derivation of the term ‘the black Plague’.
Different Interpretations
Apart from the Black Plague version, Ring Around the RosieĀ may have a different explanation. It is said that during the 19th century, the Protestants in Britain and North America had put a religious ban on dancing. However, many young bloods in United States came up with a way around the dancing ban by coming up with ‘play party’.
This play party consisted of ring games. They were different from square dances as there was no music accompanying the ring dance. These play parties became very popular and soon young children got hooked to it. Thus, children began to form rings and sang the rhyme.
The term ‘Ashes, ashes’ may have come from the words, ‘Husha, Husha’ that indicated stopping the ring and becoming silent. We all fall down referred to that part of the song where the children let go of their hands and fell over each other in the center of the circle for fun.
The nursery rhyme was printed for the first time in 1818 in Kate Greenaway’s Mother Goose edition. There are many versions of the song around the world.

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