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Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary June 10, 2014

Posted by nrhatch in People, Poetry, Word Play, Writing & Writers.

220px-TaleofPeterRabbit8Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With silver bells and cockleshells
And pretty maids all in a row

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

According to some scholars, there is a tremendous variance between the actual history that forged these lines and the images I had in my head when I heard them.

To see the rather gruesome history of this nursery rhyme:

Nursery Rhyme Origins & History

At times, we read more into a poem than, perhaps, the poet had in mind.

Other times, the poet had more in mind than we’re able to discern from the words standing alone.

Does the truth lie in what the poet said/meant/intended?

Or in what we take away?

Related posts:  Rosies and Posies (Patricia’s Place) * Seeing Behind The Words (Candid Impressions) * Being Misunderstood (Candid Impressions) * An Imbroglio of Briars & Quicksand (SLTW)



1. suzicate - June 10, 2014

I think what we take away is most important. I know there are times people are touched by a verse of my own, but their interpretation is not what I meant, but I feel good they got something out of it…same goes with much of what I read.

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

For the writer/poet, perhaps it’s the intent behind the words that matters more. For the reader, perhaps the take-away has the most meaning.

Sometimes poets explain context. Other times, they’re content to leave the content “as is.” Giving readers “free rein” to discern whatever meaning comes to mind.

2. Jill Weatherholt - June 10, 2014

Oh my word! Graveyards and executions…not what my young mind was thinking when I read this.

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

Same here, Jill. I find the behind-the-scenes look at fairy tales and nursery rhymes to be darker than envisioned.

3. Pix Under the Oaks - June 10, 2014

I had no idea! I think I will just stick to Winnie the Pooh!!

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

And Tigger too!

4. bwcarey - June 10, 2014

fine post, in the words there is wisdom, it’s the story of the holy scriptures, those that interpret the words ignore the true meaning, it’s the words of prophesy, it’s not a final outcome, it’s the outcome to things if we dont amend the situation, blessings

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

Sometimes we read more into words than intended by the writer.

5. Silver in the Barn - June 10, 2014

I was going to chime in with the Ring Around the Rosie story, when I saw that you already had a link to a post describing exactly that. I find this stuff fascinating!!! Thank you.

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

I’ve had this post in the draft queue for some time. When Patricia did her post on Ring Around The Rosie, I pulled it out and dusted it off.

The link to Nursery Rhyme Origins and History includes the back story behind several different nursery rhymes.

6. William D'Andrea - June 10, 2014

I’ve looked at the video while here at the library, where the sound is turned off, so I have no idea what was said.
However, I’ve heard that the nursery rhyme was originally about the “shallowness” of the Court of Mary Queen of Scots; who was ordered beheaded by Queen Elizabeth I of England.
Now I wonder if that had something to do with the figures on playing cards? Was Mary the Queen of Hearts and Diamonds? Was Elizabeth the Queen of Clubs and Spades; who gave those fatal orders to the Jack of Spades? Was the term “A Royal Flush”, based on this fatal incident?

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

The video is an articulate reading of the article above it ~ almost word for word. Good questions about the relationship to playing cards, poker, and a Royal Flush.

William D'Andrea - June 12, 2014

I’ve had another thought about this. The face of the playing cards’ King, looks vaguely similar to pictures of Henry VIII. Who’s face is the Queen’s?

nrhatch - June 12, 2014

It would be interesting to see a deck of playing cards from the time of the Tudors.

7. Kate @ Did That Just Happen? - June 10, 2014

What an amazing back ground for that nursery rhyme! And I think the truth lies in both – there is truth in what the author wrote and intended – and there is truth in what the reader takes away!

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

I tend to agree, Kate. Truth lies in what the author wrote as well as in the impressions that readers garner from the words.

We see the world behind our eyes. Everything we perceive is filtered through our past experiences ~ so that no two people ever have exactly the same perspective on the same situation.

8. colonialist - June 10, 2014

I would hope it’s what one takes away! (Advertisement) My Baa Baa Black Belt gives a much nicer background to that particular one. You see, there is Mary, who is also Little Red Riding Hood and the one with the little lamb, and her garden is that way because otherwise her true identity might be known … (long story!) 🙂

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

What we take away is often relevant to where we are at the time we breathed in the author’s words.

Innocents see innocence.
Cynics see dark doings, indeed.

And now you’ve sparked my interest in Baa Baa Black Belt. I haven’t been reading novels, of late, because I’m trying to clear out the bookshelves in our villa. I’ll keep it on my radar.

colonialist - June 10, 2014

An era has to do with it, too. I recall when if an old man was seen on a park bench, chatting to any little girl who came near, that he would have been regarded as relieving his lonliness in the same way one would by befriending and stroking a passing cat. Nowadays, the first thought to mind is, ‘Pervert!’
Baa comes with a health warning regarding awful jokes and puns.

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

As we became more mobile as a society, we began to see others as “strangers” (or just strange). As a result, we have more distrust of innocent old men sitting on park benches chatting to little girls to ease the loneliness they may feel from the loss of loved ones. Looking through the eyes of spirit, rather than ego, helps us bridge the gap.

