A child's nursery rhyme whose origins lie in the days when pirates would have to recruit men in creative ways. "Sing a Song of Sixpence" goes back to the days of Blackbeard.

Sing a song of sixpence / A pocket full of rye
Blackbeard's crewmen received a sixpence as a day's wages, which was pretty good money back then. They would also receive a "pocket" (a small leather bag) full of "rye" (whiskey).

Four and twenty blackbirds / Baked in a pie
The "blackbirds" are Blackbeard's crewmen, who would feign distress in the open sea and wait for passing ships to offer help. "Baked in a pie" refers to the element of surprise.

When the pie was opened / The birds began to sing
Referring to the previous line; the crewmen attack the unsuspecting ship.

Wasn't that a dainty dish / To set before the King?
The King is Blackbeard, and the dish is spoils from the other ship.

The King was in his counting house / Counting out his money
A subtle recruiting line, this means that Blackbeard has enough money to pay for new crewmen.

The Queen was in the parlor / Eating bread and honey
The "Queen" is Blackbeard's ship, "The Queen Anne's [Revenge". The "bread and honey" is loot.

The Maid was in the garden / Hanging out the clothes
According to snopes.com, "The use of the word "maid" indicated that the location/route of one or more prize ships was known, and they were going to be specific targets of the upcoming cruise (this greatly enhancing the probability of the crew's collecting prize money). The waters around the Carolinas down to the Caribbean were referred to as the garden, as this was an area where pirates would often cruise for easy pickings. "Hanging out the clothes" meant the targeted ship was already at sea or just about to leave port (thus its sails -- or "clothes" -- have been hung)."

When down came a blackbird / And snapped off her nose!
The crewmen brag about their plans to take the prize ship - "snap off her nose!"
Sing a song of sixpence
Pocket full of rye
Four-and-twenty black-birds
Baked in a pie
When the pie was openned
The birds began to sing--
Isn't this a dainty dish
To give to a king?

As I heard it, the rhyme refers not to pirates, but to Henry VIII's closing of the monasteries in England. The number 24 is how many monasteries Henry closed, and the black birds are the monks (Blackfriars?). Supposedly, the deeds were given over to Henry in a pie, though this may be a confusion with Little Jack Horner.

The King was in his counting house
Counting out the 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
Who snapped off her nose!

Part of Henry's motivation in closing the monestaries was the amount of wealth the monks had, which now went to the king.

Conjecture--could the maid, getting her "nose" snapped off by the blackbird, be a reference to the not-so-celibate English monks?

Regardless of its 'meaning', Sing a Song of Sixpence has a lovely lilt to it. As W. B. Yeats rather wonderfully put it:

"You can refute Hegel but not the Saint or the Song of Sixpence..."

(letter to Lady Elizabeth Pelham, January 1939)

- although quite what 'the Saint' refers to I am unsure.

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