A children's song game.

A group of children hold hands and form a circle. While still holding hands, they begin to skip in a circle singing:

Ring around the Rosie,
a pocketful of posey.
Ashes, ashes,
we all fall down!

On the final word, the children release each other's hands and throw themselves to the ground.

As children get older the game begins to fall out of favor, since it is perceived as a game for toddlers and preschoolers. Older children also take the "falling down" to an extreme that often results in someone banging someone else's nose with their knee.

Strange, in England it's usually:

Ring around the roses
A pocket full of posies.
Atissue! Atishue!*
We all fall down

And a posy is a small bunch of flowers, not a particular type of bloom.

* how do you spell the sound for sneezing? Sneezing was also associated with plague symptoms.

ring around the rosie
take a turn at the wheel of fate. step right up and spin it. where will you end up this time? or the next? or the one after that?

pocket full of posey
i try my charms and magicks. and sometimes i meet you sometimes, but only meet. we don't always find. sometimes we both are there, but miss each other's souls anyways.

ashes, ashes,
lives and hopes burnt to dust. the few times we have met and known and loved as we should. each time cut short and torn from us.

we all fall down.
and i fall in ashes, fall in the flames. and slowly, in new flesh, rise again. and start all over.

do you know why i circle and spin and play each time game over flashes across my mind?
because of you.
because i will keep spinning until we end up, not only on the same square, but the same gameboard.

but i can stop spinning now.
for good.

from now on
we spin together.

and play the game
as the one
we truly are.

my own personal time capsule of lives

As a child I can remember getting together with a group of my school mates, holding hands in a circle and chanting as we skipped:

Ring around the rosy..
pocket full of posies..
we all fall down!

Of course we ended with the releasing of our hands and plummeting as hard as we could to the ground. We never stopped to wonder what the words meant, we didn't care. They enabled us to spin in circles and there was mention of flowers, so it was labeled an innocent game. Something to do when all the other playground toys were taken.

In a history class in college I learned what the words meant, and it made me ill. The professor explained what he stated was fact, but I've since learned is only one explanation of the rhyme: the poem referenced the Black Plague, and that it was created to remind people of the symptoms and used to taunt the victims of the horrible illness.

Defining the Verses

Ring around the rosy..
One of the first symptoms of the plauge was a red rash around a red bump. The rash would have appeared as a ring to the casual observer.

pocket full of posies..
A common belief at the time was that the plague was spread through "foul air" so by putting the flowers in their pockets people could protect themselves from catching the disease. It also served to cover the smell of death and decay. This was used by the healthy as a way to push the reality of what was happening out of their minds, as well as by the already sick to cover the stench that was another symptom of the disease in order to protect themselves from the angry mobs.

One of the final stages of the illness was internal hemoraging. This sometimes triggered sneezing when the breathing passages became irritated. "Ashes" could be a childs view of the sound made when someone sneezes. Another explanation of this verse is that the property of the sick was often burned, as well as the remains of the sick themselves to prevent spreading of the disease. The ashes would then be referring to the burning performed to prevent catching the disease.

we all fall down!
This line becomes obvious once you realize what the poem is about. During the reign of this plague, half of Europe was wiped out. It was rampant and very hard to control due mainly to the squalor people lived in at that time and the fact that they still viewed bathing as a dangerous habit that could cause pneumonia and only did it once a month, if then.

Another Explanation

It has been suggested that perhaps the poem owes its roots to Hinduism and the god Shiva. From what I understand Shiva, known to westerners as the God of Destruction, performed a circular dance that started out slowly then sped up and caused some sages who had strayed from the ways of good to lose consciousness and fall to the ground. Satisfied with his actions the gods in the heavens rained flowers down in approval. This was later duplicated by his devotees as they spun in circles offering up flowers to Shiva and finally falling to the ground due to vertigo. They would perform this ritual over and over again. Their frenzied spinning, falling, rising and spinning some more often stirred up lots of dust and sand. This would then explain the "ashes..ashes.." line of the poem.

Although I believe the Black Plague explanation is the most commonly accepted and known origin of the poem, I can not dismiss the commonalities between the Hindu explanation and the poem. The speeding up during the circular dance and the sense of vertigo are something my school mates and I often experienced while playing the game. This version covers the actions of the children, something I have been unable to locate for the Black Plague explanation. It is possible that they are both responsible for the current form of the poem, as the British were in control of India when the poem was first put into print.

Urban Legend?

The belief that the poem is anything other than a simple rhyme made up by children has been issued by some Urban Legend hunters. The claim is that the poem predated its first printing by several hundred years, so we can not know for sure what it is refering to. An explanation of it being a party game for Protestant children in the nineteenth century has even been hoisted up as further disproof of its darker origins.