Thanks for the warning about the awful jokes and puns 😎

9. In the Stillness of Willow Hill - June 10, 2014

I think it’s all about processing our lives through words….from the poet’s point and the reader’s view. This is also how every one of your posts reaches the souls of readers.

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

Yes! No man ever reads the same book (or poem) twice ~> as we change, grow, and expand our outlook, what we see in the book (or poem) changes, grows, and expands with us.

10. Don - June 10, 2014

Never realized the background to this poem. It’ll never mean the same to me again. Nancy, you’ve just buggered up my innocence.

Thanks so much for the pingback – very kind.

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

My bad! Sorry to have “buggered up” your innocence. 😎

I felt this tied in well with your posts on being understood and misunderstood. Words have variable meanings depending on the context of who utters them and who overhears them.

Don - June 10, 2014

It certainly did tie in well. Nancy I really appreciate the way you provide these links. You’re very generous to us all in your blogging – thank you.

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

My pleasure, Don. People don’t always have time to follow the links, but adding them helps readers (me too) find related posts without having to start from scratch.

11. Val Boyko - June 10, 2014

Mary Queen of Scots eh? Never knew that!
There is a lot of gruesomeness behind rhymes 🙂

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

Enough to fill an entire book:
The Secret History of Nursery Rhymes!

12. Three Well Beings - June 10, 2014

I cringed just reading the information in the link you provided. I have tremendously mixed feelings about the answer to your question. I suppose that ultimately it is what I take away from it that is going to matter the most. But I do like to know what people intend. I do care about what the poet/author/artist is saying. This really is an excellent question, by the way. LOL!

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

What we take away matters to us as readers ~> of course no two readers are apt to have the exact same takeaway since they are building upon different foundations.

The intent behind the words may matter more to the writer. Your approach makes sense ~> be open to and question the author’s intent without presuming to be a mind reader. 😎

13. Grannymar - June 10, 2014

I knew some of the nursery rhymes from my childhood had gruesome back stories, but not the details of this one.

nrhatch - June 10, 2014

I haven’t made a study of them since reaching adulthood. I find it fascinating to see that there may be more to these little ditties than meets the innocent eye.

14. Behind the Story - June 10, 2014

Oh, dear! Thumb screws and guillotines. It’s surprising that these nursery rhymes (many of which have similar political meanings) have had such staying power. Here’s what I imagine: The adults used them as code to comment on current event. The kids heard them; in fact, the adults enjoyed reciting them to the kids. And then, because they had such interesting imagery and nice rhyme, they were passed down to the next generation.

I think the value in poetry is in the feelings, memories and thoughts evoked by the sounds and images the poet supplies. What the poet intended is only an interesting footnote.

nrhatch - June 11, 2014

Good points, Nicki. In the days before reading and writing became commonplace, reciting filled the gaps.

I feel much the same about the “take away.” Having H.S. English teachers conjecture about poetic meaning via constrained interpretations often elicited the thought:

“Maybe the poet thought the sounds sounded right?”

I was far less interested in what the poet meant to say than in what the poem SAID to me. Some poetry sparkles as it speaks.

15. Eric Tonningsen - June 11, 2014

In fairness, isn’t it about perceptions, interpretations and personal filters? Not just with poems but stories. Meaning and lessons change as words are passed along. In my mind, it’s what I choose to hear/feel/believe. Including intended or perceived truth. 🙂

nrhatch - June 11, 2014

Absolutely. And not just with poems and stories ~> all communication is subject to perceptions, interpretations, and personal filters (which include bias and prejudice).

What the writer/speaker meant/intended and what the reader/hearer takes away are seldom mirror images. At best, they are first cousins, twice removed. 😎

Eric Tonningsen - June 11, 2014

Definitely first cousins, twice removed. 🙂

nrhatch - June 11, 2014

No wonder so many intended communiques veer off their mark.

16. jannatwrites - June 11, 2014

I think the truth is what each person takes away from the words. That’s what I think is interesting about poetry- many times the words are sparse and we’re left to our own interpretations which vary greatly due to past experience.

nrhatch - June 11, 2014

Yes! Some poets explain context. Other do not, content to leave the content “as is,” allowing readers to discern the meaning using their own context. Some poems speak for themselves.

17. NancyTex - June 13, 2014

Oh my. Makes me wonder what 3 Blind Mice is all about. 🙂

nrhatch - June 13, 2014

Here’s their thoughts on its origins:

Sounds like they are obsessed with Bloody Mary. 😎

NancyTex - June 13, 2014

Good grief.

nrhatch - June 13, 2014


18. bluebee - June 13, 2014

When I write a poem it means to me often in very different ways it means to others, and I love to see the differences. We all make our meaning in a different way.

nrhatch - June 13, 2014

And what a poem says to me “today” might be far afield from what it will say “tomorrow.” That fluidity is a positive of poetry.

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