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Sing a Song of Sixpence by Mother Goose

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What Does Sing a Song of Sixpence Tell Us?

‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ is a renowned nursery rhyme in English literature. However, its words are so confusing and odd that it almost qualifies as non-understanding literature. While not quite up there with ‘Hey Diddle Diddle’ in the baffling stakes, ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ is an odd little children’s rhyme with a certain meaning and origin.

This page starts with lyrics to the song followed by a short analysis of this song that give multiple meanings with no conclusion. Further, you will get to know its origins and the meaning each analysis carries.

Lyrics to Sing a Song of Sixpence Song

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 the counting-house

Counting out his money,

The queen was in the parlor

Eating bread and honey,

The maid was in the garden

Hanging out the clothes.

Along came a blackbird

And snipped off her nose.

The Ambiguity of the Sing a Song of Sixpence Rhyme

Multiple variants of the rhyme give ‘snipped’ for ‘snapped’ in that very last line; some give ‘pecked’; at the same time as the penultimate line is occasionally rendered as ‘Along came a blackbird’. The above version is taken from Iona and Peter Opie’s The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes).)

‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ has attracted some fanciful theories regarding its lyrics, lots of which are improbable. One of the main theories is that the twenty-four blackbirds constitute the hours in the day, with the king representing the solar and the queen the moon. (Why the moon is eating bread and honey remains unexplained.)

Another place, the rhyme in the time of King Henry VIII and the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the 1530s, with the blackbirds symbolising the choirs of the monasteries, baking a pie in order to try to curry favour with Henry:

When the pie was opened

The birds began to sing -

Wasn’t that a dainty dish

To set before the king?

But these are just the 2 trailing theories (neither of which really has a shred of actual evidence, we should add).

Other facts of ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ that have been recommended consist of the idea that (sticking with the King Henry VIII theme) the queen is Katherine of Aragon, Henry’s first wife, and the maid is Anne Boleyn, whom Henry desires to replace Katherine with (possibly the maid’s nose being interrupted as a recommendation to the French swordsman’s beheading of Anne – her eventual destiny?).

People have observed that the blackbirds refer to movable type, and are being ‘baked in a pie’ whilst the printer sets them up ready to print the English Bible. (For a few reasons, a maximum of those theories insist on placing ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ during the English Reformation.)

However, the Opies offer information about a recipe for a pie wherein live birds could be kept only for them to fly out when the pie was stopped. An Italian cookbook from 1549, which was changed into English in 1598 under the title Epulario, or, the Italian Banquet, consists of such a recipe, and pies of this type were famous at banquets during the period. So perhaps the music was composed to be sung during such celebrations.

‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ was alluded to in one of the best eighteenth-century poetic putdowns: Henry James Pye, who was appointed Poet Laureate to King George III in 1790, wrote a very horrific ode in honour of the king’s birthday, which featured references to a ‘feathered choir’. George Steevens quipped that ‘and whilst the Pye was opened the birds began to sing; Was not that a dainty dish to set before a king?’

As poetic pie-based puns go, that was quite good, and Steevens seemingly got here up with it on the spot.

Thus, the song ends with a baffling conclusion and it is based on the history of the 18th century that is expressed in poetic ways through this song.

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FAQs on Sing a Song of Sixpence by Mother Goose

1. What is the meaning behind the nursery rhyme Sing a song of sixpence?

'Sing a Song of Sixpence' was assumingly a coded message that legendary pirate captain Blackbeard used to recruit pirates. Here, the 'blackbirds' were Blackbeard's pirates and the 'pie' his ship.

2. What is the theme of Sing a Song of Sixpence?

The theme of “Sing a Song of Sixpence” is Surprise and amusement. The theme to this rhyme is given for the reason that this rhyme centers on the blackbirds and boldens their importance in the 16th century. The poem has always been considered as a pun (wordplay) to the noble and royal household because they are not anxious about the escaped birds.