The more likely explanation is to be found in the religious ban on dancing among many Protestants in the nineteenth century, in Britain as well as here in North America. Adolescents found a way around the dancing ban with what was called in the United States the "play-party." Play-parties consisted of ring games which differed from square dances only in their name and their lack of musical accompaniment. They were hugely popular, and younger children got into the act, too. Some modern nursery games, particularly those which involve rings of children, derive from these play-party games. "Little Sally Saucer" (or "Sally Waters") is one of them, and "Ring Around the Rosie" seems to be another. The rings referred to in the rhymes are literally the rings formed by the playing children. "Ashes, ashes" probably comes from something like "Husha, husha" (another common variant) which refers to stopping the ring and falling silent. And the falling down refers to the jumble of bodies in that ring when they let go of each other and throw themselves into the circle.

~Folklorist Philip Hiscock

I think that when you consider the Hindu explanation in conjunction with the timing of the rhyme's first printing and Britian's occupation of India, more credit can be given to the plague explanation than the Urban Legend hunters have allowed. There is one thing they have pointed out that is true and can not be disputed. Unless we locate some written evidence that the origin of the rhyme is with the Black Plague events, the Hindu god Shiva, or any other explanation that may be out there, we will never know for sure what the words mean. Is this really a bad thing? We have to decide for ourselves if we want to believe the innocent game we played was a documentation of a horrid time or a religious ferver passed on to the children of India.

Shiva and "Ring Around the Rosy" http://geocities.com/sanskritpuns99/rosy.html
Snopes.com http://www.snopes.com/language/literary/rosie.htm

Ring around the rosie

"Sight. It's one of those five senses they tell you about. It's a pretty important one - so important there's a name for no longer possessing it. Sure, you can be hard of hearing, or losing your hearing, or going deaf, or be deaf; for all the drama of the situation a person can still feel sounds. A sound is just the result of harmonized displacement of air, due to movement. Vibrations through a medium, that’s what we hear; that’s what our eardrums translate.

"Sight has fewer alternatives. Beyond the carte blanche of color, partial, legal, complete; you're left with a dichotomous classification. You can see, or you can't.

"Well, that’s what they will tell you, anyway. You will soon learn how little people, the people out there, actually see. People shut so much out, actively ignore so much of their daily..."

Shut up.

"What? Am I disturbing you and your sad little vigil?"

I told you to shut your mouth.

"No need for the knife, friend. Your lovely, the one on the couch? She'll be fine. Some people... go under longer."

I came out of it two hours ago. What the hell did you dose her with?

"Same scrap as wafted up your precious proboscis. Give her time, lad. She's possibly making the most of her situation. Possible she wasn't as scared as you... You look like shit, go rinse your face, get some color back."

If she doesn't wake up...

"If she doesn't wake up before you get back she'll not know you left her side. Go on, she's just now kicking back into a R.E.M. cycle, you have twenty minutes. Aye, right down that hall. Second door on your right... Well, dearie - I'm running as thin on stories as your boy is on patience. I'd love for you to tell him one, before his dagger tunes me proper. Where are you?"

A pocketful of posies

"So I ran into Pete the other day. He could score us some Ana."

You can't be serious. Please tell me that you aren't serious.

"I'm not saying I'd want to try it. I'm just saying, you know... we could, together, if you wanted..."

I don't. C'mon, that shit's dangerous. Have you seen all the stories in the news? Abductions, deaths, it's not a party drug.

"I know. I know. Babe - I know. Pete tried it though..."

I don't want you talking with Pete anymore.

"I won't, I won't. I promise I won't. He told me how to find his supplier. And it was just a small itty bitty dose, anyway. Just, you know, a sniff... He said the rumors could have merit."

Which rumours? The one about people's brains exploding if they took a second hit?

"No silly. The other ones. The rumors about the lucid dream state."

Oh, is that all you want? We'll call Aunt Millie. She has some peyote growing under her deck in New Mexico.

"You aren't even listening to me..."

Because it isn't safe!

"I know it's not safe, but, if it's true, and Ana can, you know - if Ana can unhinge our minds and let us remember things that haven't happened yet... I'd feel safe if you were there with me. Safe enough to try it, at least."

What could possibly be so important, out there in that big uncertain future, that you'd want to risk trying Ana?

"I just want to know if we stay together forever..."

Upstairs, downstairs

"You're bleeding. Why are you bleeding? Babe, why are you bleeding?"

I... I don't remember. How long have you been awake?

"What kind of question is that? We just walked in. Where did Lawrence go?"

Just walked in? Check your watch. You passed out for three hours! I've been worried sick. Can you... my hair is dry can you see my back? I don't think this is my blood.

"No, you look okay. What did you do?"

I came here with you. Damnit, I told you taking Ana was a bad idea. What's wrong, hon? You just turned white.

"You... you can't remember why you have blood on your hands. I can't... I can't remember anything we spoke about this afternoon. But I do remember that in about two minutes you check the lock on the door, it's bolted. Then we go to wash your hands, and there's a body in the shower. And we don't recognize him..."

I checked the door just before you came to, it is locked, you can't possibly see the door from here. How did you know that?

"I didn't see it... I remembered it. Oh my god I remembered - I'm going to be sick..."

In here, right in the... there you go. Are you okay?

"Yeah, yeah I think so. I'm okay. Babe? I can't check the bathroom, I'm too scared. Will you? Please? Thank you... just - slowly."

There's nothing in here, hon. It's just an empty... oh shit. Holy shit, holy shit, oh we are in such shit. How the fuck did you know he was in there?

"I told you I don't know, it's... you know those songs you hear and you know that you know the artist's name and it's on the tip of your tongue but you can't quite get it? Right now, babe, I'm getting it. I can't believe Ana really works, this is..."

What do we do next?

"I have to call my boss. This stuff is too dangerous, shit - we need to get this off the streets..."

You aren't making any sense. Why is some stuffy middle management going to care about drug deals? Why would...

"I need to get out of here, before they get here."

Hon, you're losing me. Calm down, just, come back and sit down on the couch, breathe. Who's they?

"She's going to be with them. I can't let her see me, it would ruin everything."

She? Who? Who are you taaahhmmmmrr. Whaah... whaaht aah you dooon?

"I'm sorry, darling. I've forgotten."

We all fall down.

"Mulbrich! Bring me up to speed, got that kid from Channel Five, he picked up a unit calling in to base. Going to be flooded by press soon."

"Captain, crime scene secured just before I got here. Sign of a struggle in the hallway, severe trauma to door handle, deadbolt was locked from the interior, perp exited via window onto the fire escape. Blackburn's working the room, not finding any prints. There's two bodies on the floor, no ID on either."

"Atta girl. No ID on either John? Any chance we have a famous face OD here tonight?"

"Evening, Cap. That's a negative on famous brats, but... Iris, you may wanna take the rest of the shift off."

"Seth, you just worked a crime scene by yourself for a half hour. Lemme earn a paycheck, would ya?"

"Iris, seriously, you do not want to come in..."

"Blackburn, do you have an ID on on of the John Doe's?"

"Seth, let me in. Seth - Seth, move aside."

"Cap! Damn! Thank's for the backup there..."

"Ohmygodno ohmygodno nonono ohmygod..."

"Iris, come on, the room is clean. You can sit down right over... here, sit on this. Hey! Move the fucking body! Inside the bag... work together, damn rookies. Hey - hey hey hey, come on... I need you here for this."

"Mulbrich, can you ID John Doe one?"

"We were, we... ohmygod how did this happen? We were having brunch tomorrow, all three of us."

"Just - giver a minute here, Cap."

"Three of whom? Mulbrich, can you identify him?"

"He's... he was... he's Cass's boyfriend. He's my roomate's boyfriend."

That "Ring Around the Rosie" refers to the Bubonic Plague makes a great, grim tale, but, as others note, it's only one explanation.

It's not particularly compelling.

Firstly, no reference to the rhyme can be identified prior to the 1800s, long after significant European outbreaks. "Rings of roses" appear in childhood games, while a rhyme chanted in Ann S. Stephens's The Old Homestead (1840) begins with "A ring – a ring of roses / Laps full of posies," and then takes its own direction.

The first definitive printing appears in Kate Greenaway's Mother Goose or The Old Nursery Rhymes (1881):

A pocket full of posies;
Hush! hush! hush! hush!
We're all tumbled down.

William Wells Newell's Games and Songs of American Children (1883) prints versions he dates, with uncertain accuracy, to the 1790s and 1840s. These versions don't sound like they're describing a plague:

Ring a ring a rosie,
A bottle full of posie,
All the girls in our town,
Ring for little Josie.

Many variations follow. Would a rhyme persist for centuries without anyone documenting it, and then suddenly begin spouting permutations?

Secondly, nobody noted the plague connection before the 1900s. Numerous sources claim that folklorists Iona and Peter Opie made it first, in The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes (1951). Those who make the claim clearly did not read the Opies, who cite unidentified modern "would-be origin finders" who have made the "plague" claim. At best, the Opies were the first to document a claim which they themselves didn't take seriously. James Leasor's The Plague and the Fire (1961) later popularized the plague origin. Leasor wrote history, but made more money from fictional thrillers.

Granted, sometimes children's rhymes reflect something deeper. And Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and a nursery rhyme, just a nursery rhyme.

300 words

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